THE moment that South Africa’s top men’s and women’s hockey players have been waiting for has finally arrived.
At 11.30 am Thursday, head of the SA Sports Congress and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) Moss Mashisi will announce the 16-member teams to take part in the Olympic Games in Beijing, China from August 10 to 23.
For those in the selection mix, countless hours spent training and myriad matches after first picking up a hockey stick will be condensed into a few brief minutes as the teams are named at a press conference at Sascoc House in Johannesburg.
And as with every team in the 12-nation men’s and women’s competitions, there will be the utter despair of those left out and unbridled joy of those whose Olympic dreams have been realised.
What can be said for the SA players, particularly the men, is that each one of them has been given the chance to impress the selectors over the last six months. Selection convenor Richard van Briesies, Mike Bechet, Robbie Pullen and coach Gregg Clark have left no stone unturned in their endeavour to arrive at the best combination for Beijing.
The SA women’s side, currently playing in the Setanta Trophy Four Nations tournament in Dublin, has had a more settled look about it for some time and there are likely to be few surprises at Sascoc House Thursday.
The men’s squad, however, have been dragged through an unseemly spat over quotas and transformation policies that has polarised the nation’s hockey community.
Amid the outrageous statements of Parliament’s sports portfolio chairman Butane Komphela, though, one quarter has shown admirable pragmatism as far as balancing transformation with fielding a competitive side is concerned.
Unsolicited, Sascoc high performance manager Tubby Reddy asked two prominent players of colour – SA women’s captain Marsha Marescia and her men’s counterpart Bruce Jacobs – how many non-white players did they feel would make the teams on merit.
Their sober assessment led to a memorandum of understanding between Sascoc and the SA Hockey Association (Saha) that a minimum of six players of colour would be selected in each team.
And come 11.30 am Thursday, the overwhelming majority of SA hockey supporters will be hoping that common sense prevails.