Revealed seams underneath the damaged UJ Astro Hockey Club’s turf, Westdene. Photo by: Sinenhlanhla Ngwenya.

UJ Hockey Under Strain Due To Damaged Astro Turf

The damaged UJ Astro Hockey Club’s turf at Westdene with an estimated repairs cost between R8-12 million might be the reason for a decreasing A-standard of the institution’s hockey teams.

Hockey, as one of the most successful sports in UJ, has been in an unpleasant state due to the condition of its Astro Hockey Club’s turf that makes it difficult for players to practice as usual.

“We have to go outside to other turfs to at least try to maintain our standards. We are also at the risk of losing money!” said Mr. Hitler Dlamini, Astro Hockey Facility Assistant.

Lack of funds for the turf’s maintenance is the primary reason for its current condition. “We don’t get funding from the capital budget. To keep it up to standard is costly because we don’t get enough support from the University. This is stressful,” Mr Dlamini added after a few seconds of silence during an interview.

It has been eight years since the reinstallation of the second turf at the end of 2009. Thereafter, the state of the field, with the passing years, has deteriorated. Funds to maintain the turf have been difficult to find, resulting to its present state.

The carpet is lifting; there are irregular seams and locating a supplier is almost impossible.

A fear has risen in management as it is suspected that the increase in injuries might be caused by the unappropriated state of the turf.

Players have sustained knee, ankle and back injuries. Due to its uneven state, players are also at risk of head injuries as the ball might lift against bubbles found in the mat.

InI - Sinenhlanhla Ngwenya.
Uneven surface of the turf consisting of bubbles and lifted carpet. Photo by: Sinenhlanhla Ngwenya.

“The state of the turf has caused a lot of stress and anxiety. Without a proper facility, our performance might fall apart. These are student athletes and they need good conditions. Because of the #feesmustfall movement, it’s quite difficult to ask for funding,” said Miss Elize le Roux, UJ Hockey and Astro Facility Manager.

The safety of the field has become a major concern. Home games will no longer be played on the turf, which removes the pride of being at home and home advantage. A player who wanted to be kept anonymous mentioned that the supporters of the team will struggle to find home matches as they take place away from home.

After eight proposals for funding in the past four years, motivations, relays and sponsorship requests and need for donations, there has been no progress. The risk mounts as the state of the field is disregarded. At the moment, it is already not safe to use it.

Telling The Open Journal about how they would like the University to intervene, Miss le Roux had to say:

“If they can please find it in their hearts to help redo the surface, it would be fully appreciated. We have been successful but there has been a decrease in student participation. This is a major stumbling block. Senior management has been trying to help and they have been very supportive.”

Due to the state of the field, the teams have been appointed different fields to practice on. The first girl’s side has been relocated to Park Town and the boys to Saint John’s High School situated in Houghton.

“This is a major road block. If we perform well, we give value to the University, but if we can’t, we don’t. It does seem like there are people behind the scene who do help but we now need some in the scene to help with this turf. There are more hours and there is no balance,” said a UJ student who is currently in the first girls’ squad but pleaded to remain anonymous.

For UJ hockey to maintain its A-standard, more hours and effort is put in perfecting skills. Training hours for the teams are at the end of the day to accommodate designated academic hours. On certain days of the week, early mornings are set aside for gym sessions.

However, such a routine has changed as teams spend more time travelling to different training venues, leading to later practice times. This has become a worrisome factor as the hours spent in the evening are longer and later than usual.

There have not also been enough funds to feed players during late practice times. Subsequently, the late hours and the strain of travel upon players might lead to the dreaded solution of decreasing practice hours. Thus, performance plan would immediately be disturbed and the whole team would be affected. Therefore, it seems the balance between academics and sports is challenged.

As international students have joined the teams, it has been the management’s concern to “impress them”. Management aims to expose international players to good standards, show them quality hockey facilities and to develop their skills.

(Contact Sinenhlanhla Ngwenya: sinenhlanhlangwenya4@gmail.com)

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