Survival of the fittest. This simple statement sums up what South African women hockey players have to strive for. If one compares on a bar graph how much government assistance the girls from the Rainbow Nation get vis-a-vis their Indian counterparts - there really won't be much of a comparison.
It's a known fact that the India team overly depends on government assistance for camps, foreign exposure trips and even playing kits.
“South Africa is a big country thus not all sports fall under the government's centralised funding programme,” said skipper Marsha Marescia after a strenuous practice session at the National Stadium on Friday.
Winner takes all
Currently ranked No. 12 in the world, South Africa must edge out five other competitors in the Olympic qualifiers starting on Saturday to snatch that lone berth for the London Games.
Marsha, who is gunning for a third shot at the Games, and twelve of her teammates play in the European league to support themselves financially. The rest have other jobs.
“There's no infrastructure back home to support all sportspersons. So, even if you are playing a team sport, in reality you are supporting yourself individually,” the 29-year-old added, pulling her gorgeous hair into a ponytail.
The team has a sponsor, a financial company which helps out when the national team practices together. Thus, in case of an Olympic qualification, it seems unlikely the players would even care about the nominal government grant.
Is it a similar case for the Springboks? “Well, a player gets his main salary from the union he represents other than the national squad,” said Marsha, who plays in the Dutch League in Holland when not captaining the national squad.
South Africa has been billed as India's toughest competitors in the Qualifiers. The other teams in the fray are Ukraine, Italy, Poland and Canada.
For India, if government assistance didn't play a major part, maybe we wouldn't even be cheering them on at this international-level competition.