World’s best hockey juniors head to Potchefstroom to play ball
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Cape Town - South Africa has another gilt-edged opportunity to enhance its standing as a host for major international sporting events.
Hockey’s world governing body, the Federation of International Hockey (FIH), has named South Africa as the host for its flagship event for junior women in December at the North West University (NWU) in Potchefstroom.
The event will mark the first hockey World Cup on African soil. Up to now, the highest-profile hockey event staged on the continent was the FIH World League semi-finals, featuring the world’s best men’s and women’s teams, including South Africa, in June 2017 at the Wits Hockey Astro.
The Women’s Junior Hockey World Cup starts on December 5 at the North West University’s Astro complex. Host nation South Africa will join 15 other international teams in the competition, which ends on December 17.
As a result of Covid-19 restrictions, the event will be hosted in a bio-bubble to ensure the safety of players and officials. Some countries, like Australia and New Zealand have recently withdrawn, citing fears over coronavirus. They have been replaced by Argentina and Ireland.
The remaining 13 teams are Zimbabwe, Korea, India, Japan, Belgium, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Canada, Uruguay and the US.
Potchefstroom has a proud record of hosting World Cup teams down the years because of its world-class facilities and has proven its capabilities time and again. In 2003, the Cricket World Cup champions Australia chose Potchefstroom as their base.
A few years later, Spain, the 2010 Fifa World Cup champions, were based in Potchefstroom and the university town has been a brilliant advertisement for South African sport in general.
Marissa Langeni, the chief executive of the South African Hockey Association, is overwhelmed that South Africa will make its debut as a hockey World Cup host.
“We have the opportunity to host the first hockey World Cup on African soil,” said Langeni.
“It is a dream come true and provides an amazing opportunity to showcase what a hosting giant South Africa and the continent can be.
“It is an event that can inspire the next generation of rising stars and provides a great platform for young athletes to showcase their talents on an international stage.
“The South African hospitality is amazing, and we look forward to welcoming all the international teams to our beautiful country and sharing the spirit of Ubuntu with the world.
“Let us embrace the youth, let us celebrate these rising stars.”
Marsha Cox – a legend of SA hockey, enjoys the distinction of being the most-capped player for a South African sports team, male or female, with more than 330 caps – recently interviewed Onathile Zulu, who could be in the running for a place in the SA team later this year.
Zulu said she and her teammates were thrilled that South Africa was hosting a World Cup event in their sport of choice.
“It is very exciting because it is the first time South Africa has hosted such a huge tournament,” said Zulu.
“I am excited to spark that motivation among little children, who will see us play and think that they want to play for South Africa one day.
“Having our family there will be an extra push to do even better.”
The former SA women’s hockey coach, Sheldon Rostron, heads up the local organising committee (LOC) which will provide oversight, support and be responsible for planning logistics. He is presently the director of sport at North-West University and well-equipped to ensure that South Africa deliver a five-star event.
Rostron said the coronavirus had thrown up challenges, but the LOC is well equipped to ensure the event will run smoothly.
“Covid-19 remains a moving target and we continuously monitor and re-assess our current situations as well as try to predict what lies around the corner,” said Rostron.
“We are fortunate to have experts close to us. We are in an environment in which we know what we’re doing. In addition, we have people that are well-trained and able to respond to the unexpected in a heartbeat. Likewise, we have plans in place to deal with anything out of the ordinary.
“We will try to ensure we entertain as well take the sport to the people, even though Covid-19 forcing us to deliver the event in a bio-bubble remains a challenge. The coronavirus situation is easing up and there could fewer restrictions in December.
“We really want to share this event with not only the world but also local supporters. We want to make it fun for our province and close community as they have been hungry for hockey for so long.
“The last international event in Potchefstroom (2007) was such a great experience and attracted people from far and wide.
“Sport connects, unites and inspires and we now have to figure out how we maintain these attributes and continue to make an impact.”
Rostron said the North-West University has a brilliant track record as a sports host. Its record speaks for itself.
“The NWU is accustomed to hosting world-class teams, athletes and events,” said Rostron. “Our facilities are magnificent and are true monuments of hard work put in by our staff, our leaders and students.
“They continuously open their arms to the world to come and train and prepare for events or even play host to global events.
“It is in the NWU nature to provide opportunities for our students and staff to grow, develop and have opportunities to excel. This event is no different as our community will be working together to ensure we welcome the world and share this special place called Potchefstroom in the wonderful province of North West.
“We are well known for our sports tourism, and we provide great accommodation options, which offer great food and great people.
“Despite all of the challenges, visitors will feel at home. We will ensure they are comfortable and ready to deliver on the field daily.
“We think visitors will come back post-Covid-19 and explore all the other tourist attractions and use us as a springboard for their future successes. We have done so for the Spanish football team and the Australian cricket team during their respective World Cup tournaments.”
The event will bring relief from the pandemic, which has engulfed and held South Africans captive for many months now.
“We need positivity,” said Rostron. “We need to sport to put smiles on our faces and to talk about something different again.
“Sport has always been part of our South African DNA and remains one of the strongest tools to deal with our past and move forward as a nation.”