SA Men’s Hockey team speak out after being forced to withdraw from FIH Pro League

File image.

File image.

Published Feb 25, 2023


Johannesburg - They gave their blood, sweat, and tears to ensure qualification for the upcoming FIH Pro League.

So it’s hardly a surprise that the South African Men's Hockey Team players were left disappointed last week when they heard that the team had been withdrawn from the elite level league by the SA Hockey Association.

As a result, Ireland has replaced South Africa in the elite level league.

Now, players are demanding answers.

The Saturday Star spoke to a number of first-team SA hockey players this week who shared their feelings about the shocking decision.

Each player spoke to us anonymously as they do not want to be victimised or isolated by the hockey federation.

A member of the Canadian side who played the SA hockey team in their 2-1 victory in Potchefstroom. Pic: Neo Ntsoma.

Player one:

I am extremely disappointed. It is so damaging. We sacrifice a lot. We have ambitions of going all out for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, and many players paid well over 1 000 euros (about R19434) to book flights to play in the Nations Cup with the idea of gaining promotion into the Pro League. Our team has been on a huge upward trajectory, and we wanted to continue this by qualifying for the Olympics and having the best preparation. We finished fourth at the Commonwealth Games, and we feel we can do even more at the Olympics. We have virtually no international matches planned for of 2023.

We have plenty of challenges. We need to find funding for gym, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, our local club fees, flights, and not to mention the countless hours of training. We juggle our jobs to fund ourselves and sacrifice time with family and friends.

The big challenges are all financial. The expenses we incur outside of tournaments add up. We can never plan our lives and budget, as we never know when we will have to fork out expenses for a tour.

The decision was made without the input of the players and management staff. The consent is never necessary. However, engagement of some sort would have been appreciated, especially since players sacrificed to compete at the Nations Cup, which SA hockey were more than happy to host.

Does he plans to leave SA to represent another country:

No. Being South African and representing is something I will forever cherish. I don't play the game for recognition from my association, but being a representative of every South African is something special.

SA men's hockey team in Durban. Supplied image.

Player two:

This was a good opportunity for the team to prepare for the biggest hockey tournament, which is the Olympics in Paris. We are all disappointed.

We were informed by our interim coach the day before it went public. And it’s a matter of finances. We needed to secure R10 million. And we couldn’t.

We are losing this experience of playing against the best teams in the world. We will lose a lot of good momentum. It’s already tough to get fixtures against these teams because they are busy with other tournaments, such as the pro league.

It’s sad that, after so many years, the financial situation is still the same. We pay for our own flights. We’re not asking for a salary, just the opportunity to compete against the best.

I don’t think they need our consent to make a decision. However, it would’ve helped to tell the players first. I’m not saying we could’ve got the money in time. However, we would’ve failed trying at the least.

Does he plans to leave SA to represent another country:

No, I love my team. We’ve been through so much together on tours and on the field. Playing for another country has never been a thought for me.

File picture: The SA men's hockey team celebrate the Olympic qualifier victory after beating Japan 2-1 in the final at Gifu Green Stadium in Kakamigahara, Japan. Picture: Stanislas Brochier.

Player number 3:

We have worked hard to earn this opportunity, so the disappointment is huge.

We still have not received a full breakdown as to why SA hockey withdrew.

The decision is very damaging. As a group, we have already set a culture in the team that it is not about ourselves, and we have to play for something bigger. This is a huge setback and is very demotivating.

It’s like taking five steps forward and 10 back. We have been on the upward curve, but this makes us feel that our hard work and sacrifices have been in vain.

I had to take leave from work in the Netherlands and explain to my hockey club in Holland that I would be away for a large amount of time. I have not seen my family for five months, so attending international tournaments has been a sacrifice.

Does he plans to leave SA to represent another country:

I am a very patriotic citizen and would love to continue playing for South Africa regardless of how much of a struggle things are.

File Picture: South Africa vs England men's hockey, Randburg. Bruce Jacobs attacks the English defence during the first test of three. England v SA.

Player number 4:

As a professional athlete, I am very disappointed in not being able to play in the 2023/24 season of the Pro League. It offered us a high level competition on a regular basis that prepared us for the commonwealth games in 2022.

From the beginning, we weren’t given a reason by SA Hockey. This decision has a massive impact on us as players. Pro League was an opportunity for us to play 18 international games against the top 8 teams in the world. It was a big part of our preparation for the African Cup and the 2024 Olympics.

I have sacrificed so much to play for the national side, from missing my kids’ birthdays and first days of school, having to take unpaid leave and pay for events, and at some stages in my career, having to move jobs to keep the finances going at home.

I work a full time job and still fit in training sessions.

Does he plans to leave SA to represent another country:

Unfortunately, I am not the right age to make that change if I wanted to. I do, however, love playing for the green and gold and don’t think I would change.

SA Men’s Hockey Team

SA Men’s Hockey team player number 5:

The team, as a whole, is incredibly disappointed. We have been seeing the positive effects of consistent, top-quality test matches, and the entire group was really looking forward to continuing the positive growth as a team.

The players were not consulted, and we were not given clear answers as to why we had to withdraw. Afterwards, we were told it was as a result of a lack of funding. This is, of course, very frustrating to the players as the momentum of the Tokyo 202O Olympics, African Cup of Nations, Commonwealth games and Nations Cup could've been used to approach sponsors with a plan. The players specifically asked whether or not our qualification into the Pro-League would be supported by SAHA and whether there would be funding should we qualify. We were assured that the funding would be found and that we would play.

As a player, this is a very damaging decision, both as a professional sportsman and for our team. By withdrawing, the team loses the opportunity to play at least 16 international test matches against the top 8 nations in the world. This would've been a key part of our preparation and process in building towards Paris 2024.

Does he plans to leave SA to represent another country:

I have considered it. But my personal situation would not make it possible. I do fear that some of the younger players may consider it strongly.

My heart will always be South African. It is my country and our team. So it would be a decision no player takes lightly and would only ever be taken to be part of a more professional set-up.

Player number 6:

We have been working so hard to make sure South African hockey stays on the world hockey map. Also, we did so well as a team at the Nation's Cup, where you had to qualify for pro league by winning it. It is the first time in history one of the South African Teams has won a major FIH tournament.

If we knew in advance that the issue was financial, the players could've tried to raise funds or even do clinics.

This is very damaging. Playing hockey is my job. It is a big blow for us as a team and as a nation. It has taken a lot of hard work and sacrifice to get me to where I am today. I remember when I made my senior debut at the age of 17, I had to miss school and exams because of training camps or tournaments.

Does he plans to leave SA to represent another country:

To be honest, yes, I have been chatting with many coaches in SA and asking for advice. Of course, I would love to still play for my country, but if things don't change, then I'll have to make a decision. I already have been in contact with Germany and Holland.

The Saturday Star

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