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A passion for sport - and life

Wits Astro has been hosting the FIH Hockey World League semifinals for the past week. It has been a privilege to commentate on the cream of international talent in both the men's and women's games.

One of the highlights was watching the South African ladies team being besieged by autograph hunters after their dynamic 3-2 win against the USA.

This is what is mean when we talk about role models. Hockey prides itself on being a sport for all the family and Wits was packed with families on Sunday afternoon. The children (and a few adults) would not let their heroes go without a signature to prove that they were there.

The support provided for South Africa's ladies was the difference between winning and losing. When the USA scored their second goal, taking a 2-1 lead, heads went down, but the crowd's response was to increase the volume of their cries.

Heads came off chests and two Candice Manuel goals, the second an absolute stunner, kept South Africa in the competition.

The crowd was not all South African, however. Far from it. The visiting teams have all brought supporters with them, a fact revealed by SuperSport's cameras on a regular basis. Even in the icy conditions of Sunday night, there were tangos being executed by the fans from Argentina. Watch out for them as the tournament favourites progress through the knockout stages this week.

On Monday, when the weather was colder than a bank manager's handshake, Australia's men played Japan. Among the crowd were the mother's of at least two of the Australian side, Mark Knowles and Tom Craig. It struck me that Mrs Knowles must have clocked up hundreds of thousands of air miles following the exploits of her son, given that the captain of Australia is on the verge of winning his 300th international cap.

In times of recession, such as we are experiencing right now in this country, it is travellers such as these who prop up local businesses, spending money on accommodation and food and drink.

The British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand that just ended was an enormous boost to the local economy, with some 30 000 people travelling from the UK to watch the games.

Hockey has a much smaller support base, but everyone has to start somewhere, and there are small businesses all over the country who will offer up a prayer of thanks to the travellers. That's because, when the hockey is over, the visitors will be taking advantage of our matchless scenery and wildlife.

t is something that we take for granted, but the fact is that South Africa is filled with experiences that are unique in the true sense of the word.

Tournaments such as these are a window into the daily reality of our country, which is so much greater than the doom and gloom portrayed by the media.

The pictures going to 114 countries around the world reveal a country of magnificent facilities, with endless sunny winter days and a passion for sport and life.

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