Will SASCOC bend the rules for hockey?
SPORTS MINISTER Fikile Mbalula says the SA Hockey Association (SAHA) and SASCOC had to come together to resolve whether or not the country should send the national men’s and women’s hockey teams to the Rio Olympic Games next year.
Both hockey teams failed to qualify for the 2016 Games according to an agreement SAHA signed with the Olympic body.
Earlier this month, both the men’s and women’s hockey teams won the African Championships in Randburg, which served as Olympic qualifiers but SASCOC does not allow qualification via this route.
The teams had to finish in the top-six of the FIH World League to book a place for the global showpiece.
“If SASCOC is prepared to bend ( the rules) and allow hockey to go to the Olympics, the Minister of Sport does not have a problem with that,” Mbalula said at the launch of the inaugural National Sports Week in Centurion yesterday.
“They must respect their own decisions and what they have signed when I was not there, which has got nothing to do with us.”
SASCOC received a petition with approximately 12 000 signatures which urge the Olympic body to make a u-turn on their policy and send the teams to the Games.
Mbalula warned that should hockey get their way it could open the door for other federations to go back on the policies they had signed and agreed to.
“We are going to the Olympics first of all because we want exposure for our athletes but secondly with the belief that we can win medals,” he said.
“There seems to be (a) disconnect in terms of what SASCOC has agreed with hockey SA in terms of the criteria.
“The criteria should (not) make us undermine the rules for the rest of the athletes to think that if you put pressure you can bend the rules in terms of the criteria and allow everybody to go the Olympics.”
Mbalula said he had always supported hockey in the country adding that he was in the process of negotiating a national league with SAHA.
“As the Minister of Sports I have supported hockey and I continue to support hockey, especially the women,” he said.
“At the moment I am working with them to explore the possibility of next year establishing and running a hockey league alongside netball, especially for women.”
Meanwhile, worldrenowned international hockey umpire John Wright said the decision to omit the hockey teams from the Olympics could be detrimental for the sport in the country.
“It could be catastrophic if they can’t partake, we could be on (a) slippery slide if something catastrophic like this is not addressed,” Wright said, who recently achieved the milestone of umpiring 200 international matches.
“The number of kids playing the game is paramount, (because) that is your future, and if they don’t have any role models and performances to aspire to, with the Olympics being one of those you will battle.”
Wright said excluding the African qualifying route was slightly short- sighted as hockey on the continent has improved in leaps and bounds.
“The recent African Championships is point in case, to all of a sudden have nine men’s teams and eight women’s teams in Africa is massive,” he said.
“Africa is tough and I don’t think it is as easy as everyone makes it out to be, and SA hockey needs to realise they aren’t as they were in the past, ahead of everyone else and the fathers of hockey within Africa.”