Junior field hockey team stranded in South Africa due to Omicron variant

Team Canada's junior women’s field hockey team is stranded in South Africa over concerns surrounding the new COVID-19 Omicron variant. (Photo from Nancy Mollenhauer)

Canadians in southern Africa are scrambling to find flights home amid growing global concerns over the Omicron variant, the newest strain of the COVID-19 virus.

Team Canada’s junior women’s field hockey team is in South Africa for a major tournament. This weekend, they got word the tournament was postponed and most commercial flights home were cancelled. As of Monday afternoon, they have no firm plan on how they will be returning to Canada.

Jenna Berger plays on the team. “I just broke down, seeing the disappointment in my other teammates,” she says.

Twenty players and five support staff are in Potchefstroom, South Africa preparing for the Junior World Cup, which was scheduled to take place Dec. 5-16.

Berger says, “We just want to get home, see our families and spend time with them and be home safe, instead of here with all the unknown and uncertainty.”

Nancy Mollenhauer is coaching, and is part of the support staff. She says the team is doing their best to stay safe.

“We are in our own little bubble,” Mollenhauer says. “We have all been impressed with how the girls have handled the disappointment. I think you can always find silver linings in disappointment. And it has brought them closer together, I think, as a team.”

Mollenhauer says the team remains in good spirits and hopeful they will find a way home soon.

The team says they are working with officials back in Canada to help them get home safely. The team wants players to travel home in groups because some players are 18 years old.

Berger says this has not dampened her love of the sport.

“It fuels you a little more, when you get the opportunity to play again, to push a little harder because you don’t know when it is going to be taken away from you. You have to take every practise like it is your last because you don’t know what is going to happen the next day.”

Canada has banned flights from seven southern African countries. Canadians and permanent residents can return but must take a COVID-19 test and quarantine upon arrival.