FILE - Phumelela Mbande (GK) of South Africa leads the defence during a penalty corner during their 2017 Hockey World League Women quarter-final game against Ireland at Wits Hockey Fields in Parktown. Photo: Aubrey Kgakatsi/BackpagePix
FILE - Phumelela Mbande (GK) of South Africa leads the defence during a penalty corner during their 2017 Hockey World League Women quarter-final game against Ireland at Wits Hockey Fields in Parktown. Photo: Aubrey Kgakatsi/BackpagePix

SA hockey needs success in the olympics to ensure a brighter future

By Stuart Hess Time of article published May 27, 2021

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JOHANNESBURG — For South Africa’s two Olympic bound hockey teams, playing in Tokyo will not only be about winning medals, but making a more lasting impression for the sport in this country.

Hockey exists in the shadows for much of the years between Games, and when the Olympics do come into view the same story emerges about the sport, led primarily by a lack of funding. That is again the case this year.

In order to attract support going forward the national teams need to show significant progress at the biggest events, and there is none bigger in hockey than the Olympic Games. “I think for hockey in general in South Africa, it’s obviously a huge opportunity to go and represent SA on the biggest international stage that there is,” said the women’s team’s captain Erin Hunter.

Her teammate, goalkeeper, Phumelela Mbande, went a step further, outlining how success in Tokyo was crucial to the future of the sport in this country.

“We weren’t able to go to the previous Olympics and so we understand that this Olympics is important, not just for SA women’s hockey right now, but also for future generations,” said Mbande. “What we do at this Olympics, could set the tone for SA hockey going forward.”

That is an enormous additional goal to attach to Olympic competition. South Africa’s women have never finished better than ninth at the Games, something Mbande is desperate to help change this year. “That quarter-final is 100% the only thing that the SA women’s team is focused on right now,” she said Thursday during the announcement of a provisional list of athletes and teams to represent South Africa in Tokyo.

“Speaking to setting a tone for SA hockey, speaking to achieving goals for ourselves as a team, getting to the quarter-final is literally — besides qualifying and getting to Tokyo — that quarter-final is absolutely, 100% our only focus.”

“We are not going to Tokyo just to get a participation trophy,” she added. “The Olympics is a massive competition not just across different sporting codes but for hockey specifically, there’s big things attached to it like ranking points. One of our biggest struggles as South African hockey, is based largely around our geographic location and also funding.

“We struggle to get lots of international competition. For the teams based in Europe, they can play Euro championships where they play each other. Obviously, like with every sport, the more you compete the better you get. Our participation opportunities are very limited.”

The South African women are in a very tough group that includes the current Olympic champions, Great Britain, World Champions, the Netherlands and the runners-up at the last world championships, Ireland. To get into the quarter-final they need to finish fourth in their six-team group.

“It is very important that when we do get to compete at such a level with this type of competition, we really put our mark down, and say we are a force to be reckoned with and we are changing the future of South African hockey, specifically related to ranking points,” Mbande, 28, reiterated.

“If we can place better at the Olympics, we get better ranking points and that changes, literally the future prospects for South African hockey.”

SA WOMEN’S HOCKEY TEAM

Quanita Bobbs, Erin Christie, Lisa Deetlefs, Lilian Du Plessis, Nicole Erasmus, Tarryn Glasby, Robyn Johnson, Charne Maddocks, Lerato Mahole, Phumelela Mbande, Edith Molikoe, Kristen Paton, Tarryn Potts, Celia Seerane, Nomnikelo Veto and Onthatile Zulu.

Coaches and Management

Gillian Doig (Manager), Robin Van Ginkel (Head Coach), Nkuliso Zondi (Assistant Coach) and Taren Naidoo (Video Analyst.)

SA MEN’S HOCKEY TEAM

Erasmus Pieterse, Timothy Drummond, Austin Smith, Mohamed Mea, Matthew Guise Brown, Jethro Eustice, Nduduzo Lembethe, Taine Paton, Nicholas Spooner, Clinton Panther, Samkelo Mvimbi, Abdud Cassiem, Mustaphaa Cassiem, Nqobile Ntuli, Keenan Horne and Tevin Kok.

Coaches and Management

Martin Van Staden (Manager), Garreth Ewing (Head Coach), Siphesihle Ntuli (Assistant Coach) and Ashlin Freddy.

@shockerhess

IOL Sport

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