Helping Rugby Score

Programmes that support rugby not only help expedite transformation, but can also change lives, writes Penny Haw.

Everyone has an opinion about the face and pace of the transformation of South African rugby. Some organisations however, are not only tackling the issue head on, they’re also using the sport to help make a sustainable difference to lives off the field.

The Soweto Rugby Club has played a central role in the development of rugby for the past 22 years. This year, in partnership with long-time sponsor, NuPay, the organisation will significantly expand the scope and sustainability of its development initiatives. The establishment of the new Wilfred Jacobs Rugby Development Programme will enable the club to continue to nurture rugby skills in Soweto, but will, in addition, also allow it to help develop the capabilities that youngsters need to fulfil other roles in rugby, including administrative, coaching and official positions.

“While rugby is the entry point, the new programme acknowledges that not all youngsters who play the game will go on to become professional players,” says secretary of the Soweto Rugby Club (and the Soweto Rugby Union), Zola Ntlokoma. “There might however, be places for them in rugby as administrators, officials or coaches.

“By adding tutoring in languages, maths, computer science and other subjects to the programme, we’ve created opportunities in the rugby world for a wider audience and hope to help youngsters from the area build skills they can use in the workplace.”

Named after the late Wilfred Jacobs, who played for The Leopards in the 1970s and undertook to promote rugby in Soweto for decades thereafter (including helping to establish the Soweto Rugby Club in 1972), the new programme is based in the Braamfischerville Multi-Purpose Centre in Loerblaar Avenue.

The Soweto Rugby Club was first included as corporate social investment beneficiary of electronic payment solutions company, NuPay (formerly Altech NuPay) in 2001 when the company sponsored the club’s first rugby tournament. This arrangement lasted until the annual event ended in 2006. NuPay continued to support the club by supplying kits, balls and equipment and became the Soweto Rugby Club team sponsor when the tournament was revived in 2012.

“Rugby is very close to our hearts. Our sponsorship is ongoing and we hope to increase our involvement substantially over the next few years,” says Candice Frank, head of marketing for NuPay, adding that the company hopes the Wilfred Jacobs Rugby Development Programme will also increase the pool of candidates available to NuPay in future.

Another organisation that is helping develop rugby among the youth of Soweto is the Golden Lions Rugby Union (GLRU), which, says Timmy Goodwin, the union’s development officer, partners with the South African Rugby Union (SARU), World Rugby and SuperSport to provide several different initiatives.

“We work with 11 primary schools in Soweto with our Get Into Rugby programme, which starts with boys and girls as young as seven,” says Goodwin.

“This feeds into SuperSport’s Let’s Play initiative, which focuses on bridging social and racial gaps, and helping to improve the health of children. Seven high schools in Soweto participate in our under-15 and under-17 programmes, where we help develop skills together with the Soweto Eagles Rugby Club.”

While good progress is being made in developing youngsters from previously non-rugby schools, Goodwin concedes that it remains a challenge primarily due to a lack of playing facilities and transport, and because soccer still remains the preferred sport.

“This is the problem when it comes to developing high-performance players, who need to focus on rugby,” he says.  “In these cases, it’s best for players to move to schools that provide the opportunity to focus on the game. That’s what Golden Lions player, Victor Kutlwano Sekekete did as a youngster by transferring to Queens High School.”

But, stresses Goodwin, rugby development is not only about fostering future professionals; it’s about creating awareness about the game, and encouraging youngsters to be active, enjoy it and become followers of the sport.

Soweto-Rugby-Club

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