Will SAS­COC bend the rules for hockey?

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - OCKERT DE VILLIERS

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.”

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