CAPE TOWN - While Chad le Clos was the big-name star flag-bearer for Team South Africa at the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony on Friday, his partner was hockey goalkeeper Phumelela Mbande.
It was the first time that the International Olympic Committee allowed two flag-bearers, to promote gender equality – a purpose close to Mbande’s heart, alongside racial equality in the sport, as a founding member of Players for Transformation (PFT).
So, for her as a 28-year-old black South African woman to lead the country on to the world stage was a special moment in her career, and she hopes that it will prove to be inspirational for future generations as well.
“I’m incredibly excited. I think it’s a huge honour, and who would’ve thought that this would come – especially at my first Olympics. So, it’s incredibly exciting, not just for myself, but for my sport, hockey, and just for black females in South Africa – I think it’s a huge feat, and I am really, really proud. And I hope I can fly that flag high,” SA goalkeeper Mbande said from Tokyo on Friday.
“There have been many, many challenges along the way. South African hockey wasn’t able to go to the previous Olympics, so it’s really exciting (to be) part of what could rewrite the history of South African hockey going forward.
“We are hoping to do something really big at this tournament, and I’m really excited to be part of that.”
The SA women’s hockey team will start their Olympic campaign on Saturday against Ireland (2.15pm SA time), and are up against it as they are ranked just 16th in the world.
Mbande, who is the vice-captain alongside skipper Erin Christie, admits that they face a tough task to progress from the pool stages, but she believes that her team can do well.
“You always have expectations going into a tournament. We are in a difficult pool – whichever pool you are in for hockey, I think it was going to be tough,” she said.
“We are competing against some of the top teams in the world. We are ranked 16th currently, so we are coming in as the underdogs. But we have set targets for ourselves, and we are just hoping that we will deliver on our own mandate.”