Women in sport take centre stage during LeadUP online series

Posted on August 20, 2021

“Sport is very important at UP, because it complements the academic side of the institution,” said UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe during the latest LeadUP: Alumni Thought Leadership virtual chat, the theme of which was ‘Celebrating UP Women in Sport’.

The online event – which was moderated by Professor Christa Janse van Rensburg, Head of Section Sports Medicine at UP – featured the following panellists: 2020 Tokyo Olympian and African Champion Geronay Michaela Whitebooi; Phumelela Mbande, 2020 Tokyo Olympian and Team SA flag bearer; 2008 Beijing Olympian Dr Lize-Marie van Staden; Dr Phathokuhle Zondi, Chief Medical Officer for Team SA at the Tokyo Games; Simphiwe Dludlu, former Banyana Banyana player and SuperSport presenter; and Steven Ball, TuksSport Director and Acting CEO of the hpc at UP.

The recent Tokyo Olympic Games saw several UP students and alumni participating. “Thanks to our athletes and every woman who is involved in UP sport,” Prof Kupe said. “It really makes us the leading sporting university in Africa. Our ambition is to be the African sporting powerhouse and the global powerhouse.”

During the discussion, Mbande said that sport prepared her for many things outside the sporting arena. “It has taught me about the importance of teamwork, learning to be collaborative and to learn to manage myself. Being an Olympian and representing South Africa has been an incredible experience, but there are a lot of highs and lows in sport. It is nice to be at a stage where I can question myself about what’s next and how to build on from past experience.” Whitebooi, echoed these sentiments, saying that sport has played a significant role in her life too. “If it was not for sport, I would not have had the opportunity to study. It has given me the courage to stand up when I fail, and take on challenges even those outside sport.”

Dludlu highlighted that as coaches, it is important to learn to move with the times. “If it is not COVID-19, it is technology or resources; times are changing. We keep on grooming different types of athletes that come from different times and genetic makeup – there is a lot that goes in, therefore as coaches, we need to be a step ahead and understand the dynamics of sport and players, and understand how we evolve.”

Dr Zondi said that COVID-19 threw a lot of complexity and layers into the mix. “The pandemic taught me the importance of three things: planning – it is important to understand the game you are entering and plan for various scenarios; agility – as much as you prepare, you have to be able to respond to possible change; and resilience – things don’t always go according to plan; there will be hurdles along the way, no matter how well you have prepared. It is important to learn, adapt and move forward.” 

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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