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Cape youngsters show their grit despite Covid-19 wreaking havoc on their sport and travel plans

Odisha, India. The SA under-21 squad during a match at the Odisha Junior Hockey World Cup. Picture: SUPPLIED

Odisha, India. The SA under-21 squad during a match at the Odisha Junior Hockey World Cup. Picture: SUPPLIED

Published Dec 21, 2021

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Cape Town - Two young, promising local athletes were given the opportunity to represent their country on the global stage. However, one athlete’s plans were derailed due to the recent flight suspensions and travel bans.

Rondebosch resident Idress Abdulla, 21, recently returned to South Africa following the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s Junior World Cup in India.

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The South African team arrived in India on November 20, with the tournament officially kicking off on November 24 until December 5. Around 16 teams participated in the tournament, with the South African team opening the tournament with the first match against Belgium.

Reflecting on the tournament, Abdulla said: “The SA U21 Men’s team did really well as we have never played in an international hockey tournament of this nature as a group before.

“Our head coach, Sihle Ntuli, along with his incredible team did a great job in helping us get ready physically and mentally, which allowed us to focus on our task at hand, which showed as we managed to win four out of six games, which is an impressive achievement for the team and SA hockey.”

The Covid-19 pandemic added its own set of challenges in preparing for the tournament.

“Taking part in the tournament during the pandemic was an experience in itself. There were no fans in the stadium, which took away from the amazing atmosphere in the Kalinga hockey stadium.

“Wearing masks everywhere and not being able to explore the wonders of a new country and just being stuck inside the hotel every day wasn’t easy mentally either.

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“Luckily we had quite a tight group of players that kept everyone positive and we all had a goal and wanted to achieve it, no matter what.”

The team ranked ninth in the tournament, the highest an SA team has achieved in this tournament.

Meanwhile, following extensive fundraising efforts, karate champion Zahra Boltman, 16, from Silvertown, Athlone, was notified that she would not be able to leave for Egypt to take part in the 2021 UFAK Senior, Junior and Cadet Championships from December 3–5.

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“I was notified on the eve of my departure and the tournament went on as planned without a few other countries whose flights were also cancelled,” Boltman said.

“I was very despondent, but my coach told me to hang in there and work even harder because I believe God has bigger plans for me.”

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