Barely a month ago, South African Goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse was playing test matches against the USA and Germany men’s hockey team.
He was looking forward to 2020 being as ‘normal’ as possible. His pursuit to play his third Olympics this year would’ve been achieved.
‘Normal’, however, no longer exists in the current landscape.
After weeks of mounting pressure, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Tokyo 2020 organising committee announced on Tuesday morning their decision to postpone the Summer Games “to a date beyond 2020 but no later than summer 2021.”
IOC’s decision came 122 days before the planned opening ceremony at Japan’s newly built National Stadium, which was to usher in the 16-day event featuring 11,000 athletes from 206 nations and territories.
Having already missed the 2016 Olympic games [ after the SASCOC omitted hockey from their Olympic team ] and with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics postponed, Rassie has to wait for another year before he makes his third Olympic appearance.
Rassie knows a lot can change in a year. The extra year-long wait could be catastrophic for athletes in the latter years of their career, who may no longer be able to compete at the rescheduled 2021 Games. But, he firmly believes “there’s a bigger fight in hand at the moment, that needs to be dealt with.”
Tokyo 2020 has become Tokyo 2021. Eitherway, Rassie who has played two Olympics, three World Cups and two Commonwealth Games, is ready to fight.
Speaking to the Dragflick in a freewheeling chat, the Champion Goalkeeper who has long dominated the African continental hockey scene, talks about IOC’s decision regarding the Olympics, financial and emotional ramifications for athletes and his own situation around the Covid-19.
Excerpts :
The Dragflick : What do u think of IOC’s decision to postpone the Olympics? 
Rassie Pieterse : I absolutely support this decision of the IOC. The Covid-19 pandemic has infiltrated the whole world and there are so many people dying everyday, so I think there’s a much bigger fight at the moment not just for the athletes, not just for the Olympic Games, but for humanity.
I also think it is a great decision because almost 30 percent of the athletes haven’t qualified as yet.
Now, with the postponement of the games,  athletes will get a fair chance to qualify for the Olympic Games.
DF : Watching all the hockey matches on your calendar—everything you planned to target this year—getting cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis…this must be hard on you.
Rassie : A lot of people ask me how do I feel about this situation being an athlete.
So, ofcourse, it’s a little bit sad because there has been such a huge buildup for the Olympics with just over 100 days to go and it’s been postponed.
But, I think we’ve definitely got a bigger fight on our hands at the moment, that needs to be dealt with.
DF : This is a huge blow to Japan, which has invested $12 billion in preparations. Costs for the Games have been far greater than the original estimate. The postponement will cost the country further. What are your thoughts.
Rassie : My heart goes out for the IOC. I am sure there’s a lot of effort and money that’s gone into this.
I think we all know from the economical point of view that there’s going to be a lot of losses, but I think IOC’s decision to postpone the Olympics has absolutely been the right decision.
As athletes, we can just be glad that the word ‘postpone’ has been used and not ‘cancelled’. So now we can just move the goalposts.
DF : As an athlete, are there financial or emotional ramifications due to the coronavirus situation?
Rassie : Financially, it’s a big crisis for everybody.
The postponement of the Olympics along with the Coronavirus crisis has obviously affected us athletes financially and emotionally. Everybody is going to lose some kind of income.
But, the bigger picture is that as athletes, we play sports because we actually love it and always have the hunger to win, to achieve and to compete.

DF : Do you think fans will return to the stadium once the Coronavirus situation subsides? 
Rassie : We may head to tough times moving forward. But, we can only hope it will not be as bad as everybody thinks.
We hope we can keep all our sponsors and make sure that we can bring the fans back to the stadiums. I’m very confident, at the end of this, we will appreciate the smaller things, specially the spirit of sports.
I think there’s going to be questions around the scheduling of games next year.
There’s a lot of other sporting events that may collide, like the World Championships, Wimbledon etc. But I’m sure, the right authorities will make the right decisions for us.
As athletes we just got to make sure to stay emotionally strong, confident and positive.
DF : This is a difficult time for athletes to shift emotional gears. With the extra time on hand, how should an athlete utilise his time at home in a proactive manner?
Rassie : With almost every country locked down, we obviously have to be creative because there are no more training camps, we’re also not able to go to the gym. So, we need to use whatever is available at our houses to stay fit.
We are fortunate in South Africa since a lot of houses have swimming pools, so we spend a lot of time in the pool and try to stay fit.
There are ample strength and conditioning programs athletes can do from their home too.
Another very important thing for us is to watch our diets.
We’ve got to make sure that we don’t eat crap and that we stay away from the cookie jar.
And then yeah, after the lock-down we can always catch up on our fitness routine and get back to the level we have to be at.
The main thing now is to stay healthy. I don’t think anybody needs to fall sick right now because then that could become problematic later on.

DF : With the health and safety of athletes, coaches, staff and fans remaining top priority, any message would you like to give to people world over?
Rassie : If I can send any message out there to the world is : Covid-19 is real!
People need to take it seriously. People need to wake up because this virus is killing people.
I would advice people to please stay safe, stay healthy, stay at home and please listen to the authorities. This is very serious.
Just stay home, watch TV, relax, spend time with your family, and spend time on the things you never have had time for.
We are all in the same boat.
Let’s fight this virus together. Let’s ride this wave together. Let’s come out on the top.

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