Stellenbosch will be the centre of attention for all hockey lovers towards the end of this year and early in 2007, when 22 international matches will be played in the SPAR Hockey Festival at the Stellenbosch University Sport Performance Institute.
The Festival starts with a bang, with the arrival of two of the world’s best teams – Holland and Germany. Holland are the current world champions and Germany are the Olympic champions.
These two European neighbours will provide formidable opposition for the SPAR South African team, who are ranked 12th in the world. They will play a six-match tournament from December 29 to January 3, with each team playing each other twice.
Hot on the heals of the Dutch and German teams will be a team from Great Britain, using the occasion to launch their campaign for the 2008 Olympic Games. South Africa will play three matches against Great Britain, with curtain raisers between the South African Students (SASSU) team and a Dutch Under 21 team.
The festival of hockey ends with a six-match tournament involving South Africa, Ireland (ranked 14th) and Canada (ranked 23rd).
South African coach Jenny King is thrilled at the prospect of so much international competition. “One of the things we said after the World Cup in Spain earlier this year was that we needed more international competition if we were to improve our position in the world rankings,” she said.
"We are embarking on our preparations for the next major challenge – qualifying for the Olympic Games and the Olympic Games in Beijing. It will be tremendous to have a concentrated period of international competition.
“It will also be very valuable having a 28 day camp with 13 international matches,” King said. “One of the things we have found is that we start off very well, and then tend to fade. This should help us to overcome that problem.
“Some of the girls were a bit shocked at the thought of 13 Tests in a month,” added King, “But it will be a tremendous experience for them. They are a young team, and they will learn a lot in that month.”
King said the best players would be used in the matches against Holland and Germany, but she would use the other matches to blood players who were on the fringes of the national team.
“The good thing is that if this festival works well, and it should – the facilities at the Performance Institute are brilliant– those teams have indicated that they would like to come back the next year as part of the Olympic Games preparations,” she said.
The chief executive officer of the Performance Institute, Rob Benade, said that after the success of the SPAR Challenge tournament between South Africa and India in July, there had been an overwhelming response from international teams to invitations to play in Stellenbosch.
“We are particularly excited about the prospect of hosting the World and Olympic champions,” said Benade. “Through their particular brand of hockey, their high profile team members and their excellent recent results, these two teams are capable of drawing excellent crowd support.”
SPAR Group Marketing Executive Roelf Venter said that SPAR was very pleased to be involved in a tournament of this nature. “We are committed to supporting women’s sport, with hockey being one of them,” said Venter.
“We are very proud to be associated with women’s hockey, and we look forward to watching the national team go from strength to strength. We are pleased to be able to support them in their campaign to do well in Beijing.”
The SPAR Women’s Squad for the SPAR Hockey Festival is:
Sharne Bailey (nee Wehmeyer) (SG)
Tarryn Bright (WP)
Cindy Brown (WP)
Fiona Butler (SG)
Dirkie Chamberlain (NOR)
Henna du Bussion (WP)
Candice Forword (NOR)
Lesle-Ann George (NW)
Kate Hector (WP)
Taryn Hosking (WP)
Kim Hubach (NOR)
Marcelle Keet (NOR)
Sanani Mangisa (NOR)
Lenise Marais (WP)
Marsha Marescia (SG)
Tsoanelo Pholo (SG)
Mariette Rix (WP)
Shelley Russell (WP)
Vida Ryan (WP)
Vidette Ryan (WP)
Kathleen Taylor (WP)
Jen Wilson (KZN)