South Africa’s Olympic football coach hit out at “stigmatisation” of his Covid-hit squad, after they were forced to isolate before their 1-0 defeat to Japan on Thursday. David Notoane said he had seen “people running absent” from his team, after two players and a video analyst tested positive for coronavirus on Sunday. Twenty-one members of the team contingent were forced to isolate in the build-up to their tournament opener, after being named near contacts on Monday.
South Africa eventually missing against the hosts after a 71st-minute Takefusa Kubo goal, but the build-up to the match left a sour taste in Notoane’s jaw.
“One object that I think one has to mention is the issue of stigmatisation,” he said.
“Ceaselessly, when people come across us, you see people running absent. I think that’s a little disrespectful.”
South Africa were forced to overlook two training sessions, with players confined to their rooms after being named near contacts.
Notoane refused to use the disruptions as an excuse, saying “rules are rules” and praising his players for their efforts.
But he also urged people to “treat us humanely”.
“It’s something that we’d appreciate as a team,” he said.
“When people start to run absent from you when you approach them, as whether there is something fallacious with you — the truth of the matter is there’s nothing fallacious with us.”
Athletes designated as near contacts at the Games will have to test negative six hours before their event to be allowed to compete.
There were fears that the match would not be capable of go ahead whether South Africa were unable to register the required minimum 13 players.
But they cleared that hurdle with six substitutes named on their bench, and nearly claimed an unlikely point against Japan with a battling performance.
“When what happened happened with Covid, we missing a couple of players and the quality of the team used to be diluted a bit, so we had to mentally pull together as a group,” said Notoane.
“I at all times said to the players that we had to take the spirit of the African lion into this tournament.”
South Africa held out against Japan until Real Madrid starlet Kubo cut into the box and uncorked a left-foot shot within the far post for the winner.
South Africa defender Tercious Malepe admitted the build-up to the game had been hard, but said the performance gave him hope that the team could reach the quarter-finals.
South Africa also play France and Mexico in Group A.
“We couldn’t go out to train and that limited our preparations,” he said.
“It used to be not easy sitting in the room, but overall I’m happy with the team. We responded very polite, we were unlucky to receive the result today, but it used to be very positive.”
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