Austin speaks about 'that' email and life in the Hockey India League

Austin Smith

On Tuesday a social media storm broke loose regarding the way South African hockey player Austin Smith was “sacked via email” as captain of the national men’s hockey team.

Hockey South Africa recently announced an interim coach and captain for the World League Round 2 tournament in Brazil from 27 February till 3 March. Coach Charlie Pereira named Rhett Halkett as his captain. Smith was named in the squad but for the first time since 2008 he wasn’t the captain.

Smith, Justin Reid-Ross and Lloyd Norris-Jones are the national players currently involved with the highly successful Indian Hockey League (HIL) in India – hockey’s answer to cricket’s IPL. The incumbent national coach Gregg Clark is also involved as coach of the Ranchi Rhinos for who Smith and Reid-Ross play.

On Tuesday news broke on Twitter about Smith receiving only an email from Pereira to inform him of the decision to not give him the captain’s armband for the tournament in Brazil. In this email Pereira said Smith will be missing the build-up in Rio de Janeiro and it is important that the squad have leadership from day one to pull the players together and that without the burden of the captaincy they may get the best out of Smith as he is considered a world class player. He also made mention of the fact that Smith was recently named captain for his Dutch club Den Bosch.

“I think it was more a case of miscommunication seeing that I told him that I could be reached via email while in India. I didn’t expect to receive that news in an email though,” said Austin. “We did have a chat this evening (Tuesday) and I accepted his apology for what happened.”

Smith will only arrive in time for the first match in Brazil because of his commitments to Den Bosch in Holland. “When the dates for the training camp before the tournament was announced I already made the commitment to my club. I don’t agree with all of the reasoning for the decision but is something we will discuss in person during the tournament.”

Meanwhile Austin and the Ranchi Rhinos booked a place in the semifinals of the HIL.

Smith has been enjoying the whole frantic experience in India. “It's been brilliant so far, if I'm honest a lot better than I was expecting. I was a little apprehensive about how much I would enjoy all the travelling as I'm not a keen flyer but everything has been so well organised and efficient that I haven't thought about it much. If I've calculated it correctly we have made 15 flights since leaving our homes. I couldn't be happier to have decided to join the league. We have an amazing team here in Ranchi. The international players and local Indian guys have bonded really well and we all feel like one big family. I feel lucky to be apart of this environment as many players weren't as fortunate to get time off work or didn't sign up.”

The HIL recently announced that the winners will receive $450 000, second place $230 000 and third place $120 000. There will also be prize money for the player of the tournament, young talent, top goalscorer and perhaps the best goalkeeper.

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