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Foreign faces take spotlight at Chinese National Games

(Xinhua)    10:47, August 28, 2017

People bearing the flags of the 13th Chinese National Games parade into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 13th Chinese National Games in north China's Tianjin Municipality, Aug. 27, 2017. (Xinhua/Zhu Zheng)

You might be understandably skeptical that you are indeed at the Chinese National Games upon seeing a Dutch coach and four umpires from four different countries on the pitch of the women's hockey semifinals, but that is exactly what happened on Sunday.

Dutchman Giels Bonnet moved quite close to the feat of winning three successive titles in the Games after the Liaoning team beat Guangdong 2-1 thanks to two penalty shots from captain Bao Qianqian to reach the championship match. Bonnet has been coaching the provincial hockey team in Northeast China since 2009 and never ceded the top podium to others.

"I'm very satisfied with the structure and discipline of my team," said Bonnet. "Since 2009, I'm trying to bring structures to the team. In the right moments, we do the right things and don't get too many chances away. Today, we're very lucky to make the first goal. Structure and discipline paves the way to do the right things and technically to make sure the players make those points."

Talking about the difference between the current team and last team winning the 2013 National Games at home, Bonnet gave credit to the build-up of balance.

"We have a good balance in the group, we have old players who play very good and we have some young players who have a lot of abilities. The balance now is better than the team we had before," he said.

Amber Church from New Zealand and Suzi Sasa from the United States were umpires for the match. In the other semifinal in which Sichuan narrowly defeated Jilin 1-0 to set up a rematch with Liaoning in the National Games final, Carolina De Lafuente from Argentina and Ayanna McClean from Trinidad & Tobago played the same role.

"I have been here for two weeks and it's the third time for me to visit China," said the 43-year-old Argentinian. "We four foreign umpires were sent to the Chinese National Games by Federation of International Hockey (FIH) after the organizing committee had asked the FIH for neutral referees."

"In the 2008 Olympic Games, I was in Beijing for my first trip to China and then I was dispatched to the last two National Games. It's quite a pleasure to umpire on the Chinese pitches," she said.

Lafuente works as a bank clerk in Buenos Aires and spends her time umpiring each Saturday and Sunday with local clubs at home. "I get paid in my umpiring back home, but it's not enough to support my life, but the fun matters more," added Lafuente, who started playing the sport when she was six and then shifted to be an umpire in the age of 20. It has been 23 years as an umpire for her.

McClean, 35, started hockey playing when she was 11 under at the encouragement of her mother, who's also a hockey player in Trinidad & Tobago. "Now I play hockey a little bit recreationally and most of the time I'm the umpire," said McClean, who works for a New York company on sales and distribution.

"I initially got a scholarship from a University in Long Island, New York. Then I settled in New York and offer umpiring to the University league of 10 teams in New York each weekend.

"You got selected by your country first to be recommended to FIH, then the Federation put you forward in your region as umpire for different tournaments. You get grade every time, when you get better grade, you'll be picked up internationally," added she.

To McClean, an umpire is just a special player. "Being umpires, it's similar to be the players. We have to invest our time, keep up with the rules, to train. It's just a reward for us to be here, to the tournaments like this. We're just like special players. We work hard for here, you need to put a lot of energy to maintain your level, to receive information to do your best."

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Du Xiaofei, Bianji)

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