The ability to think outside the box is going to be crucial for every administrator who hopes to help revive the sporting industry in South Africa after the coronavirus pandemic, says TuksSport Acting Director Toby Sutcliffe.
Universities have formed the backbone of South African sport for decades, with UP athletes making an impressive showing. There was a stage when seven former Assupol TuksCricket players represented the Proteas and six of last year's Springbok World Cup champions are former Tuks players, not to mention UP alumni and international sport stars Caster Semenya, Tatjana Schoenmaker and Akani Simbine.
"At times, it really united us as a nation,” Sutcliffe says. “You only have to cast your mind back to the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup, and the three Rugby World Cup victories in 1995, 2007 and 2019. Mass participation at various levels is an essential contribution to the physical and emotional wellbeing of individuals in South Africa.”
But, he says, this does not equate to sport being a priority after the pandemic. “The sports industry contributes only 0.5% to the country's economy while employing a minimal number of people in a full-time capacity, with millions of non-earning volunteers."
TuksSport Acting Director Toby Sutcliffe. Photo Credit: Reg Caldecott
But the dilemma facing South African sport is not new. "Between 1997 and 1999 the sports industry grew 1.2 times faster than the rate of the South African economy. That is why we have world-class facilities. It also led to an economic boom for the industries involved in sport. Since then, sports administrators have allowed conflicts of interest to cloud their vision. A direct consequence has been the gradual demise of sport in the country, with fewer and fewer spectators in attendance.”
Add COVID-19 to the mix and it’s unlikely that it will be business as usual when athletes are allowed to train and compete again. "The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on the world's population,” Sutcliffe says. “It has also had a direct impact on the mental health and financial well-being of the population. One can only wonder how the sporting industry, not only in South Africa but worldwide, will adapt to the new normal."
As for universities, Sutcliffe says it will take some time to resume with sporting activities. "It is unlikely that we will see the return to full contact tuition anytime soon. If it does occur, students will be under immense pressure to complete their studies."
But this doesn’t mean that the sporting industry should rest on its laurels. "We need to put our personal aspirations behind us,” Sutcliffe says. “There is no better time than now to agree on a sustainable plan for the future. If we do so, everyone in sport will reap the rewards."