Cape Town - Transformation is a topical subject in South African sports, so much so that Sports minister Fikile Mbalula banned five sports federations in the country for not meeting their 'colour' objectives.
Administrators’ began to set targets that require the national team to play an average minimum of x amount of black players; however you need to look at the game comprehensively from grassroots level to the top for transformation to work.
That’s where Connect Sports Academy comes in.
Since 2014, this elite academy offers training and development to kids from informal townships such as Khayelitsha and other suburbs in Cape Town namely, Maitland and Brooklyn.
The independent academy was co-founded by Murray Ingram, who works directly with the Khayelitsha community and beyond to provide access to opportunities and resources, inside and outside sport.
The Connect process
The base of the foundation takes place on a public field in the rural township of Khayelitsha where open practice sessions are held. This is where kids get scouted and placed in the elite program.
There they get introduced to the game of rugby and learn the fundamentals while receiving formal coaching.
Approximately 35 talented aspiring rugby players are selected and placed into the 'elite' academy, where all their needs are taken care of (food, clothing, transportation, kit, etc).
“We also have a clubhouse in Khayelitsha where four kids are currently living with a 'house mother'. This is a blueprint trial which we'd like to roll out for all the kids in high performance structures. There's also a gym where all kids in the elite system can work out and train on days where there's no skills training,” said Antoinette Muller, the spokesperson for Connect Sports Academy.
More than just a sports academy
While developing their talent and skills in rugby, kids enrolled in the elite program are also given academic education.
The academy teamed up with Vusa Rugby Academy in partnership with Bishop's Preparatory School development academy, which allows the players not only to play regularly, but also to receive tutoring in English and Maths twice a week.
Connect Sports Academy knows how important family is and involves parents on the academy’s progress and on their child’s well-being.
“Parents are supportive and take a keen interest, but funding is a struggle and thus we cannot afford to transport parents to fixtures as often as we like,” said Muller. “Wherever we can, we make a plan for parents to attend (the games).”
Producing promising Western Province talent
Two years into the program and the academy has already produced two Western Province players at an age-group level.
Akha Mjawule and Ilitha ‘Mister’ Ntinini were scouted by Fundile Badi at one of their open practice and recruitment sessions in Makhaza, Khayelitsha.
They then went on to represent Western Province Under-12 team in their first provincial tour in Riversdale.
Another Connect player, Aya Machuli, also made the reserve list for Western Province in the same tour, which took place in October.
In addition, 12 Connect players were selected in October to represent the successful Western Cape Islanders Touch Rugby squad at the annual, junior inter-provincial tournament.
How Connect is the stepping stone to resolving transformation in South Africa
Connect's aim is to find raw talent and nurture players to succeed at a professional level.
They help disadvantaged areas to gain access to resources and facilities, things that they require to nurture their raw talent.
To make transformation work at a national level, you need to make grassroots a priority and the stepping stone in solving transformation.
“Acknowledging there is no quick fix to achieve comprehensive transformation; Connect is a truly hands-on initiative.
“Forget quotas in national teams, Connect is committed to sport transformation where it’s needed most - at grassroots level,” adds Muller.
You can find out more about Connect Sports Academy and how you can help HERE