Olympic gold medallist Kate Richardson-Walsh says Great Britain’s appointment of Mark Hager as head coach is a “risk” but she’s “excited to see what he brings to the table.”
Great Britain hockey has come under scrutiny for the appointment of Hager after it was revealed Hockey New Zealand had conducted a five-month inquiry into an alleged culture of bullying during his reign as Blacksticks coach. Hager left his position before the results were published to take up his role as England and Great Britain coach, which he will begin in February.
Richardson-Walsh, who won 375 international caps and scored 49 goals over a storied international career, told BBC 5Live’s Friday Sports Panel:
“I think there are there are obviously question marks over his interaction with players and I think that is still under review in New Zealand. England Hockey and GB Hockey are happy they’ve done their due diligence; I think if I was a player in that team, I’d be excited to see what he can bring to the table. It will just be nice to have a fresh voice and a different take.”
“You could say the appointment is a risk, particularly as he’s still under review. I don’t know what’s in that review, I don’t know what the players have said that have brought that forward. Lots of the players that he has coached have come out in a very positive, supporting manner, so all we can do is trust the system and trust that due diligence has been done and that they want to take that team and the sport forward.”
Both UK Sport, the body which funds Great Britain Hockey’s international programme and Ed Barney, Great Britain’s Performance Director have stressed that the necessary due diligence has been conducted with Barney telling The Times:
“We spoke to a number of people close to their programme, and following Mark’s resignation we had detailed conversations with Hockey New Zealand, which further reassured our confidence in Mark and his appointment.
“Our recruitment process was exceptionally clear on what we are looking for in a head coach, and Mark’s profile fits very well with the current needs of the programme. As an organisation we review our performance and team culture after every major tournament.
Culture and interaction with players is a key component of a successful side at the top level and Richardson-Walsh, who made her international debut in 1999 points out things are very different to when she started out:
“I think that relationship between coaches and athletes in all sports has changed. I think what we see as the norm of coaching, what is good, positive coaching now is very different to what that looked like 10, 20 years ago.”
“It’s evolved and some coaches have stuck to their old ways; that’s not OK anymore. Athletes have more of a voice on how they should be treated as human beings at the end of the day. He [Hager] will be assessed and analysed by GB Hockey constantly and I’m sure he’ll be absolutely great.”
Despite the questions raised by others over Hager’s appointment, Richardson-Walsh believes his record on the field stands up to scrutiny:
“He won gold with The Blacksticks at the Commonwealth Games last year and they’ve always been in and around the semi-finals of major tournaments at the Olympics, World Cups etc. He is an outstanding coach; he was an outstanding player for Australia. He is brilliant with midfield, attack, and goal-scoring. He is exceptional in that area.”
Hager has not commented since his appointment to his new role but he did an interview in New Zealand shortly before leaving his post in which he spoke of “good learnings” from the review process, despite a “tough few months” for both he and his family. Despite this, it seems Hager is keen to leave New Zealand in the past and focus on his new challenge:
“I look back at my time at New Zealand with real pride, getting as high as fourth in the world, working with world-class players, our best ever Olympic finishes and gold at the Commonwealth Games last year.”
“I’m very excited and grateful that Great Britain have been able to look into my CV and skills in such a thorough manner. I’m joining the current Olympic champions, which is exciting and a little bit daunting. With the FIH Pro League starting, it’s a great time to come on board and join a great programme.”