The timing of the press release that dashed the Olympic dreams of South Africa’s hockey sides was questionable.
Just a few hours before the women’s team were in action last Friday the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) issued a strongly worded release which categorically stated that no matter what happened the teams would not be going to Rio de Janeiro next year.
Being one of only two journalists at the African Championships venue in Randburg last week I had people asking me to confirm that the release was a reality.
Being the bearer of bad news sucks.
What irks me about the whole debacle is how the issuing of the news was handled. How can the national Olympic committee treat their athletes like that? And right before they’re meant to sing the national anthem and represent their country?
While the hockey community has spent the week wondering what if and have hurriedly rushed to sign an online petition to try and get the decision reversed it is probably a case of too little too late.
The question that needs to be asked now revolves around why the South African Hockey Association (Saha) signed the document that agreed with Sascoc’s thinking that qualification through Africa wasn’t good enough.
A case of towing the line to avoid messing up the relationship?
Another thing that riles me about Sascoc’s thinking is that it doesn’t seem like they’ve actually studied the strength of African hockey that closely.
To be quite honest I didn’t see a single recognisable face from Sascoc’s top brass at the venue for the finals weekend, let alone for the duration of the competition.
Had they attended they would have seen how Kenya, a team who do not feature prominently in the rankings, pushed the South African men right to the end in their semifinal match-up. The 2-1 scoreline tells you that.
They also missed the chance to witness the epic final between Egypt and the hosts.
I’ve been curious as to what the decision might have been had the men failed to dismantle Egypt as they did after the women had already been crowned. Might the need for more female representation in Team South Africa resulted in a change of thinking by those in the ivory towers?
As far as the sport goes on a global scale, South Africa will probably never be medal contenders at the Olympic Games. Going to the Olympics is the pinnacle achievement for these players.
It validates the years spent training, honing their craft – without pay in most cases – and it gives them even greater pride in representing their country. A feeling that not many people experience and now those that qualify, at least according to the International Olympic Committee and the International Hockey Federation, are being deprived.
It’s probably not the last we’ve heard of this saga, I’d be willing to bet that the teams won’t go down without a fight.