As the most capped team sports player to ever have played for South Africa, Marsha Cox is well-placed to give her verdict on the performance of the South Africa men’s team at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, as well as a view on what the future holds for the team.
South Africa exited the tournament before the quarter-final stages but before they left, they caught the hearts and minds of the hockey community as they took a 3-0 lead against eventual champions Belgium – they lost the match 9-4; as well as defeating Germany 4-3.
“We have had good teams before, but we have never had a team that lit up the stage and had some of the best teams in the world looking at them in awe, not just for how they played but for the way they carried themselves on and off the field and brought a different enjoyment to the game.
“At this level, you have the eyes of the world on you from the first moment you step on the field and that can cause stage fright. But it was really refreshing to see the men’s team take it as an opportunity of a lifetime and other teams saw and admired that.”
Cox said she felt the women’s team would feel disappointed that they didn’t bring a similar sense of adventure to the Games. “Your work ethic and your passion and your commitment are things you can bring to every single game. The women will look back and maybe feel they could have done better.”
In South Africa there are a number of challenges, particularly financially. Cox explained that the team had resorted to crowdfunding for balls and equipment because the government funding simply isn’t there. It isn’t a situation she believes will change overnight. “We need to make small progresses through the coming years,” she said.
For many of the team the chance to play club hockey over seas is a real development opportunity. The players will now spend many months playing hockey, particularly in Europe, where they may have the chance to be professional or semi-professional athletes.
“That will be a huge advantage when they get together again,” said Cox. “By playing in other countries, they are exposed to the athletes that they will meet in international competitions. Their performance at the Olympics has done them no harm at all – in fact, it will have ‘upped’ their values.
“Then we have to wait and see if ‘corporate Africa’ gets on board and backs the boys.”
South Africa have a big few months coming up. The Commonwealth Games is a chance to pit their skills against some of the biggest teams in the world and there are the women’s and men’s World Cups.
There are some structures in place to capture young talent, but Cox says, there are just not enough. There are camps and clinics for children to attend and schools which offer sports bursaries. Cox says more has to be done to bridge the gap between the poor communities and the opportunities on offer.
“I would like to see more training opportunities available in their surroundings, where they feel more familiar and confident.”
Reflecting on the impact that the South African men’s team’s performance could have on the future generations of hockey players in South Africa, Cox is excitedly positive: “These players have the opportunity to make history. Now they have to embrace it and see where they can go with it. Through their performance and the way they capitalise on it now, they have the potential to change the path of many players back home in South Africa.”
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