Portuguese hockey (28/07/12)
The Portuguese Skating Federation (FPP) represents one of the countries where hockey covers almost all territory, whether qualitatively or quantitatively. This aspect explains in certain way how Portugal is one of the few countries where hockey conquered an important space in society, namely in the media. For instance, is the unique country along with Italy where the national hockey league has been broadcasted in national television, with an average comprised between 100 and 200 thousand viewers. The last European’s male championship final had an average of one million viewers. If we consider that Portugal has about 7.000 practitioners, we easily inferred how charismatic this sport is for the Portuguese people and why the television ratings are so high when concerned with hockey games.
The Portuguese hockey, like it was said before, covers all country, being represented in the 20 districts by which Portugal is composed, and in the autonomous regions of Madeira and Azores as well. Seven of those 20 districts are represented in the 2013/2014 Campeonato Nacional da Primeira Divisão, as the Azores autonomous region. However, there are three great poles where whether the quality and quantity stand out: Lisbon, Oporto and Minho. Those two metropolises have been dominating the national scene in terms of practitioners and titles (including a national record of 10 consecutive Campeonato Nacional da Primeira Divisão Masculina titles by FC Porto) as well the region of Minho which has revealed has the only region capable to competing with the two metropolises in terms of national titles, whether in seniors or youth championships. Lisbon and Oporto districts have 50% of country’s total practitioners, nowadays. Since the April ’74 revolution, only three times the Campeonato Nacional de Seniores Masculinos wasn’t won by teams from these districts and those three championships were won by OC Barcelos from Minho, the only club who has divided championship titles and runner-up places with Lisbon and Oporto’s teams, since 1986/1987 (season where Oliveirense has been runner-up), aside other Minho’s team, Juventude de Viana.
The Campeonato Nacional da Primeira Divisão de Seniores Masculinos is, at this moment, in stand of recovering, after being through a deeply regression, due to several issues as lack of broadcasters, small budgets, huge taxes imposed by the FPP, lack of hockey’s innovation and advertising and lack of investment in the youth levels. This last issue is still giving bad outcomes to Portuguese hockey nowadays. On the other hand, the 90’s were the golden age to Portuguese hockey. Two world championships, four European championships and two European clubs champions league and a generation of players and coaches marked by international success (Guilherme Silva, José Carlos, Tó Neves, Paulo Alves, Pedro Alves, Filipe Santos, Vítor Fortunato, Rui Lopes and others, as well coaches like Carlos Dantas, José Fernandes, António Livramento, etc.). Such generation was supported by an important economic grown in Portugal, being hockey, a pre-Olympic sport at the time, on the top of the Portuguese companies’ preferences, due to historical roots of this sport in this country. Great investments by the clubs were made and players from abroad were brought, no matter if the club was from the top or not. The same idea had FPP who invested a lot in broadcasted games, mainly. To have an idea, 18 of 40 players who were in 2001 world cup semi-finals were about to play in Portuguese championship the next season (2001/2002). Investment priorities were made to a short period, without a strategy broadly defined, i.e. great visibility but none investment for the future. Lack of cooperation between FPP and schools and lack of teaching procedures innovation, concerning with coaches’ self development who, until not so much time ago, were taught with books dated from the age of 80’s. This stagnation occurred in expand and propaganda issues too, concerning with lack of modernization, following the present days trends to pick up young people. Thus, after the golden generation who has won so many titles, after the economic improvement that has generated a lot of investment and after a small advertisement, exclusively sheltered on tradition aspects of hockey in the country, the structural problems embraced to economic growing problems came up to surface.
By the half of this millennium first decade some changes started to happen. Debts contracted by the FPP investments (led by Fernando Claro since August 2003 to the present day) related with broadcasting games had to be solved and paid by the clubs as a result. The taxes paid in Organizações de jogo (Games organization, i.e. when the club host a match has to pay a tax to the FPP) increased almost to the double in 2006/2007, as well the taxes for players registration. End of broadcasting games; end of revenue to the clubs who let their players sign FOR other (richer) clubs, once that this money were sent directly to the FPP; lack of international titles whether national team or club competitions, between other counterparts that motivated a crisis in ambition and competition from those who are involved in Portuguese hockey and let me tell you why. If a club earns nothing by helping a rookie to grow, if a club doesn’t receives a faire economically reward after wining some title, if a player doesn’t reach a range of clubs capable to cover his quality with a good wage, the competitiveness, essential to any sport, vanish. Furthermore, a worldwide economic crisis has come in 2008 and the FPP isn’t the only one who felt such nightmare. Naturally, clubs were those who suffered more with such facts, paying the FPP mistakes, at the time already suffocated by the economic crisis. Player’s conditions decreased and still have been decreasing. For example, just 12 of 40 players who played the 2011 world cup semi-finals were playing in Portuguese championship, less six comparing with 2001/2002. Without economic power, innovation and visibility, Portuguese hockey was forced to look to rookies…who weren’t well prepared as written above. Old scouting and players development schemes, lack of connection with schools, etc. In the end we have Portugal without international titles between 2000 and 2011, exception to World Cup in 2003 and CERS Cup won by Benfica in 2011. The unique players don’t show up and it makes hard to motivate someone to do a sport who doesn’t have references or recent international champions. For instance, the age average in Portuguese championship 2011/2012 was approximately 27 years old.
A lot of mistakes who were written here already had been solved; however, the good outcomes will appear slowly. Luis Senica (National Technical Director between 2004 and 2009) and Jorge Lopes (National Technical Director from 2009 until now) appearances in FPP had provoke a revolution concerning with players and coaches development work. They were the main responsable for formation processes and learning documents renovation, as well the game changed rules in youth levels, benefiting youngsters’ formation improvement and protocols with schools that have been made since 2009. Such protocols are one of the biggest steps to attract new athletes. In fact, extra sport classes taught in Portuguese schools, are the big responsible for such difference between the number of athletes in other Portuguese sport federations and the number of athletes who practice hockey, lesser than the first one, despite being grow.
In terms of visibility, Portuguese hockey has been improving too. This one is divided in two parts: visibility to those who are already included in Portuguese hockey society and visibility to those who aren’t. The first one is in excellent position, thanks to the appearance of some great quality independent websites, who inform about almost every Portuguese hockey events, with live results, scores, standings (all from hoqueipatins.com) and also daily news (mundook.net and others). Other fundamental step to Portuguese hockey growth and stability was the arising of Plurisports, enterprise that does live games broadcast from almost every Portuguese competition, no matter the level. In relation with second point, the visibility provided to Portuguese society has been half explored, we can say, once that broadcasted games in national TV, supported by Plurisports and FPP, have been unfortunately unusual.
Recently, a new issue related with geographical restructure of associations had come. The disappearing of some clubs located far from the metropolises allied to country demographic modifications led FPP to invite all Associations to do an associative restructure proposal. The proposals were unanimous about Associations’ reduction, but not unanimous about those new format. The Hockey Clubs and Associations National Association (ANACP) and the Lisbon Skating Association (APL) suggested six associations (North, Centre North, Centre South, South, Madeira and Azores), the Aveiro and Setubal Skating Association (APA and APS) suggested seven associations (North, Centre North, Centre, Centre South, South, Madeira and Azores) while the Minho Skating Association (APM) suggested eight (Minho, Oporto, Lisbon, Madeira, Azores, Centre North, Centre South and South). Other proposals connected with FPP and Associations functions improvement were raised, such as: paper use reduction (ANACP), list of every spaces prepared to receive skating and hockey practices (ANACP), support to hockey renewal with a taxes reduction respecting rookies’ signature (ANACP), second senior teams creation (ANACP), application of same game laws to all categories from 4 to 15 years old (ANACP and APL), elimination of Portuguese Terceira Divisão Nacional Sénior, switching all teams to regional and not national championships (APL), reduction of national youth championships’ teams, from 24 to 16 (APL), and others.
Portuguese hockey will have one of the most important challenges soon: try to win the European male senior title next September, as host, and keep the tradition of wining all international competitions once played at home (exception to Barcelos European championship in 1985).
Hockey players by association (Present day, approximately)
Lisbon – 1.800
Oporto – 1.500
Aveiro – 700
Minho – 550
Setubal – 500
Ribatejo – 460
Leiria – 350
Coimbra – 300
Alentejo – 300
Azores – 250
Algarve – 150
Madeira - 140