RAIPUR: Rising from obscurity, Belgium has become one of the European powerhouses in world hockey and they are leaving no stone unturned ahead of next year's Rio Olympics as all the players have taken a break from their studies or work to prepare themselves for the greatest multi-sport event on the earth.
Of late, Belgium has made giant strides in world hockey rising as high as four in the world rankings before slipping to the seventh spot in the latest chart issued earlier this month. But more than their performance their drop in the rankings chart is mainly due to the lack of international matches or tournaments.
Popularly known as the 'Red Devils', the Belgian players are not that rich like their Indian counterparts but it is their passion and desire to be the best in the world which is driving them forward.
"Earlier there was no money in Belgium hockey but after our good results in the last couple of years the federation has started to get sponsors. But to be honest the money is not like what it is in India. We are not rich. We play hockey because we love playing the game and not for money. Money comes later," Belgium captain John-John Dohmen told PTI during an interaction on the sidelines of the ongoing Hockey World League Final here.
"Most of the players are students except 2 or 3 who are working. But as this year is an Olympic year we all decided to be professionals. This year we are just playing hockey. All the players have taken a break from their studies or work to be ready for the Olympics," he informed.
Making a mark in the competitive world of modern-day hockey isn't easy and Dohmen acknowledges the sacrifices he and his team-mates made over the last couple of years to be a potent force in the game.
"We came from far away. Ten years ago we were no where in world hockey. We were non-existent. Nobody knew us," the 27-year-old said.
"The main reason behind our progress is the sacrifices the players gave. It's never easy when you have no money, no work or when you study. You have to manage both so it's lot of sacrifices."
All the teams participating in the HWL Final have qualified for Rio Olympics. Besides Belgium other competing teams in the tournament are hosts India, world champions Australia, World No.2 and defending champions Netherlands, reigning Olympic champions Germany, Great Britain, Argentina and Canada.
But the Belgian players did not have the best of preparation coming into the tournament in the aftermath of the Paris terror attack.
Just 12 days ago coordinated terror attacks killed 130 people in Paris and later investigations revealed that the deadly attacks were planned on Belgian soil. The attacks were plotted in Molenbeek, an immigrant neighbourhood in western Brussels, now labelled as Europe's jihadi heaven, prompting a series of raids and arrests in the Belgian capital.
The attacks had serious repercussions on sporting activities throughout the world which also delayed the Belgian hockey league and hampered the preparation of the national team ahead of the HWL Final.
"Of course it's difficult for not only players but all human beings. When such things happen near to your country it's difficult. We all are afraid because we don't know what's happening. But such terror attacks are not limited to just France and Belgium its happening all over the world," Dohmen said.
"Thinking about families back home in the aftermath of such attacks, that's a difficult part. We follow the news everyday but when you are on the field, playing hockey our main is on the game.
"I don't think it is going to affect our performance as I said when you are on the field you tend to switch off from the outside world," he signed off.