Rassie Pieterse writes:
The excitement of qualifying for the Rio Olympics a few weeks ago was short lived and soon replaced with anxiousness as I was watching, listening and hoping on your decision.
The last few days – since that decision was made – felt surreal and the disappointment has just sunk in. The dream is gone…
This decision does not only affect us as players. I asked myself – numerous times – what does the Olympics really mean to me, my family and friends, but mostly our nation.
We all talk about sacrifices, but do we really comprehend the extend of these sacrifices? Passing fitness tests, picking up injuries and long flights are not sacrifices. It is part of what we do. The sacrifice is that we make the sport we love so much part of our lives, which has a direct influence on all the people that are close to us.
I realize that at the age of 32, I am probably close to the end of my career. I have proudly represented my country for the last 9 years. During these 9 years, I was blessed with the most beautiful daughter, now 5 years of age. I have sacrificed a lot of time away from my daughter, missing some of her big milestones that are precious moments for a first time dad, in order to play for my country. I did this with the hopes of her being proud of her dad one day and being able to learn from my career and my journey. That hope has now been taken away.
We are all well aware of the fact that hockey is not played professionally in South Africa. Since 2007, most of my days have been 16-hour work days. To me, this was part of the assignment as a national player.
The sacrifices stretch further than just our families. I have seen a lot of sacrifices from other team mates too, including:
– missed job opportunities
– playing in Europe / UK, making sure that we are improving our hockey skills by playing in top leagues whilst being paid peanuts
– delaying University degrees
– no personal leave
– pressure from employers
– pressure from loved ones.
These sacrifices were taken in our stride, with our eyes on the big picture and life-long dream, not just for us but to give hope and be an inspiration to the rest of our nation and youth.
Our previous performance and participation at the 2012 London Olympics seem to have gone unnoticed. Our team was a danger to big hockey nations. We came so close to success: we drew against Great Britain after being 2-1 up… GB ended up playing in the Bronze medal match; we beat a hockey playing nation, India, that is currently ranked 6th in the world. We also lost marginally with only one goal in the end against Spain, who was the 2008 Beijing Olympic silver medalist.
This served as great motivation to me personally and showed me that we still had some unfinished business at the 2016 Rio Games. We as players sacrificed another 4 years with the belief that we will have a successful Rio Games.
What gave us even more belief, was seeing teams like Brazil, Canada and Ireland qualifying. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking anything away from these three teams because they deserve to be there, but history shows that we do beat them more often than not. It was also incredible to see how proud their countries were when they qualified – no talk of rankings, no talk of money. They were just so bloody proud of what their athletes have achieved.
I can continue giving reasons why we deserve and should go to the Olympic Games, but it will make no difference. It is just very sad and difficult for me to you use the phrase “Proudly South African”, when decisions get made and dreams get shattered in the boardroom and not on the playing field…
Your goalkeeper – Rassie