The Connect Sports Academy is helping to transform the game at schools level, writes BENEDICT CHANAKIRA.
Transforming South African rugby should be like building a house – you start from the ground up. Have you ever seen a house built from the roof down? No, so why do we try to transform from the top down?
Step in Connect Sports Academy.
The 2016 Discovery Sport Development Programme of the year award winner is a three-year-old project that has been making great strides in the rugby development arena. Its name derives from the holding company Connect Community Development, which has been active for five years. Tasked with various development projects in the Western Cape, it aims to unite and connect youths in sport and other areas, while developing skills and building self-esteem.
Connect Sports Academy is run by director of rugby Murray Ingram, who is passionate about young people, community work and rugby. The main goal of the academy is to give talented, but disadvantaged kids access to resources and opportunities. It also hopes to help a lot of them become professional sportspeople, not just as players, but also as referees, coaches, conditioning experts and other occupations in professional sport.
The Connect Sports Academy is a long-term project that has already seen a few youngsters earning scholarships and placements at schools across the Western Cape.
Connect is only playing a small part in the development of young black talent in South Africa, yet they have already beaten a few traditional rugby schools teams at U12 and U13 levels. Its aim, though, is not to produce academy teams, but talented individuals.
The academy has faced many challenges. It is trying to find a sponsor and the kids’ circumstances are varied and challenging. The cost is high to cover transport, food, playing kits, school uniforms, stationery and even school fees for students who can’t afford them.
But the talent is there and in 2016 the academy saw its first two players, Akha Mjawule and Ilitha Ntinini, capped by Western Province at under-13 level. Ntinini, Mjawule and Aya Machuli have been awarded scholarships at SACS, one of the academy’s biggest success stories.
The academy is not just for young boys, though. Nineteen-year-old Sesethu Mtshazi has been selected to represent the Western Province Women this season, having only played rugby for two years.
The academy has a high-performance squad of 30 young, talented kids ranging from 11 to 19. Such an initiative requires the government and all stakeholders who talk about transformation to get on board and start building the house from the ground up.