The launch of Tsogo Sun's SunCares Sports Academy Diepsloot Schools Rugby Festival on 28 July, which has been activated by the group's Montecasino property, represents a significant investment in the development of the game at grassroots level as well as the strengthening of a partnership between Tsogo Sun and the Gauteng departments of Education and Sport.
The rugby festival forms part of the Tsogo Sun Rugby Development Programme, which falls under the umbrella of the company's Sports Academy. The Sports Academy and the Performing Arts Academy - as the group's far reaching corporate social investment programme - together with the group's environmental management and entrepreneurial development programmes, represent Tsogo Sun's commitment to sustainability in tourism programme, which is called SunCares, and positions the group as a catalyst for change within every aspect of its programme.
According to Rob Collins, Chief Marketing Officer for Tsogo Sun, the Sports Academy programme has been developed to support the broader schooling curriculum, particularly the need for extra-curricular activity as outlined by the national Department of Education. "Tsogo Sun believes that through the provision of extra-curricular activities, it can deliver essential life skills, health care, and wellness education to complement the formal curriculum and make a lasting contribution to the lives of the disadvantaged South African youth that it reaches by providing a foundation that will enable them to reach their full potential."
He adds that the Sports Academy not only has the capacity to transform the lives of young learners by developing their sporting talent, but also those of teachers, coaches, referees and community members, by providing them with accredited skills, jobs and procurement deals. The Sports Academy currently includes a soccer development programme with cricket, netball and swimming development programmes in the pipeline.
The SunCares Sports Academy Rugby Development Programme expanded its ambit at the start of 2012 from one primary school to all of the seven primary schools in Diepsloot, making it the first time rugby is being played at these schools in Diepsloot as a structured extra-curricular activity. The total number of learners who can be accommodated in the programme is 616 U10 and U12 players. The aim is to create two teams for each age group in each school. At this stage there are between 30 and 40 learners participating per school, with numbers building up steadily.
The aim for the Diepsloot Schools Rugby Festival is for it to become a renowned annual festival such as other school rugby festivals in the Gauteng area have become.
Shanda Paine, Tsogo Sun's CSI Manager, explains that the model used by the Rugby Development Programme is comprehensive, providing a sports programme for a full year. "The programme includes training, tournaments, league games among the participating schools in the area, and specialised academy training for youngsters who've been identified with talent." The year's programme started with training in May, has continued with the first festival in July, and is being followed by interschool league games, which start at the end of August and continue until mid-November. "As the learners gain knowledge and confidence in the game, we will launch the development academy to harness the skills of those who have a talent for rugby."
The Rugby Development Programme coaches focus on training the learners while at the same time transferring their skills to teachers and educators who have shown an interest in getting involved in the sport. Historically, rugby has not been strong in previously disadvantaged communities and there is a lamentable lack of knowledge and understanding of the game. "We're extending this coaching even further in the near future with specific training for the coaches, offsite TV training to analyse games, attending games at Coca-Cola Park, and other initiatives to provide the educators with a higher level of understanding of the game and its rules," comments Paine.
"At this stage, there are a few educators who are participating in the programme and showing an enthusiasm for the game, and it is anticipated that as the programme grows, more educators will be inspired to become a part of such an impactful sports development programme. The initial training for educators aims to get them 'BokSmarted' (SA Rugby Union's rugby safety campaign) to ensure that they know the safety and basic rules of the game.
Thereafter, the Rugby Development Programme will support and encourage all educators who want further accreditation, such as the IRB1 levels, and higher."
The Rugby Development Programme is working closely with the Gauteng Department of Education and the Gauteng Department of Sports in ensuring that this programme complies with relevant criteria and regulations. "Both departments are being extremely supportive of this programme and are working closely with us in addressing any challenges we face," says Paine. Another strong and valuable partner in the programme is the Golden Lions Rugby Union.
Steve Howell, GM of Montecasino, which is activating the Rugby Development Programme, says, "Montecasino is truly privileged to support a programme that has the potential to make a fundamental difference in many underprivileged people's lives - learners and educators, as well as others in the Diepsloot community. It has been inspiring seeing the level of involvement and commitment to the Rugby Development Programme growing steadily among our staff members, programme organisers, partners, and community members.
"In 1995, at the time of the Rugby World Cup, Nelson Mandela said, 'Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand.' We've seen the truth of this in our country.
We've seen sport add a new dimension to the culture of national unity in South Africa. We've seen it add to the hope of our nation for a bright future for every South African. We're now seeing it in action in our community - and we're proud to be a part of it," says Howell.