If you have a friend that plays hockey, you’ve probably seen a petition going around demanding that the South African hockey teams be sent to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games . The petition failed despite 16,316 people signing. The question is where to next.
It all seems a bit familiar, doesn’t it? Charles Smith said “This decision means the world to the game of hockey in South Africa,” when South Africa was granted the final qualification place for the 2004 Olympics, held in Greece. This merely four years after the likes of Craig Jackson, Greg Nicol, Brian Myburgh and Gregg Clark retired from international hockey after NOCSA (National Olympic Committee of South Africa) blocked their participation at the 2000 Olympics. These players, along with four others, took over 900 caps out of the national camp when the decision was made. Craig Jackson, the captain of the SA men at the time, said at the time “The guys have lost heart. Over the last two or three years we kept thinking that all we need is one little break and South African hockey would soar. Not going to the Olympics has just put us further back in that quest. We’ve wasted so much time, energy and emotion and, I’m afraid, we just don’t have it anymore.” If you remember, the final meeting to close the door on the team was held in Rio, obviously a kak place for SA hockey.
Those of you with a bit of a memory of South African hockey will remember that Clarkie called the current group of players the Golden Generation of SA hockey. Will this generation suffer the same fate as the 2000-variety. Personalities like Rassie, Jonty, Lloyd, Justin, Wade, Rhett and Austin won’t be around for the 2020 competition, if they do I will buy them a Bells. I mention just the men but the women are equally equipped with stars of a similar age. Will they dedicate themselves to their countries for a little while longer, paying out of their own pocket for training camps and tours?
Are we right in placing all the blame on SASCOC? Did SAHA not sign an agreement regarding the qualification criteria? When the teams did not fufill the criteria, there was a sudden backlash and I don’t think it was directed correctly.
Hockey is a topic that I am very interested in and strongly opinionated about. I can’t help but feel some responsibility for this all. The fact of the matter is that SASCOC don’t feel that SA hockey going to the Olympics will be a good return on investment, in other words the money. Fair enough. Hockey is an amateur sport and the only way you can play professionally is to play abroad. My question is why are we not doing something about that. Well no one will sponsor hockey clubs in South Africa and as a businessman, I wouldn’t either. Sponsorships are a two way street. Brands need return on investment through sponsorships, the minimum return being exposure.
It amazes me that 16,316 can sign a petition but a Premium League game can’t muster a crowd large enough to fill the stand. Sometimes, it’s only the centre link’s girlfriend and her hubbly. At some point the hockey community in South Africa needs to get bums in seats. Bums in seats can equate to sponsors, TV deals and monetary benefits. Why are we not getting the primary school players to watch the level they are aspiring towards. What I find is the hockey community is quite closed off to the world but it shouldn’t be. Our provincial bodies are not looking at ways of getting people at games. Surely we should be accommodating to the crowd, like scheduling games on Friday nights, when the whole family can come watch, as opposed to the hungover Sundays. No one else will do it for us.
Club competitions have started to pop up but are they enough and are we marketing them enough. At the recent Greenfields Elite Club Challenge, there were hundreds of national caps on display and the provincial caps must’ve been in the thousands. Why are we not leading with this to the youngsters? Not that I want to criticise the competition in its infancy, I think it’s a great step in the right direction.
I love hockey, I always have, but I don’t think I’ve done enough to assist it and I hope others feel the same way. Signing an internet petition is not going to help the sport, but heading down to Tuks astro on a Friday to watch Tuks vs Old Albanians may (Pretoria example). Bring friends & family and join that poor girlfriend with the hubbly, there’s always one, and she’s been alone for too long.