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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Sports is critical for development, it is not a luxury

Mosibodi Whitehead

In the face of growing poverty, sports federations must partner with schools in order to unlock the potential of talented kids.

Poverty is on the rise in South Africa. The latest Statistics SA report Poverty Trends in South Africa shows in 2015 more than half of South Africans were poor. But the more troubling statistic is that over sixty percent of the country’s poor are children under the age of 17.

It is in this challenging environment that most of South Africa’s schools must function. Just about two thirds of the roughly 2000 primary and high schools in Gauteng are no fee paying schools. No-fee schools are quintile one to three schools.

The quintile rating of a school is based on the income‚ unemployment and illiteracy of the surrounding area.

In areas where you find quintile one to three schools, unemployment is high and children are sometimes forced to go to school on an empty stomach. In these areas, sport is often considered a luxury.

It is therefore encouraging to see that even amidst the most challenging of socio economic conditions there are a dedicated few that are finding solutions to the resource limitations faced in delivering quality sporting opportunities to some of South Africa’s most impoverished learners.

The Gauteng Department of Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation rewarded those teachers, administrators, coaches and learners at the annual Gauteng School Sports Awards at the Birchwood Hotel last Friday.

Christina Ndlovu of Loratong Primary School in Hammanskraal is one such teacher. Her passion for both teaching and sport has kept her in the profession for three decades and she continues to produce excellent netball players.

Ndlovu says her secret to success is that she sees herself as more than just a teacher. “I’m not just a coach, I am also a mother. I make sure the children are happy and healthy. I do my best to support these children because I can see that they are talented. Sometimes the kids have no takkies and I have to go out and find shoes for them because I know that some of their parents can’t afford to buy them shoes,” says Ndlovu.

Her approach is clearly paying dividends because not only did her U13 netball team win the team of the year award at the Gauteng School Sports Awards, they also represented Gauteng at the 2017 National Primary Schools Netball Championships in Cape Town.

Sports require more than just sneakers and balls, we also need to continue to inspire youngers to excel in sports such as cricket and golf. Here, the schools would need resources and funding from partners to make this happen. These sports in particular have high resource demands for equipment and technical coaching.

Take wheelchair tennis as an example. An entry level chair costs in excess of R20 000 and one can expect to pay at least R500 for a racquet. It is clear that even before one considers the cost of coaching, transport to tournaments and physiotherapy, the barriers to entry in the sport are high.

At the same time, we know of success cases when children from disadvantaged backgrounds are introduced to these sports.

Alwande Skhosana, a 17-year-old matric learner at the Adelaide Tambo School for the Physically Challenged, is one such example. His success has come as a result of a partnership between the school and Wheelchair Tennis South Africa (WTSA).

Born disabled in KZN, Skhosana has been confined to a wheelchair for most of his life after a botched surgery to repair severe bow-leggedness left him wheelchair ridden. It was while at boarding school at the Adelaide Tambo School for the Physically Challenged that he discovered wheelchair tennis and rose to international heights that have seen him ranked as high as third in the world for boys.

Once again it is the nurturing approach of his teachers that has allowed Alwande to blossom.

“As the school’s sports convenor, I make sure that I tell the SGB there’s this and that. We make sure that transport-wise, we are there. Financially, we are there as well,” says Mzwakhe Dlamini, one of Alwande’s teachers. Just as it is with Ndlovu in Hammanskraal, Alwande’s success can in part be attributed to the mentorship he receives from his teachers.

Wheelchair Tennis South Africa has also supplied the school with very costly equipment and coaches. One such coach is Patrick Selepe who has worked extensively with Alwande.

Selepe believes that WTSA is finding success in unearthing talent because of their family-centred approach, an approach which allows talent to shine and that talent in turn attracts corporate sponsors. “Our federation is not just like any federation. We’re more like a family. It’s not like we’re just working for money. That’s the main reason why we have been able to retain the Airports Company sponsorship for so long,” explains Selepe. It comes as no surprise then that WTSA’s General Manager, Karen Losch, won the Administrator of the year at the 11th SA Sports in 2016.

These accounts paint a picture of the road to school sporting success in a challenging economic environment.

First, teachers, administrators and coaches must be committed and dedicated. Second, federations must bear the bulk of the equipment and coaching costs, especially in sports that are highly technical.

The onus is then on federations to find corporate sponsorship by leveraging the wealth of talent that exists in our schools because once these juniors progress to the senior ranks they will ultimately become the athletes that will represent the federations themselves and South Africa.

This partnership between schools, federations and the corporate sector could provide the solution to the endemic poverty that has continued to deny many South African children a sporting chance.

Mosibodi Whitehead is sports editor at Kaya FM

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