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Laura Roper, the legendary British ice hockey player, is convinced that the sport has an uphill battle ahead of it not to lose its top talent.

At Paris 2024, Roper will join Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh and Jane Sixsmith in forming the legendary quartet that has represented Great Britain in women's hockey at four Olympic Games.

Roper, who says she will retire after the Games, is confident she is leaving the sport in better shape than she found it after making her UK debut when Gordon Brown was prime minister.

But the 36-year-old's lingering concern about his retirement from international hockey is that other sports – particularly football, but also netball and cricket – which can offer players a professional future will cannibalise hockey's talent pool.

“Women’s sports as a whole are on the rise, but in hockey we need to make sure we keep up with the other sports,” Roper said.

“They are setting a good example and we must not be left behind.”

“For us, the Olympics are a really good opportunity to showcase our sport and get girls excited about it, but we don’t have the financial support of other sports.

“Sports like football or cricket are likely to be supported financially by the male side of the game, which is not the case with hockey.

“We would be happy about the right sponsorship because that would also help and as a sport we have to stick with it.”

“I listen to a lot of the girls on our team talk about how they got started in hockey and how they got started in other sports too. Today you can become a professional in other sports and make good money, which wasn't possible when we were young.

“The challenge we face is that we are losing girls who are good at all sports to sports like soccer.”

Roper believes the overall picture is positive, particularly in terms of attendance at Lee Valley’s FIH Pro League home games.

“I recently played my 250th international match and if that had happened in 2013, maybe 100 people would have been there,” Roper said.

“It was a couple thousand. I think that shows the growth of the sport, which is incredible, and that's what we need to keep doing. I didn't watch international hockey games as a kid.”

Roper is one of over 1,000 elite athletes taking part in UK Sport's National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, which enables them to train full-time, have access to the world's best coaches and benefit from groundbreaking medical support – vital to their path to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

For Roper, this is her fourth Olympic Games. She was on the podium at the first three: bronze in London 2012, gold in Rio 2016 and bronze in Tokyo 2020.

Among British rowers, only Dame Katherine Grainger has ever won a medal at more than four different Games. Roper's love of the sport is as strong as it was when she first pulled on a GB jersey in 2008 and she is adamant that hockey will play an important role in the British sporting landscape.

“Hockey is a truly unique sport that is loved by everyone who plays it,” Roper said.

“It's a team game and that's the main selling point – there's nothing like it out there.”

“You can also see that we are all normal girls who had a dream. I think that's important to make clear to all young hockey players. You don't have to be special.”

“You just have to love the game and be willing to work hard and you can go far in this sport.”

discovery+ is the streaming home of the Olympic Games and the only place you can watch every moment of Paris 2024 this summer.

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