Sports academy is top of the lot

2016-03-03 06:00
 CONNECT Sports Academy members in a happy mood after they were nominated as the best.  PHOTO: LIndle mbointsi

CONNECT Sports Academy members in a happy mood after they were nominated as the best. PHOTO: LIndle mbointsi

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Khayelitsha’s CONNECT Sports Academy was named Best Development Programme at the prestigious Discovery SA Sport Industry Awards on Thursday last week.

The academy beat off stiff competition from huge industry names such as the World Coaches programme, the Nashua Art of Fast Bowling, Vuka Rugby, SuperSport Let’s Play and the Sports Trust.

Four members of the academy flew to Johannesburg where they received their award from Hashim Amla and Lucas Radebe during a star-studded ceremony at the Sandton Convention Centre.

But the academy nearly missed their moment of glory. Part of the entry criteria was to submit a hardcopy of a video about the organisation. With limited resources and funding and just two days to go before the deadline, the academy turned to Twitter to see whether anyone could courier the all-important flashdrive from Cape Town to Johannesburg. A perfect social media stranger offered to take up the task and delivered the video with just a few hours to spare, underscoring what the academy is all about: connecting people with resources and opportunities.

Despite not having the financial clout or extensive reach of other programmes yet, CONNECT was recognised by the judges for its absolute hands-on and holistic approach to the development of underprivileged young people and their families.

The award brings a financial boost of R50 000 for the academy from award sponsors Vodacom, plus an additional contribution after host Dan Nicholl’s impassioned appeal to esteemed guests in the room.

Vodacom has kept the SMS line open and those who would like to do so can still donate until the end of February by SMSing DSIA to 42482 to give R30 to the academy.

“We are excited to be associated with the Discovery Sport Industry Awards which recognises excellence across the entire business of sport,” Vodacom Brand Director Mosidi Seretlo said.

“Vodacom has been involved in numerous development initiatives over the years and we hope our contribution to the category would further add to the cause.”

“The “Sport Development Programme of the Year” category is a great chance for the Awards to celebrate everything that’s good about the social responsibility side of the business of sport. Having Vodacom on board this year as a partner meant that we were able to contribute more actively towards building the future of sports in this country,” says Claire Earley, spokesperson for the awards.

CONNECT began on a small scale in 2014 with just a handful of children playing touch rugby with assistance for boxing and chess also provided. It has blossomed into a fully-fledged contact academy offering young people from Khayelitsha (aged 7 to 18) the opportunity to play regular, competitive fixtures for clubs such as Hamilton’s, the oldest club in South Africa.

The academy ensures that all players’ needs are taken care of. It has a dedicated nutritional programme and also offers tutoring support to ensure performance in the classroom is as on point as performance on the field. It also ensures players are transported and have the kit required to play rugby.

“CONNECT is all about access to resources, especially the resources most of us take for granted. We focus on long-term sustainability and while our main goal is to create a platform that will produce professional rugby players, we also encourage our youngsters to pursue other careers in sport such as coaching and refereeing,” says Murray Ingram, director of CONNECT.

Boxing and chess remain important satellite parts of the academy and while CONNECT dreams of branching out into other sports, consolidating its current talent while overcoming various day-to-day challenges remain top of the list.

“It’s a huge honour for us to be awarded in this way, but we cannot lose sight of our current obstacles. Transport remains one of the biggest issues as travelling the 40 kilometres between Khayelitsha and Cape Town is often difficult when relying on public transport. It is also dangerous for some of our kids when they start returning home after dark, particularly in the winter months.

“Safety is at the top of our priority list when it comes to our players and a 23-seater bus would completely change the way we run our operation and make it much more streamlined,” explains Ingram.

Finding sponsorships for kit as well as medical cover for the players is also on CONNECT’s wish list and the academy hopes that the award will give them the springboard to make these connections and secure these deals.

The SA Sports Industry has invited the academy back to tell their story through a video at next year’s awards and CONNECT can’t wait to show them how much can be done when a few dedicated people are willing to roll up their sleeves and work towards a better and more inclusive South Africa.

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