21 Dec 2018

Hockey: Black Sticks coach looks set to lose job

5:19 pm on 21 December 2018

Hockey New Zealand looks set to sack Black Sticks coach Mark Hager in the wake of a review into the environment within the national women's team.

Mark Hager at the Four Nations tournament in Germany in June.

Mark Hager at the Four Nations tournament in Germany in June. Photo: Photosport

The independent review was launched in September after allegations of a negative team environment emerged when Hager accidentally sent an email to the entire team naming and shaming individual players for their performance and fitness.

RNZ understands both the Hockey NZ board and chief executive Ian Francis have seen a copy of the review and both Hager and the players have been informed that Hager is to be relieved of his position. A Hockey NZ spokesperson denied this.

The review's findings were due to be announced last month but Hockey NZ issued a statement on Wednesday advising that's been delayed until early next year.

It is believed the review's public release has been delayed because the national body has gone back to reviewer Maria Dew with responses to some findings that reflect negatively on them and Hager.

Dew is on leave for the holiday period, meaning the expected release has been delayed until early February.

Hockey NZ initially declined the opportunity to comment, while attempts to contact Hager for comment were unsuccessful. But today Hockey NZ issued a statement saying it and the reviewer will not make any public comment until the review findings are completed.

Acting chair Shane Collins said it wants to ensure the review is "as comprehensive and robust as possible" and its focus is on Pro League matches early next year.

"No decisions will be made until the final review has been completed."

The situation and its timing have created an interesting dynamic for all involved in the Black Sticks women's programme, which received $1.45 million in taxpayer funding this year.

Hager was not only part of the selection process for the 2019 national squad announced early last month, he has been involved since they reassembled in November for a series of practice matches against Chile in Auckland.

All this is also taking place little more than a month prior to the launch of the global governing body's new Pro League for international hockey, which Francis has hailed as a "massive game changer for the sport".

Hockey NZ chief executive Ian Francis.

Hockey NZ chief executive Ian Francis. Photo: Photosport

RNZ understands Hockey NZ have asked Hager to stay on board for the Black Sticks first two Pro League games in Auckland on 27 January and 1 February, before heading on his way.

But Hager is not happy about the way things have played out and may not go quietly.

The 54-year-old former Australian international had his contract extended at the end of 2016 through until the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, giving him almost two years to run on his current deal.

Hager is understood to be considering legal action against Hockey NZ as a result of their decision to sack him.

While his exit will come after a year which has included a raft of cultural reviews at New Zealand sporting organisations, and resulted in other high profile departures, Hager's situation appears less clear cut.

Of course the implementation of the review means there have been concerns raised about Hager and the team environment by members of the squad.

But there are also players who support him, while several former players publicly expressed a similar sentiment.

Hager has been in charge of the women's side since 2008, appointed after New Zealand finished 12th at the Beijing Olympics.

Since then, the Black Sticks have twice finished fourth at the Olympics and this year won gold at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.