The Hack: Olympic ambitions killed off

Some people find it hard to drag themselves out of bed for their nine-to-fives. The grind of daily life is not for everyone.

Now imagine how hard it must be to play your heart out in your national colours, being crowned the best team in Africa and then snubbed when it comes to representing your country at the Olympic Games.

That’s the scenario that both of South Africa’s hockey sides find themselves in during their campaign at the African Championships.

They look set to claim overall honours over the weekend, the women needing to see of Ghana tomorrow and the men will have to get through a semifinal against Kenya today and then a probable final against Egypt tomorrow afternoon.

But their Olympic hopes look pinned on a decision by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) who have deemed Africa not strong enough to gauge their performance.

In all fairness they are entitled to that opinion. Having spent every day this week pitch side at the astro in Randburg it’s easy to see why they think that.

South Africa’s sides have not been troubled at all and have managed to post some large scores, the men whipped tournament debutants Botswana 30-0 last weekend, proving Sascoc’s reasoning to be on track.

The argument is that there is a large cost involved with preparing and sending a team, let alone two if both qualify, and there is the chance that there wont be a return given that the Australians, Dutch and Belgians are considered world powers in the sport and likely medal contenders.

But Sascoc’s line of thinking does a disservice not only to the sport in South Africa but also to the continent as a whole.

If South Africa do win here and are not allowed to go the slot reserved for an African side is forfeited.

The real question is, can the sport survive at grassroots level if there isn’t that dream of representing your country at the Olympics?

Chatting to a number of administrators, journalists and players past and present this week they all shared the same sentiment in that exclusion from the Olympics could do serious damage to the sport.

What does a youngster playing provincial hockey aspire to if he can’t harbour ambitions of pulling a South African jersey over his or her head at one of sport’s biggest events.

There’s already a scarcity of international Test matches which means the appeal of persevering with hockey through university, clubs and provincial is severely diminished.

It’s also a well known fact that one won’t get rich playing hockey unless a top level club in Europe decides that a player is good enough.

And what if that player is deemed good enough to feature in an adopted country’s national side? A major skills shortage for South African hockey and then you can kiss any hopes of Olympic Games in the future goodbye unless we eventually host.

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