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Jr Hockey World Cup: With Paris Olympics up ahead, focus on France at Bhubaneswar

Bhubaneswar, Nov 23 (IANS) Though they are not among the favourites for the title, a lot of attention will be focussed on the France team at the FIH Odisha Hockey Junior Men's World Cup starting here on Wednesday.

Paris will be hosting the Summer Olympics in 2024 and being hosts, France will get a direct spot in the hockey competitions. A good performance by the under-21 team of France at Bhubaneswar will go a long way in helping France prove that they deserve a direct spot in the Olympics. Though it will be their senior team that will participate in the Olympics, the good performance by the junior team will indicate the strength of their talent scouting and training programme. France has not made it to the Olympics after 1972.

There is the precedence of a host nation being denied the direct spot in the Olympics -- in 2004, Greece was denied a place in the Athens Olympics because of lowly ranking and lack of hockey culture. Japan, too were in a similar boat as France when they bagged the hosting rights for the 2020 Olympics. But they proved they were worthy of their direct spot by winning the Asian Games gold medal in 2018 in Jakarta.

of course, France are far better ranked than Greece was in 2004. They are currently ranked 13th in the world and have a lot of opportunities to improve it further with some good performances in the lead-up to the Paris Games. They are putting up a lot of efforts with a centralised programme for both the senior and junior hockey teams in place.

Both junior men's team head coach Aymeric Bergamo and captain Timothée Clement are confident that the team will be able to put up a good performance in the Junior World Cup in Bhubaneswar despite their preparations being hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We have a centralised programme at the National Centre and the best talent is given a chance to be there and they train there. We try to build the best players," said coach Bergamo.

"Not enough interest in the media in France for hockey in the country. For that, we need more results and we are sure with good results, we will get people interested in our sport," Bergamo added.

For a country ruled by football and other Olympic sports, France has participated in nine editions of the Summer Olympics starting with the 1908 edition in London. They have finished fourth twice -- in 1920 and 1932. Their last appearance in the Olympics was in the 1972 edition in Munich in which they finished 12th among 16 teams.