Island players among national field-hockey team stranded in South Africa due to virus variant

Team stranded in Africa

What was supposed to be the dream championship tournament of a young lifetime has turned into a nightmare for the Canadian junior national women’s field-hockey team, which includes five players from Vancouver Island.

Not only has the new Omicron COVID-19 variant of concern caused a sudden postponement of the Junior World Cup in South Africa, which was scheduled for Dec. 5-17, it has left the Canadian team stranded with most commercial flights out of South Africa cancelled. The Canadian team arrived Nov. 21 and was conducting its pre-World Cup training camp at North-West University in Potchefstroom, about 130 kilometres from Johannesburg.

“Our team of Under-21 athletes were devastated upon hearing the news about the postponement but understood it was the right decision,” said Canadian team-manager Nancy Mollenhauer, a two-time Olympian from Victoria.

“The impact, however, goes far beyond the disappointment of the team and staff as we are now essentially stuck in South Africa with no flight options available to get home due to the border closures and flight restrictions placed upon South Africa. As you can appreciate, it is a very stressful time for the young women on the team, as well as their families back in Canada.”

The Junior World Cup has been postponed to a time and place to be determined in 2022. Efforts are being made to get the Canadian team home.

“Field Hockey Canada has responded very quickly to try and find us flights back to Canada but so far we have not had any success,” said Mollenhauer.

“We have reached out to the [world governing body] FIH for assistance as well as other South African contacts to see if they can do anything for us. Emails to the High Commission of Canada in Pretoria have been sent, as well, about what the next steps are.”

Team members include Stefani Sajko, Libby Hogg, Nora Struchtrup and Tayler Guy, all from Victoria, and Jenna Goodman of Duncan. Sajko, Hogg and Struchtrup won the U Sports national championship this month with the University of Victoria Vikes. Goodman plays for UBC and Guy for the University of Calgary.

“We are extremely devastated that the Junior World Cup has been postponed. All of us athletes and the staff have worked very hard to get here, however, we understand that this decision is what’s best for the health and safety of our global community,” said Sajko.

“As we patiently wait to come home, we are very grateful to be somewhere safe and to be hosted by the generous staff of the North-West University. We are also very thankful for the support from Field Hockey Canada and everyone else back home for working their best to get us back to Canada as soon as possible.”

Canada qualified for the Junior World Cup in South Africa by winning the Americas’ regional qualifying tournament in September at Santiago, Chile. The Canadian junior team players are being prepared for the 2024 Paris, 2028 Los Angeles and 2032 Brisbane Olympic Games.

“It’s honestly been pretty crazy. We know everyone is doing everything they can in this pretty surreal situation,” said Struchtrup:

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