The importance of sporting opportunities for SA’s youth

Ben Koen | Nov 14, 2021
I was lucky enough to play sports as a kid, and every child in South Africa should also get that opportunity.

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The importance of sporting opportunities for SA’s youth

Nelson Mandela made a speech in 2000 about the power of sport to unite a nation. The following is a famous quote from that speech:

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand.”

 

Sport and life-skills

Sport provides a great platform for making friends in a healthy environment. After sitting in class all day, sport allows kids to run around, get some much-needed fresh air and blow off some steam. Sport also teaches you about things in life which nothing else can really teach you. It makes you humble – there is always someone bigger, better, faster and stronger than you are. You learn how to work with other people, learn how to come together as problem solvers. You also have to learn skills to overcome challenges. Every child in South Africa should be able to take part in sport.

In my free time I volunteer at a local NGO called Sentinel Ocean Alliance in Hout Bay, Cape Town. The program aims to teach children from marginalized areas in the Hout Bay region about ocean awareness, swimming safely in the sea, and how to use mindfulness practices to help with trauma. It is a great initiative, and it adds value to the youth of these communities.

A study was done by a separate NGO called Waves for Change, which is in partnership with Sentinel Ocean Alliance. The table below shows the outcome of the participants in the Waves for Change program.

Happiness

Confidence

Safety

Emotion

96% of kids reported feeling happier.

93% of kids reported feeling more confident.

94% report feeling safer and have learnt to do more things like swim and surf.

83% find it easier to calm down when they are feeling sad, angry or scared.

 

Sports can have a positive impact on a person's daily life and health too. They do not just give you an interesting routine but also a healthy body. Getting involved in physical activities like sports improves your heart function, reduces the risks of diabetes, controls blood sugar and lowers tension and stress level.

Sport and crime

There's good evidence to show that if children are playing sports in the afternoon after school it keeps them away from other things like drugs, gangs, and crime. A study was done by Catherine Ward, an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at UCT, called Youth Violence Sources and Solutions in South Africa (2013). Ward specializes in the topic of youth and violence. Her study showed that the lack of access to a range of after school activities such as sports was a risk factor given much emphasis by children describing the attractiveness of gangs. The study was conducted in Cape Town, a city which is plagued by gang violence. Supervised extramural activities should be a priority within communities to provide children with a safe and constructive place to go after school.

Sports initiatives from NGOs across the country are important in uplifting communities in violent and poverty-stricken areas. However, the overarching issue is the lack of sports facilities available to these children. The IRR conducted a study called Achievement and Enterprise in School Education. The study noted that the most immediately striking and obvious difference between township and suburban schools is facilities. Township schools had almost no sporting facilities whereas suburban schools had swimming pools, and several different kinds of sports fields. How can we expect children and adolescents to get involved in sport when there are no recreational grounds close to them to play on?

Sport and Non-racialism

FAN Director, Hermann Pretorius wrote “that sport has become for many an expression of the best of South African non-racialism”. He referred to the IRR’s report Race Relations in South Africa - Reasons for Hope: Unite the Middle (2019). The report found that over 80% of South Africans from all racial groups were opposed to quotas in sports, wanting players to be selected on merit instead. Soon after this report was released, the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup with the most racially diverse squad the country has ever had, with a team picked on merit, under a black captain who saw the country united under his leadership. 

Quotas in sport do not solve the problem they are designed to solve. Even with two decades of Affirmative Action, many South African kids do not get proper opportunity to take part in sports. Every child in South Africa should have access to a sports field, the equipment needed for the sport, and coaches to guide them, as far as possible.

Sport and fighting for an honest and effective government

Various South African sporting codes have grappled with corruption and maladministration over the past decade. Freedom-loving South Africans who love sport and want every child in the country to have the opportunity to play sport need to hold the government accountable for mismanagement of funds so that the sport can flourish throughout our communities. If sport is allowed to flourish it will almost undoubtedly have a positive effect on broader societal issues such as gang activity and crime.

 

Cover image source available here.

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