Why Is South African Women’s Hockey Dissing Black Players? By Cheryl Roberts

31 Jul


Black Player In SA White-Dominated Women’s Hockey Plays World Class Match

South Africa played in the women’s hockey world cup presently underway in the UK with a white-dominated team, a handful of black players, lost 2 out of 3 group stage matches, drew one against world top three Argentina. That’s not all! It was a black woman player in the SA women’s hockey team who was the only player to get a ‘player of the match’ award at the world cup.

This player is goalkeeper Phumelela Mbande who is steadily earning her international caps and recording improving performances. Phumelela, on Saturday, gave a world class match performance for SA against world no.3 Argentina, in the UK hosted world cup. She not only saved, defended and blocked goals from getting in behind the net and past her line, she also protected SA from getting another thrashing in a world cup match. Yes, SA women hockey players did score a few goals at the world cup but those goals were insignificant for match results with SA losing both those matches, resulting in SA failing to get out of the group stages.

That’s not all! The goalkeeper Phumelela Mbande was quickly substituted in the team’s second match against Spain (a match they lost 7-1), without her getting enough game time. The other goalkeeper replacement, who isn’t black, also didn’t do much in terms of quality goal keeping performance.

Now why am I on about mentioning the national women’s hockey team in black and white references? It’s because here was a black player who played a world class match performance, not only for herself, her team and country but for all black women and girl hockey players in SA. She showed that blacks can be world class in women’s hockey and this talent is right here existing in SA.

We must know that women’s hockey in South Africa is the preserve of white, suburban elite players from white, suburban-based, privileged schools and clubs with some black players getting a look in and selection here and there in national and age group teams. Reports and opinions from those involved in hockey in SA will tell you that white cabals control the sport and of course this cabalism impacts provincial and national selections.

Look at SA’s under 18 girls hockey team that participated in the African Youth Games. It was again a white-dominated team! With white girls having majority team preference, they then go on to make the senior provincial and national teams with black players getting left behind and being accorded a few selection places.

South Africa’s post-apartheid women’s hockey national team has always been at least 70% white-dominated, this despite whites being a minority group in SA. Hockey players from working class-township-based schools and clubs don’t event get noticed in SA women’s hockey. The SA women’s hockey team that played in the world cup being held in the UK was again a white-dominated team. In a team of 16 players only four were not white (not non-white, as I never use that derogatory term). But there was a black player who played world class hockey.

And now I ask: For how much longer are those controlling and administering women’s hockey in SA going to insist on believing in hockey talent being available mostly in white, privileged suburban schools and clubs, that black players ‘must still be developed’, that white players mostly have the skills? If this one black player can perform at this level then surely there are more black players? Why are they not being chances and opportunities? Before Phumelela Mbande there was Marcia Marescia Cox whose mother Marion was a top hockey player in anti-apartheid hockey. Marcia was a world class player who captained SA.

This challenge of ‘slow transformation in SA women’s hockey’ was pointed out last year by now retired SA player Sanani Mangisa who noted how it’s all about one black player out, one black player in. It’s never about more than just a handful of black players. In fact, a handful of black players never make the SA women’s hockey team. It’s always just, 2, 3, 4 black players but it’s always 10, 11, 12, 13 white players.

This marginalisation of black players in women’s hockey is what happened in men’s rugby and men’s cricket in post-apartheid South Africa. It was always thru the white gaze and white preferential selection ‘based on merit’ that white players came to be the national cricket and rugby teams. These sports were pressurised, called out about their marginalisation of black players and white supremacist attitudes. Women’s sports like hockey got left untouched because the focus was on men in sport.

SA women’s hockey wants more funding and sponsorship to develop girls and women’s hockey, to play more international matches. Who is going to benefit from increased funds? White girls and women hockey players? Why must a black player always have to prove herself very quickly whilst white women get lots of opportunities in provincial and national teams?

There you have it SA women’s hockey: A young black player has shown you that blacks do have talent and potential to not only play international hockey but to perform and win ‘player of the match’ at the world cup against top world ranked teams. Now SA women’s hockey must shake off and eliminate their thinking that white players must dominate hockey teams for the team to perform and play quality hockey.

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