Posted on October 18, 2018
Around the world, sport is a unifier. Not many South Africans above a certain age will ever forget the first time they saw President Nelson Mandela donning the Springbok rugby jersey in 1995 – and the effect that act and that successful World Cup campaign had on Mandela’s drive to unite a fractured country. Given the importance of sport to South Africans and people around the world, any sporting body that manages to remain at the top of its game for 100 years deserves a round of applause. TuksSport, founded as the TuksAthletics Club in 1918 under the then Transvaal University College (which later became the University of Pretoria), has been celebrating its centenary throughout 2018. With celebrations peaking at a 31 October banquet, Tukkievaria sat down with Director Toby Sutcliffe to pick his brain about his favourite memories of his time at TuksSport – including trying to get him to dish some gossip on his favourite celebrity moments!
You’ve been at TuksSport for 16 years. What stands out for you as some of TuksSports’ biggest achievements in recent years?
The stand-outs recently must be the medals won at the Commonwealth Games and Olympics by athletes that have come through TuksSport. In 2012, the London Olympics was special in that we won three of the five South African medals, but also 11 medals with athletes that chose the UP’s High Performance Centre (HPC) as their venue of choice to prepare for the Olympics. The 2010 FIFA Football World Cup was also a very special time for all of us at the HPC, as the Argentinian football team chose us as their base camp for the tournament. Our rowing team’s four gold medals at London 2012 put us on the radar, as our facilities became a destination for many European nations to come to to train in their winter months, when most of their lakes and rivers freeze over.
Tell us a bit about your journey to getting to TuksSport.
I started as Marketing Manager for the HPC in 2002, and was promoted to CEO in 2004. So for my first 14 years at TuksSport I was based at the HPC. For the past two years I’ve been both HPC CEO and Acting Director of TuksSport.
What is your favourite memory or story to tell from your time at TuksSport?
Undoubtedly, there are two that stand out. First, the way the institution and the country rallied around Caster Semenya when her gender was called into question. I felt great joy seeing how a team of medical practitioners and professors worked together as a team to present a case to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in Turkey to prove beyond any doubt that Caster was female. The result was an agreement by both parties after that meeting that the testosterone level work be set at 10 for all women. The HPC also protected her from the media scrum at the HPC, during which time we also helped her get her driver’s licence. During this time, Caster and I became close, and are still close today. My other favourite memory is of getting to meet Argentinian football legend Diego Maradona. Meeting him for the first time was quite an occasion, and it was during that trip to the HPC that he agreed that we would be the Argentinian football team’s base camp for 2010 FIFA World Cup 2010. The famous ‘luxury toilet seat for Maradona’ made headline news.
When they arrived, we had completely refurbished the entire HPC and the buildings were set to meet every need they had. It was a lot of hard work, as the Argentineans only ate their main evening meal around 10pm, so we needed to get our staff to change their working times for their stay. But, they were a great bunch of people and we gave them everything to ensure that they thought of the HPC as their ‘home away from home’. And we were successful to such an extent that after playing games in Cape Town and Polokwane they returned to the HPC directly after the game and did not stay over in the host city. For me that was a real pat on the back for my team here.
How far has TuksSport come in terms of contributing to transformation in South African sport?
Following on from the London 2012 rowers, Sizwe Ndlovu is the first black African male rower to win gold at the Olympics, and was subsequently appointed to the World Rowing FISA Athletes Commission. He is just one of the many great examples of how we at TuksSports have contributed positively to transformation in sports. Current Commonwealth 100metre sprint champion, Akani Simbine, World Long Jump champion, Luvo Manyonga, and Caster Semenya are also sterling examples of this on the world stage.
What’s TuksSport been doing to celebrate your centenary, and what’s still coming up?
In February and March we hosted both Varsity Cup athletics meetings, which we won, which were televised as part of our centennial celebrations. On Wednesday 31 October we’re holding our centenary banquet at the Rembrandt Hall in the Sport Centre on the Hillcrest Sports Campus. We’re hoping that this evening will bring together many of our past and current athletic personalities who’ve graduated either from UP or the TuksSport High School, along with current and former members of the TuksAthletics club. Most importantly, the money raised from the banquet will be used to set up a much-needed bursary fund to increase the number and diversity of our athletes in the TuksAthletics Club.
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