— RSA Min of Sport (@MbalulaFikile) May 6, 2016
On 6 May 2016, Fikile announced that South African hockey would get a substantial financial boost and a national hockey league. Obviously this is fantastic news, but is this the miracle that SAHA has been praying for or the beginning of a headache.
A national league would be fantastic, but serious questions need to be answered in the South African club set up before we can throw millions of rands into a venture that we can’t fathom yet. For many years the backbone of provincial and national teams has been the university system. Provinces, except for Western Cape and South Gauteng, have been known to rely on students to form the base of their high performance setup. They are young and, due to tournaments like SAU and Varsity Cup, university hockey is highly competitive. This raises another question, where will varsity cup fall into this league, surely we can’t look to the students to play SAU, Varsity Cup, provincial tournaments (Under 21 and Senior) and then have them play in a league. It all seems a bit much if you ask me.
My suggestion would be form unions, much like the cricket system. A player can be contracted to the union and still play for their club. If the unions are privatised, eventually, they can look to outside investment and not be bound by all of those pesky rules that some varsities face. Obviously this will require time and effort and a staff of marketing, PR and organisation. This isn’t even taking into account that leagues around the country rely on private astro turfs with only a few provinces having their own home ground.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the future of hockey in South Africa needs (among other things) to address the issue of spectatorship. We need people to want to watch hockey. You can understand my excitement when the IPT was streamed this year, it shows that we are breaking the old model of relying on sport production houses that aren’t interested in the sport. Spectatorship leads to an audience, something that the union could leverage for sponsorship money.
A national hockey league can be a great success if it is carefully monitored and nurtured, These are just a few of my thoughts, I’d love to hear yours.