BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
It was an eventful year for international hockey technical official and Hockey Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) secretary-general Sarah Bennett, who flew the country’s flag at top global hockey events last year.
Bennett, one of the 10 women on the Federation of International Hockey (FIH) Pro League Panel, went on to win the Annual National Sports Awards (ANSA) technical official of the year about a fortnight ago following her exploits.
The 35-year-old official beat boxing’s Patrick Mukondiwa and cricket umpire Langton Rusere for the award.
While Bennett’s nine-year career as a hockey umpire and technical official has been something of a rollercoaster, she is about to achieve her ultimate dream after she was selected to officiate at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“It is a great honour to be acknowledged for my achievements over the past year. To be announced as a finalist was a great achievement for me. My fellow finalists had also achieved great highs in 2019, making this award unexpected for me,” Bennett said in an interview with The Sports Hub.
After officiating at the 2018 Women’s Hockey Champions Trophy held in Changzhou, China, Bennett hoisted the Zimbabwe flag at the FIH Pro League in Belgium and in the Netherlands last winter.
She was also part of the Olympic qualifiers in London late last year.
And as the only African woman on the FIH panel, Bennett has been appointed to officiate at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“I have also been appointed to officiate at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. This is most players and officials’ ultimate dream. Every day one is learning,” Bennett revealed.
Also last year the former Zimbabwe hockey star was voted HAZ technical official of the year and it was also the year in which she was promoted onto the Pro League Panel.
Locally, the deputy head at Ariel School was technical director at the Indoor Hockey IPT, umpires, manager — Golden Girls tournament, convenor of selectors for the national ladies team as well as the U-21 ladies and U-18 ladies sides.
At the Africa Olympic qualifiers held in Stellenbosch last August, she was technical director.
She reflects on her journey in Zimbabwe hockey.
“I represented my country at national level from Under-16 up to the national team in both forms of the game, indoor hockey and field hockey.
“Once I retired from international hockey as a player, I attained my FIH umpires badge in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2007 at the Africa Olympic Qualifiers.
“After umpiring at the Singapore Youth Olympic Games in 2010, my hockey career took a new direction — judging and technical. I haven’t looked back and look forward to what the future may have in store for me,” Bennett said.
“With regard to being a technical official, I started in 2011 with my first appointment at the Africa Olympic Qualifiers in Bulawayo at the Khumalo Hockey Stadium.”
Bennett also paid tribute to Ariel School, where she is deputy head, for the support that they have offered her in her journey.
“I would want to make special mention of Ariel School where I have been for 16 years because without their ongoing support I would not have got to where I am today or achieve what I have achieved,” she said.
On the future of Zimbabwean hockey, the HAZ secretary-general was very optimistic.
“The future of Zimbabwean hockey is looking very promising with our ladies youth teams having qualified for the recently held Youth Olympic Games in Argentina.
The Under-21 ladies qualified for the Junior World Cup while our national men and ladies teams performed exceptionally at the Africa Olympic qualifiers held last year and as a result improving their world rankings,” she said.
2020 promises to be a busy year for the Zimbabwe teams as the national ladies indoor team is due to play in a Test series against South Africa in Durban in a couple of months.
Another Test series for the Under-18 men and women teams against South Africa is in store later in the year.
The indoor team is set to play in the Indoor Africa Cup of Nations, which will be used as a qualifier for the World Cup, while the country has put in a bid to host the Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers proposed for St John’s College in Harare.