KUALA LUMPUR: South Africa have withdrawn from the FIH Champions Challenge I tournament, which will be held in Kuantan in April.
They will, instead, play in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh from March 13-23.
The decision is seen as more of a financial move because they lack funding for their World Cup campaign.
Teams to the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup only need to pay their airfares as everything else is taken care of by the host. For the Champions Challenge, the teams have to bear the entire cost of participation.
World No. 17 France have accepted the invitation to replace South Africa in the Champions Challenge I tournament.
The French have, in turn, withdrawn from the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.
Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) secretary general Datuk Johari Abdul Aziz confirmed South Africa’s withdrawal from the Kuantan meet on Sunday.
“China will replace France in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and it will remain a seven-team affair. The other teams taking part are Australia, Canada, Pakistan, South Korea and South Africa.
“France, who have replaced South Africa in the Champions Challenge, will have New Zealand, South Korea, Canada, Ireland, Malaysia, Poland, Japan and Spain for company.
“The Kuantan tournament is the last big meet before the World Cup begins in Holland,” said Johari.
For Malaysia, the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup is the start of their World Cup preparations.
They have a new coach in K. Dharmaraj who will be handling the senior team in his first major tournament.
Former National Juniors coach Dharmaraj took over from South African Paul Revington, who quit as chief coach last month.
The other teams in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup who will be featuring in the World Cup are Australia, South Africa and South Korea.
For the record, the Ipoh tournament is an invitational meet while the Champions Challenge I offers world ranking points and a pathway to the Champions Trophy tournament.