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Ken Borland



Ewing resigns as national men’s coach, did he hide SA Hockey failings with his fine performances? 0

Posted on February 16, 2023 by Ken

Garreth Ewing has resigned with immediate effect as the national men’s hockey coach and there are fears in South African hockey circles that the fine performances he achieved with the team were merely hiding the level of maladministration in the game and tough times lie ahead for the team.

Ewing made public on social media on Tuesday the reasons for his shock decision to leave his post, just before the FIH Nations Cup tournament starts in Potchefstroom on November 28. The 48-year-old said his resignation was “a final response to an accumulation of events … These were starting to impact on me, both personally and professionally. The weight of it all was putting strain on my relationships, both inside and outside the team, and my health, both physical and mental”.

Describing his decision as “an act of self-care”, Ewing said he will “look forward to falling in love with hockey again”.

Under his watch since 2019, South Africa were winless and last in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, despite beating Germany 4-3. They were, though, invited to participate in the elite Pro League and earlier this year they reached the semi-finals of the Commonwealth Games for the first time in 20 years and have qualified for next year’s World Cup since then with their strong showings seeing Ewing nominated this year for the FIH Coach of the Year award. They have moved up to 14th in the world rankings.

But insiders speak of all these achievements being despite the administration and not because of it. One stakeholder from the sponsorship market told The Citizen “SA Hockey are the most amateur and disorganised sports body we work with”.

Amongst the frustrations cited by those around the team are the players being told three days before leaving for Malaysia and the recent Sultan Azlan Shah Cup that they had to come up with R41 000 each to play in the tournament.

For the FIH Nations Cup in Potchefstroom, which will decide the one team who joins the Pro League next year, the South African team will not be staying in the Astro Villas next to the venue, but instead the home team has had to stay in a school boarding house free of charge. This is because SA Hockey allegedly missed the deadline to apply for accommodation.

It is apparently not the first time SA Hockey have missed a deadline. Potchefstroom were going to bid to hoist the 2026 World Cup and were ready to fly to Switzerland to present their case, with SA Hockey only needing to get permission from the Department of Sport, which they failed to do.

The team are also apparently furious that the SA Hockey Association did not bother to vote for either Ewing or star SA women’s player Phumelela Mbande, who was nominated for the goalkeeper of the year award.

The lack of sponsorship for the national hockey teams is well-known and they have had to resort to crowdfunding to attend the previous Olympics.

“We want to know what work has been done to get a sponsor? Sponsors have told us that they don’t know if the money will go to the team if they do invest, and if we get a sponsor, then SA Hockey says they have to go through their marketing department. How are we meant to prepare properly when we only know a week before for sure that we’re going to a tournament?” a member of the national squad said.

While the North-West University love hosting international events in Potchefstroom, it is believed SA Hockey still owe them money for hosting fees. The Citizen were not able to confirm this with the university’s hockey administration, however.

Since the much-admired Marissa Langeni stepped down as CEO in April after more than 12 years at the helm, SA Hockey appointed an interim CEO in Shaune Baaitjies, who has a BCom Honours in Industrial and Organisational Psychology and describes herself as a leadership coach on her LinkedIn profile.

SA Hockey have also not held their election for a new executive for more than a year, reportedly because president Deon Morgan was making a run for a position on the FIH Board. He has now been elected as part of the executive team at global level and it is believed a date and nominees have been decided for an election, but no statement has been made by the federation.

Baaitjies did not respond to questions about all these issues sent to her by The Citizen.

Although it is a mass participation sport at grassroots level and both national teams are impressively transformed, how hockey is going to ensure sustainability with all these leadership issues is a massive concern.

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