Women’s hockey fights for recognition

There is no national women’s field hockey team in Greece, but the Athenian Field Hockey Club has won five international and two Greek championships. Most of the women on the team came to the game after being introduced to it by friends. «I feel as if I am at war every time we have a match,» laughed Nancy Kourelou, 30, a therapeutic riding instructor. She has been one of the main recruiters of new members. «Some women come and try out but don’t come back. But quite a few have stayed,» she explained. Many of the team members have come to the game after having tried other sports. Nancy Kanakopoulou, 24, used to be a track and field athlete. «Then I moved to basketball, volleyball and later swimming. But I was sick of hearing about basketball and soccer and decided to try something different. I tried field hockey in my second year of senior high and haven’t looked back,» said Kanakopoulou, a computer programmer. «You hear about it by word of mouth,» said Stefania Milioritsa, a 30-year-old dental technician. «It’s a sport that doesn’t get much publicity. I used to do individual sports like fencing and riding, but then decided to take part in a group sport. Hockey is very much like soccer, so I decided to try it out.» The trick in field hockey lies in handling the ball with the hockey stick. «It isn’t as easy as it may look to spectators,» said Antonis Mavridis, a member of the International Hockey Federation’s referees’ committee who has coached the team for eight years. It is clear that there is good team spirit. «As corny as it sounds, we all get on well,» said Milioritsa. «We hang out just like men do. After training, we usually go out for a glass of wine or something to eat.» Nothing is perfect, however, and for these athletes there is the usual downside – they have to pay for their own uniforms and hockey sticks as well as their expenses when playing matches abroad. They often hold benefit events with friends to collect money for trips abroad. The General Secretariat for Sports gave them a subsidy of 2,300 euros this year (the amount depends on the team’s standings). «Playing fields are also a problem,» said the coach. «There are three field hockey fields in Greece built for the Olympic Games, but we can’t use them because Olympic Properties and the General Secretariat for Sports haven’t yet decided what to do with them. Last year we practiced at five-a-side field in Pefki, but the local municipal council closed it when they wanted the space for tennis courts. So now the team is paying 70 euros an hour to rent another field. We asked if we could practice for two hours a week on the artificial turf, but the Municipality of Pefki refused with the excuse that because the team practiced late, the lights would bother the neighbors. We see our matches abroad as training. Whatever municipality would like to adopt us, we are available,» he joked. Kanakopoulou talked about the European third-division championship matches in Zagreb last May. «Eleven of us went, without any reserves, as some of couldn’t get leave or could not afford the cost of the trip. I was injured in the first game – a twisted ankle – but I played in all four matches as there was no one else to take my place,» she said. The team’s youngest player, 17-year-old senior high pupil Myrto Papadimitriou, is shortly to be made an official member. Initially her parents opposed her decision to start field hockey ahead of her matriculation exams. «They didn’t understand my need to let off steam,» she explained. «Instead of going out like my other schoolmates, I come here to train and have a good time. I have a goal and I organize my time properly. And my parents don’t have a problem with that anymore.» The team members are Constantia Siadima, Vassileia Pitarokyli, Nancy Kanakopoulou, Nancy Kourelou, Eleni Sfyri, Eleni Zoura, Maria Margiolou, Stefania Milioritsa, Anastasia Andreou, Electra Apostolidou, Mando Skariba, Elena Kostini, Yvonne Vekiou and Chris Richardson. This article first appeared in the January 6 edition of Kathimerini’s supplement K.