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For hockey players the Olympics are the ultimate stage at which they can showcase their skills in the hope of transferring to a club in a competitive league, such as those in Europe.

But the coronavirus pandemic has caused logistical hurdles due to travel restrictions and put pressure on club budgets which make it harder for players to move after the 14-day Tokyo Olympics hockey tournament finishes on Friday.

“The thing about the Olympic Games is that there’s a kind of agreement that players are at their best at this particular time,” said Shane McLeod, who led Belgium’s men team to their first Olympic gold on Thursday as their head coach.

“It’s a supermarket where you see all the happy goods on display at the highest level.”

South African teenage prodigy Mustaphaa Cassiem won the hearts of global hockey fans when he scored against Belgium and the Netherlands at Tokyo 2020 and made the winning goal in his country’s 4-3 triumph over Germany.

The 19-year-old forward’s brother, Dayaan, who is 22 and also plays as an attacker, also caught the eye of many in South Africa’s group stage games. South Africa is 12th in the world rankings.

“They’ve got some speed on them and real skill,” Belgium’s Arthur van Doren, 2017 world player of the year, said about South Africa.

The pressure to show the best hockey at the Olympics is just as high for women.

“I think it’s extremely important to show high-quality play here,” said Maho Segawa, 25, a mid-fielder for Japan’s women team.

Segawa is hoping to play at a club in the competitive Dutch league or another European competition such as Belgium or Spain to get a chance to develop her hockey skills and style.

“If I can get the experience it will be a plus, so I think I want to go as soon as I can,” said Segawa, who did a half-season stint on loan at a Spanish club in 2017.

But the COVID-19 crisis has raised the bar for going abroad.

“It put things on hold. It hasn’t stopped it completely. You still get some who traveled across and are keen to do that,” said McLeod before Belgium played the final. “You can’t just go for two weeks and then come back, not like that anymore. It has to be a two- to three-year commitment really.”

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