Creating a Hockey Federation in the world's second youngest country, Timor Leste
Updated: Mar 30
My name is Vijay and this article is all about my time from April to May in 2019 when I was fortunate to combine a voluntary engineering position with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and delivering hockey coaching in the world's second youngest country (at time of writing) - Timor Leste.
Anecleto (left) and Vijay (right)
For those who may have never heard of the country, in 1975 East Timor was granted independence from the Portuguese but within a few weeks Indonesian troops invaded East-Timor and occupied the country. For 24 years the Timorese struggled for Independence and in 1999, Indonesia finally agreed that the future should be decided in a referendum. In 2002 this resulted in a majority voting for independence. It is estimated that up to 300,000 people died during the struggle for independence. Amazingly the Timorese leaders asked their citizens to forgive those who had perpetrated the abuses and to embrace reconciliation. What really struck me, was that many international powers tacitly backed the Indonesian occupation despite the fact that Indonesia at the time was ruled by the Suharto military regime. The people of Timor-Leste are now incredibly supportive for each other and often live as extended families. If you asked anyone there what their national sport was, the answer would most likely be football with a lot of the country supporting either Benfica, Real Madrid or Barcelona.
In October 2018 I had my contract for engineering confirmed in Timor Leste but I wanted to see if there was any possibility of also coaching hockey, inspired by similar grass root clubs seen on social media out in the Ivory Coast and from other coaches who had spread the love of the game across the world. To summarise how I explored this opportunity, it involved contacting GRYPHON Hockey in the UK who linked me up with the headquarters in Australia and my contacts in Timor Leste putting me in contact with their National Olympic Committee (NOC). Coincidentally, the Olympic committee there had been challenged by the FIH of Asia to register a national hockey team by the end of 2019. GRYPHON were really responsive, quickly explaining how they were keen to help and what equipment they could send out there. Before I boarded the plane to fly out, we had a plan for equipment and the National Olympic Committee had said they would organise pitches, players and would promote the game out there. Everything was looking good and I was feeling confident about delivering hockey training in Timor Leste.
I arrived in Timor Leste and organised a meeting with the Olympic Committee at the start of my 8 weeks in the country. I was informed that there was no pitch, no players and no promotion of the sport. In addition, GRYPHON informed me about the delay in the shipment of equipment by 4 weeks - due to an opportunity to source more equipment from sponsored athletes outside of Australia. With 4 weeks to introduce the sport, I start to doubt what I’m trying to achieve out here. What was I expecting? A pitch, a set of players and a team ready to go? This is the second youngest country in the world that love football and are busy enough supporting their families. So a foreign sport is not high on their agenda. My conscience is telling me I’m silly for thinking I could just offer a sport up and expect it to be so easy.
T minus 7 weeks. I join a walking group and am told an inspiring story from an English/Australian called Mark Young who is delivering cricket coaching out here. The story he shares starts with him walking along a beach after work and spotting youths playing cricket with a cricket bat and ball. Being the keen cricketer he joins in, explains he would love to coach them and organise some training if keen. One year on and the club is 100 members strong, running inter-district games and have been gifted with half an artificial central strip and a range of new equipment, donated from cricket clubs in Australia. I attend one of their sessions. I am awe inspired at the range of ages, gender and cricketing ability with all getting fully involved. I leave feeling motivated and organise a meeting with my contact Laurentino from the Olympic committee the following week.
T minus 6 weeks. Laurentino and I meet over coffee, plan what I can do whilst here and what we need to achieve to register a team with the FIH. Laurentino has appointed a Hockey Director for the sport (Mana Adriana) and explains she has recruited youth leaders who want to be coaches. Delighted, Adriana and I decide to meet the following week with the team; creating our WhatsApp group with appropriate emoji’s and group picture. I am still working as an engineer at this point and I’d like to thank the ILO for the 2 hour lunches i was granted which enabled me to take this time out to organise and coach. Before I meet Adriana and her youth leaders, I meet an Australian doctor in the area who is very keen to get youngsters involved with sport. She works at a clinic in the capital and is always looking for ways for youngsters to take time off from dating and apply themselves elsewhere (unemployment is very high with the younger population with an average age in the country of 25). She puts me in contact with a charity called ‘Youth off the Streets’ and I am given another brilliant avenue to explore which we could use for players and our training. That week I meet with Youth off the Streets, Adriana and our youth leaders where I explain using YouTube clips and lots of translation help from Youth off the Street friends Matt and Cipriano. We schedule a follow up meeting and I am enthused at the pace we have started to move at.
T minus 5 weeks. We meet at the NOC and I take our team through the rules of hockey. I start with highlights from Galvanised Hockey’s YouTube collection, a video played at 0.5 speed explaining rules (How to Hockey – Hockey Basics) and I finish with a quiz and highlights from that week’s Women’s FIH pro league game of Argentina vs the Black Sticks. After the session we travel to a concrete pitch the youth leaders have found at a military police base. Despite the armed police officers surrounding our area, I am happy to coach with limited equipment before the GRYPHON equipment arrives and just like that, we have our first training session organised for the following week with the youth leaders explaining they will promote the sport and get their pals along.
T minus 4 weeks. Before our first pitch session, I am given some amazing news from the British Honorary Counsel (Tracey) that there are Hockey sticks from an International American school in a container. I cannot believe our luck and head to the school straight away and make a deal with the headmaster that I will deliver coaching sessions at their school if we can borrow their equipment. It’s too good to be true however and when we open the locker, we find American ice hockey plastic sticks which I wasn’t expecting. Not phased however, we now have some temporary equipment and after a very funny class at the school with the American primary school children, we have equipment ready for our first Timorese hockey session!
I arrive at the pitch on a Saturday afternoon, 2 of the youth leaders turn up and my Australian mate Youle. It’s scorching hot as they’ve asked to meet at 15:00 and we proceed with our introduction to hockey. Lessons learnt straight away, don’t hit the balls near the crocodiles in their cages, watch out for deer on the pitch, remind players to bring water and to not wear jeans. The two youth leaders are Anecleto and Joan and they agree they would like another practice at 06:00 in the morning on the following day. I clarify that they mean 06:00 several times and at 06:00 on that Sunday, no one turns up. It turns out they thought I meant 6pm and honestly i don’t know why anyone would have agreed to meet at 6am anyway when they were most likely going to be getting ready to go to their Church, how silly of me. After lots of apologies on WhatsApp, I am happy with our start. A funny point to note is that the Olympic Committee at this point asked a graphic designer to make a logo for us. They are clearly confused because our pictures show us using ice hockey sticks and because they’ve already paid the graphic designer, we are stuck with a logo which includes an ice hockey stick and gloves. Again, baby steps but we don’t care; we have a logo, a Facebook page and are feeling like a legitimate amateur sports club!
T minus 3 weeks. The youth leaders organise our next training session and I am amazed. Through hyping and sharing the Facebook page we have two sessions over the weekend with 30+ people attending over both sessions! Friends familiar with the sport help me with the larger group sizes and the youth leaders organise and deliver parts of our session too. I am awe inspired at this momentum we have despite still using the plastic equipment. Questions keeping me up at night though include: who is going to organise coaching when I leave? Where are we going to play when the GRYPHON sticks arrive? How can we keep this going?
T minus 2 weeks. GRYPHON have shipped the sticks, balls, protective equipment and coaching aids which should arrive imminently. That week My friend Youle is throwing a Frisbee on the beach (he loves Frisbee) and he meets a guy called Entu who approaches him to talk about Hockey, not prompted by anything aside from joining in with the Frisbee. Entu played hockey in Malaysia when he studied out there in 2008 where Timor Leste had entered a hockey team for a tournament. I travel to meet him straight away where he is keen to get involved and to also coach! That week biking home from playing badminton at the secret badminton club (another story), I come across an AstroTurf pitch. Why was this not mentioned at all throughout my time here! The football association use it and the youth leaders and myself plan to meet with them to see how we can get access. That weekend we have a practice session where Entu helps deliver coaching and the team are very excited at the stick arrival!
T minus 1 week. We have our final pitch session, it’s at the Xanana AstroTurf pitch but we are given the concrete 5 a-side pitch instead, a translation error completely my fault. We also that week translate England hockey’s golden rules into Tetun (the country’s common language) for coaching and we now have four coaches who are keen to roll out the sport. The sticks have arrived but are stuck in customs which is bad timing for me as I’d love to be there when the sticks arrived; delighted they made the journey. We plan the future of hockey for Timor Leste, rolling out the game in 2019, an international friendly against maybe Indonesia in 2020, application for the 2021 pacific sea games and dream of applying for the Olympics in 2025.
And that is my story of how Timor Leste taught me that despite the challenges that are thrown at you, if you have an inspired group of people and amazing leaders like the youth coaches I met, you can achieve so much! A massive thanks as well to GRYPHON Hockey because throughout the journey full of doubts, they kept this dream alive as there was always that promise of equipment that kept us going. Other thanks has to go to the National Olympic Committee for all their support, the youth leaders with their inspiring motivation, Gary from hockey development talk and England hockey for coaching aids we left with the team, all the sponsored players from GRYPHON who donated their sticks, my family, friends and partner who supported me the whole time with coaching, transporting equipment and the two drivers from the ILO (Antonio and Victorinio) who always dropped me off when I needed to get to lunchtime coaching sessions.
The sticks took one month to get through customs but they are now using them on their new pitch. I cannot wait to return to Timor Leste next year with GRYPHON, to keep spreading the game we all love and cannot thank GRYPHON enough again for all of their support.
If you want to find out more about how they’re getting on now, follow their Facebook page and Instagram page. If you'd like to get involved at all, contact GRYPHON and they will put you in touch with me.
Written by Vijay Trivedy