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Supplied image.

Despite booking their place in Tokyo, the SA men's hockey team still face challenges to get to the Olympics

By Sameer Naik Time of article published Mar 27, 2021

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In just under four months, the torch at the Tokyo Olympic Games will be lit.

It will signal the start of the most-anticipated sporting fixture of the year, as the world's best athletes gather to compete in a range of sporting codes.

South Africa’s Keenan Horne hopes he will be among the athletes.

Horne, the vice-captain of the South African men’s hockey team is determined to compete in his first Olympic Games.

Despite him and his teammates qualifying for the games, a lack of financial backing by sports bodies has left a big question mark on whether the men's hockey team will be competing in the prestigious competition.

The team booked their place at the Olympics last year, having clinched the African Hockey “Road to Tokyo 2020” qualifying cup in Stellenbosch.

But with no funds to support the team, they had to come up with more than R3.5 million themselves.

They recently teamed up with award-winning platform, Matchkit.co to further commercialise and grow their brand as they step up their preparation for the showpiece.

Matchkit.co has enabled the team to set up a crowdfunding campaign, with a plea to corporates, fans and the public to raise the R3.5m they need.

The Kraaifontein-born athlete said the team hoped to raise enough money to realise their dreams.

“The R3.5m is a very conservative figure and this not only includes the Olympic Games but also our preparations, which includes overseas tournaments and series against top nations,” said Horne.

“It started out quite slow, but we are hoping to gain momentum in the coming weeks. To date, we raised about R30 000.”

But Horne is confident they can raise the money.

“We are a resilient group, and with the help of the South African people, I am certain we will.”

While the team is confident Horne says they are disheartened by the lack of financial support by the SA Sports Confederation & Olympic Committee (Sascoc) and other sports bodies.

“It is disheartening and less than ideal, but we pride ourselves on our professionalism and that is why we have decided to take things into our own hands,” said Horne.

“We want to be supported by our sports bodies and federations as much as any other athlete, but at the end of the day, we are competing and making sacrifices for something bigger than ourselves. To be successful for Team South Africa and pave the way for future generations.”

Keenan Horne in action. Picture credit: Peter Heeger

Horne said the team were informed earlier by the hockey federation that there were no funds available to assist them.

“We haven’t had any direct communication from Sascoc, but our federation has warned us that there are no funds available for the Tokyo Games.”

While most other countries competing at the Tokyo Games have been funded by their respected sporting bodies, Horne said it hurt that they haven't received the same backing.

“Every athlete wants to represent their country in their respective sport and one day compete in the pinnacle of their sport. For Hockey players, that is the Olympic Games.

“We are a proud sporting nation with such a rich history in the sporting arena, and as an athlete, you want to be a part of that.

“Sport is an integral part of South Africans' livelihood and has played a huge role in our reconciliation. It does hurt when we aren’t financially supported.”

The SA men's hockey team had to work tirelessly for the last four years to ensure qualification for the games, said Horne.

“According to Sascoc, we had to win our African qualifiers as well as place top two in a qualifying tournament in India. It was an extremely tough ask, but this group keeps getting better with the more games we play and it is rather exciting the potential we as a group have.

“The players were determined to qualify and we had to self-fund all our trips and make financial sacrifices throughout 2019. Our staff are all working on a voluntary basis. With the pandemic, we didn’t have the necessary funds to get together and train in a ’bio-bubble’ like the other national teams.

“We trained within our regions as much as possible and we have also worked on our culture through various Zoom meetings. We are very excited to finally get together to see the fruit of all our discussions.”

Horne said he and his teammates never considered giving up on their dream.

“We have put in the hard work of qualifying and have worked hard over the last four-year cycle to not represent our country at the Games.

“We know what impact we can have on Hockey in South Africa. Hockey is one of the fastest growing sports and we need to represent all those players out there.”

He adds that the spirit in the team is high, despite having to fund their way to Tokyo.

“We have qualified for the Olympic Games and in an Olympic year, it isn’t hard to stay motivated and positive. We are a goal orientated and resilient group and we will keep grinding to reach our dream.”

The team is also eyeing a medal.

“We are most definitely the underdogs in the competition. But we have the belief.”

Competing at the Olympics would be a dream come true for Horne, he says.

“Being from an area like Kraaifontein (same area as Cheslin Kolbe and Wayde van Niekerk), I was fortunate enough to have parents who always allowed me to break down barriers by making me believe I can achieve anything.

“Since I was a boy playing hockey, rugby, cricket or athletics, I wanted to be the very best and take my sport as far as possible. When I was in my teens and watched my first Olympic Games, I decided then and there that I wanted to win with Team South Africa at an Olympic Games.”

The Saturday Star

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