Transformation has no quick fixes

TRANSFORMATION in sport is an emotional issue in South Africa, often making news headlines and prompting the convention of conferences from time to time.

Notwithstanding the relevance of this topic, we are barking up the wrong tree as far as the desire to forge participation and representation in sport is concerned. As a new democracy we need to spend more energy and resources promoting mass participation in sport.

We need to open up playing fields and encourage children and youth to play. To do that a wide variety of sports codes, especially Olympic sports, need to be available in the communities, just like it was the case when I was growing up in Tembisa.

My home town battled for resources back then but there were venues and fields we could go to, to play or watch different sports.

Today many of these places of sport have either made way for new developments or have been left to decay and vandalism.

The softball field opposite the Tembisa railway station was taken over by low-cost housing. More softball was played at Ecaleni Stadium, which was also known as Ground 1, where Tembisa's annual track and field championship was also held. Ecaleni Stadium is a wasteland today, while the softball diamonds at Tembisa High and Boitumelong Secondary have long disappeared.

The tennis courts at the civic centre have been uprooted in favour of an early learning centre; other tennis courts at Sedibeng section were cut off from the rest of the community when they were encamped inside Ikusasa Secondary when that school was built. Even with the benefit of the courts, a tennis culture was never cultivated at Ikusasa.

Tsepo Hall, where various indoor sports were practised every afternoon, has now been taken over by the Zion Christian Church. Apart from table tennis, boxing and bodybuilding, the best time at Tsepo Hall for me was during the karate grading tournaments on certain Saturdays. These events were always a great community gathering to honour young women and men who sacrificed little pleasures for a life of discipline and achievement.

Talking about young women, I don't see girls playing netball any more in Tembisa. The courts on the grounds of the main town hall, Rabasotho Hall, are gone, while the multisport courts outside Mehlareng Stadium have been taken over by bullies.

Kids therefore can no longer play basketball, netball and handball there. Other multisport courts at Ground 7 have been uprooted; only bare soil remains.

As things stand, the Olympic spirit is dead in Tembisa and we have to identify the reasons before we remedy the situation. This is where politicians and heavyweight sports administrators must be seen fighting for the children in poor communities.

Tembisa epitomises a widespread problem that has afflicted the townships in post-apartheid SA.

We need to find out why in the days of deprivation black communities managed to produce athletes of world standards in various sporting codes, something that seems to have ceased to exist.

One crucial factor that made sport very productive and relevant back then was voluntarism on the part of the trainers and coaches. These men and women held jobs but after work they rushed to sports fields to coach.

I know a karate sensei who used to run all the way from the station to Tsepo Hall after work to train his charges.

The father of former pro boxer Ditau Molefyane was an agent for a dry cleaning company but he trained boys in boxing at Tsepo Hall every day without fail.

Transformation must begin in the communities, by addressing the collapse of sport structures and formulating solutions. To seek colouring solutions at elite levels of certain sports that enjoy TV exposure is a desperate search for a quick fix. -

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