THANDO CELE
On 1 November 2015 the SA men’s and women’s hockey teams were crowned African champions after winning the Greenfields African Hockey Championships. According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Hockey Federation (FIH) standards, winning the tournament meant that the hockey Proteas automatically qualified for this year’s Rio Olympics.

However, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), the largest sporting body in the country and the body that oversees all sport issues in South Africa, has deemed the competition within the continent to be too easy a route for the Proteas to qualify. They have therefore insisted that the teams need to finish in the top three of their rounds of the Hockey World League to qualify, instead. Both teams narrowly missed out on their targets, which has led to Sascoc preventing them from competing in Rio.

The South African hockey community has been upset, directing their frustrations and anger toward Sascoc. Hockey in South Africa receives the least amount of funding, sponsorship and marketing, in comparison to South Africa’s more traditional sports of cricket, rugby and football. The lack of investment in the sport locally makes the possibility of pursuing hockey as a sustainable career in South Africa difficult. Players who find themselves in this situation have not taken the Sascoc announcement well. Many have put all other opportunities on hold for the past four year Olympic cycle, with the hope of breaking into the top ten world rankings in Rio.

When questioned about their decision, Sascoc CEO Tubby Reddy said, “We commend the SA men’s and women’s teams participating in the African Championships being held in Johannesburg, giving their best and competing for world ranking points. However, the Sascoc board firmly believes that the qualification criteria, which have been agreed between the international sporting federations and the International Olympic Committee, and based on World Olympic Qualification, is in line with Sascoc’s policy of producing world class athletes who will compete at the highest levels.”

South Africa not going to the Olympics has been predicted to have a snowball effect on hockey’s future in the country. The Olympics are the pinnacle of the sport, and South Africa can only improve its stature and world rankings if it competes at the highest level consistently. The South African women and men are currently ranked 11th and 15th respectively in the world, and if SA is unable to participate in the Olympics, their rankings will drop. South African hockey professionals would not be able to possess a sporting visa or work permit if their country is not ranked within the top 12 nations of the world. This puts South Africa in the position of losing their international credibility.

Hockey plays a large part in the sporting culture at UP. The current manager of the UP Hockey Club is SA women’s hockey captain Nicolene Terblanche, who has expressed her disappointment and sadness at the possibility of not going to Rio. UP also has a representative in the men’s national side in Stephen Cant, who along with his team shares the same sentiment.

The performance of the SA men’s and women’s hockey teams recently could arguably prove their ability to compete against Olympic-standard teams. The ladies beat Scotland in a series last month, and more recently managed a 2-2 draw against the much-favoured Germans. The men won against Olympians Canada and Spain. These performances have led to the creation of an online petition to support the SA hockey teams to send them to Rio. This petition has been endorsed by Springbok veteran Victor Matfield, Scottish women’s hockey player Nikki Lloyd, and SA women’s cricket captain Mignon du Preez .

 

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