Manolios' lifetime in hockey

HARARE - In his prime Mark Manolios shared a drink with former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and embraced the sixth president of Pakistan Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.

If not in chairmen’s enclosures, he was somewhere in the world’s hallowed grounds, chatting with legendary cricket fast bowler Wasim Akram or catching up with Sachin Tendulkar, the biggest icon the game has ever known.

The former Old Hararians, Mashonaland and southern Rhodesia hockey forward did not meet all these great men by chance.

It came through sheer will and determination for the Chiweshe-born hockey stalwart, who went on to represent Zimbabwe at nine Olympic Games in the capacity of coach and administrator.

It was far more than he dreamt of when he picked up a hockey stick at Prince Edward School after short-sightedness prevented him from playing football and rugby.

“It turned out to be a blessing in disguise when I started playing hockey in 1955,” he tells the Daily News.

The witty, blunt and frank Manolios, who always speaks his mind, went on to represent various hockey clubs and provincial sides but did not make the grade of the then Rhodesia hockey men’s team.

However, he was good enough to go on and umpire high profile matches after his officiating earned him rave reviews.

He later turned to coaching, starting as national hockey coach from 1970-85, developing world-class players such as Gerald Peckover and Alan Peake.

He led several highly successful overseas tours, the likes of which have never been matched by any Zimbabwean sports team in a global-class arena.

Under his watch as deputy chef de mission, Zimbabwe’s hockey women team scooped gold at the 1980 Moscow Games.

“In 1970 half way through our tour of Europe, I was appointed coach. When I came back I furthered my coaching career and in 1974 the USA Hockey Association invited me to come and coach their national team,” he says.

“I guess they had seen something in me and the work I had done. I turned them done. I had just started my business (Mark Manolios Sports) and just had my first daughter. I have no regrets.”

Manolios first Olympic participation at the 1972 Munich Games got off to a false start when Rhodesia's invitation to take part in the Summer Games was withdrawn by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) four days before the opening ceremony.

This was in response to African countries’ protests against the Rhodesian regime.

“IOC wanted us to participate but the supreme council through the insistence of a cartel led by Tommy Sithole managed to kick us out,” he says, singling out the Anoca president who has since become his longtime friend.

Manolios again came face to face with the segregation of being born in a pariah state.

“I was appointed umpire at the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games but the International Hockey Federation told me not to go because I was from Rhodesia,” he says.

“Being white didn’t matter. Get me right, I was never into politics or race issues. I sat in the Olympic Committee for 26 years most of those years I was the only murungu (white) I had no problems,” he says.

The former Kenya hockey coach’s desire to see hockey spread to all corners of the country was highlighted in 1978 when he formed an all-black team dubbed Manolios Old Wanderers.

Back then, Manolios was also influential in assisting Custom Kachambwa form an all-black hockey team named Mufakose Eradicators.

“In my coaching days, we had three overseas tours. We won bronze at the Eight Nations tournament in Johannesburg in 1974. It was the highlight of Zim hockey’s history,” he says.

“We beat Spain twice in one week, first in the pool and then for the bronze medal. Spain were European champions, so it was like beating Barcelona.

“During that time we also beat Frankfurt 1980 who were world club champions.

“On our tour to Germany 1975, we beat all five Bundesliga teams. We did exceptionally well in 1978 at the quadrangular championship. Our schoolboy and girl teams of that day were well on tour.”

Turning to the current state of hockey in the country, the Zimbabwe Hockey President is at a loss for words.

“If you are to take a census you would find that hockey is probably still the second biggest sport in the country but our facilities are not where they used to be. Magamba Stadium is now derelict,” he said.

“There are only two hockey stadiums for 500 hockey players in Bulawayo and not one stadium for 10 000 players in Harare.

“We are thankful to Arundel who allow us to use their school turf for our Harare board fixtures.

“I came back to hockey to bring development. Sadly, my efforts have been met by empty promises that have stifled our development program.

“I am not looking for money but my desire is to build bridges and partnerships. It’s really sad that at this stage we have pulled out of the Olympic qualifiers not because we don’t have the talent but because of resources!

“The cost of the qualifiers being held in Egypt is about $150 000. We have no money in the coffers. Our players are basically paying for themselves whenever we travel for matches.

“Club hockey is in a derelict state, there are no finances to organize a national league although we are trying to revive all the sport in all provinces.

“We have been invited to play in Natal for the South Africa provincial tournament but as it stands if we go, players will be footing their own bills.”

The 75-year-old says he has given his life to hockey without expecting anything in return but his heart bleeds for what lies ahead for the once vibrant sport.

“Everything I did was for Hockey. I never got a penny out of it. Hockey is in my blood. At my age I am disappointed that hockey is in this state, no turfs, no finances, no partnerships, how do we develop? That’s why we have to paddle our own canoes.”

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