The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) had secured a sponsor and would have the financial means to send Team SA to Tokyo in July and August, president Barry Hendricks recently confirmed.
In March, Sascoc presented an Olympic budget to Parliament in which it had costed flights and accommodation, as well as a $25 per diem for a 350-person contingent in Tokyo. The total was R44-million, which, compared with teams such as the US, China and Great Britain, is small change.
But that’s the reality of South African sport. If there isn’t private funding through sponsors or broadcast rights sales, Sascoc is not going to save federations.
Although Sascoc will pick up the tab for sending Team SA to Tokyo, for smaller disciplines such as hockey, the challenge of generating funding for the preparation phase still looms large. Olympic funding is needed constantly to improve a sports code, not just for a few weeks every four years.
Even in these dire financial times, rugby, cricket and football have the means to fund training camps and cover basic requirements such as food, accommodation and travel.
The Springbok Sevens team, which will be in Tokyo for the Games, has been preparing for years with SA Rugby’s funding. Similarly, the SA Under-23 football team has been lavishly prepared on the back of money from the South Africa Football Association.
The men’s hockey side, however, does not enjoy such resources.
The sport is amateur and, in an ideal world, would be backed by constant funding from Sascoc. But they are not and as a result, they may arrive in Tokyo woefully undercooked.
“If we don’t receive the necessary funding, we won’t have the resources to participate in the events leading up to the Games,” Austin Smith, a two-time Olympian and one of South Africa’s most senior players, told DM168.
“We’re not sure how much we will have to pay out of our own pockets. It’s going to be a great honour to represent our country, but it might be a bit of a downer to get home afterwards and pay back a debt in the region of R50,000.”
Smith (35) is a former South African captain who has won 165 caps over a period of 17 years. He travelled with Team SA to Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.
The sport was done a disservice when Sascoc refused to send the national team to Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Nine years have passed since the team last represented South Africa at the Olympics, and the coaches and players are desperate to make this next opportunity count.
Last month, South Africa partnered with matchkit.co to launch a crowdfunding campaign.
The side needs to generate between R3.5-million and R5-million to ensure that they travel to Japan with the best possible chance of beating top teams such as world champions Belgium, Great Britain and Germany.
While they remain well short of that financial target – and while time is running out – Smith remains optimistic.
“The response has been brilliant so far. These are difficult times, so we’ve been grateful to receive any kind of support,” Smith said.
“Some people have told us that they can’t support us financially, but have gone out of their way to help us with other things, such as accommodation. That’s given us hope.”
Sascoc has committed to delivering Team SA to Tokyo. It’s up to the respective federations and athletes, however, to fund the preparation phase of the journey.
The South African Hockey Association told DM168 that the men’s team’s outstanding fundraising efforts had generated significant momentum and that various funding channels had now been unlocked.
Another sponsor has been secured, and details of that partnership are expected to be announced in the near future.
Covering the bare necessities
Smith made it clear that all money generated by the crowdfunding campaign would go towards covering basic costs. Each expense has been broken down on the various social media platforms for the public and all would-be investors to see: 200 hockey balls (R70,000), 300 Covid-19 tests (R255,000), 81 days’ access to a physiotherapist (R243,000), 1,498 hotel rooms (R1,121,250), 107 international flights (R1,605,000), 50 domestic flights (R100,000), and 4,494 meals (R674,100).
“This is not about upgrading our flights from economy to business class, or about ensuring that we have a great time,” he said.
“This is about meeting the costs of the bare necessities … What I’ve found interesting about this process is that most people are unaware that hockey is an amateur sport in South Africa. Some believe that we earn as much as football players. They’re surprised when they hear that we have full-time jobs outside of the sport. They assume that all athletes [who]compete at the highest level must have the same resources, which is obviously not true.”
Smith confirms that everybody in the team has taken responsibility to generate interest in the campaign.
“We all know what’s at stake here – whatever we don’t raise we will have to pay ourselves. We don’t want to be in a situation where we have to cancel our plans to compete in what we view as crucial tournaments ahead of the Olympics.
“In a way, it helps that our team is scattered around the world,” said the veteran defender, who was speaking from his base in the Netherlands, where he works as a teacher and represents the HC Den Bosch club.
“That way we will have a bigger reach. I did an interview with a local Dutch paper the other day. We want to get our message out there.
“We’re not only doing this for ourselves. We want to go to the Olympics and do South Africa proud. We also want to inspire the next generation of hockey players.”
‘SA are used to being the underdogs’
Should they secure the necessary funding, South Africa will play fixtures against Namibia and Malaysia in May, before participating in the Azlan Shah tournament in June. Plans are in place to stage a training camp in Japan ahead of the Olympic group matches.
“We have to beat our rivals Canada as well as another big team to advance to the next stage of the tournament,” Smith says of the Olympic draw.
“Anything can happen once you get to the knockout stages. The odds may be against us, but as South Africans we are used to being the underdogs. We are used to fighting for every inch.”
Indeed, the players appear to be fighting for a lot more than the opportunity to prepare for a major event.
Smith reiterated what a good campaign in Tokyo could do for the sport in the long term. Since readmission in 1992, South Africa have never finished higher than 10th at the Games.
“To come back from the Olympics with an improved placing, and perhaps an improved world ranking would be hugely positive. This is a young squad, and they may be well placed to progress en route to the 2023 Hockey World Cup and the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
“If the team achieves any success in Tokyo, this will encourage big sponsors to fund a programme in South Africa and ultimately improve the team’s preparation for future tournaments.
“There’s pressure on us to make this next opportunity count … but we’re proud to have this chance. A lot of people have shown their support already, and we don’t want to let them down.”