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Winter sports
Q1 2018

If schools could just get their acts together ...

There is a pool of 12-m potential learners at 25 000 schools who should by now all be participating in some form of sport if only the SRSA and DBE plan for school sport had come together ... just think what this would have meant for the South African sport retail industry! Growing sport participation through transformation and development is therefore important for the industry. Words: Trudi du Toit.

Imagine an ideal world where everybody does what he or she is supposed to do when it is supposed to happen ... then, sport retailers would be counting ways to spend their money, instead of anxiously counting the days before the next payment becomes due.

In October 2011 an ambitious Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the departments of Sport and Recreation (SRSA) and Basic Education (DBE) to implement sporting programmes in all the approximately 25 000 South African schools.

The main target would be the schools who never offered sport, so that about 19-m new learners could become active athletes. Most (84%) of South Africa’s under 18-year-olds are black Africans, who previously had limited exposure to sport.

Physical education would become part of the curriculum, and regular Wednesday sports days would see millions of children running, jumping, kicking and generally becoming fit and active. National federations would develop coaching programmes to help gain converts for their codes in schools.

Clubs Netball Rugby Soccer
Registered clubs 1 987 1 107 23 269
Registered members 20 483 75 741 300 000
Club leagues 801 3 615  
Club facilities 515 386  

Above: Soccer is predominantly played at clubs — with the sport barely registering on the radar in school leagues, despite SAFA-organised leagues like the Kay Motsepe Schools Club, or SASFA’s Copa Coca Cola.


Senior schools Netball Rugby; Soccer
Schools offer code 2 192 4 331  
School organised events 1 221 1 107 65
Age-specific teams 653 5 627  
Facilities at schools   969 12
% Schools penetration 36% 10%  

Netball has the strongest footprint in schools, with more than 3 000 senior and primary schools participating in organised competitions. Participation, however drops off after school when players join clubs.


 Primary schools Netball Rugby Soccer
Primary schools offer 3 636 6 319  
Schools organised events 1 785 1 584 26
Age-specific teams 1 811 7 920 9
Facilities at schools 1 233 1 148 8
% Schools penetration 52% 16%  

With about 2 700 schools taking part in competitive rugby, the sport is relatively well ensured of a steady stream of young players coming through. Club membership is also quite strong with more than 75 000 players participating outside school structures.

Source: EPG Transformation Status Report 2015/16 published November 2017 by Sport & Recreation SA.

Straight path to national teams

Intra-school competitions would identify the best athletes to participate in inter-school competitions, who would then compete at district and provincial level, until the best of the best eventually compete in a week-long, grande finale, the National SA School Sports Championship.

The sport stars of the future would be identified at this event, offered bursaries, and nurtured until they can take their places in national teams.

SRSA would provide teamwear for the competitors, and DBE would buy equipment for them, it was decided. In addition, the industry would benefit from all the new, inspired, athletes seeking equipment, footwear and kit, or schools cashing in their sports grants.

Oh, what a lovely dream!

The reality is that SRSA and DBE are still arm-wrestling about providing facilities at schools, and unionized, over-worked, teachers often refuse to supervise or coach sports — which they often don’t know or understand — after hours or on weekends. Coaches, and coaching programmes, are few and far between.

Sport low priority

When his learners are without books, desks, or sometimes class rooms, a school principal will laugh (or cry) at the idea that he must ask DBE to establish a multi-sport facility at his school.

Travelling to participate in sports events is beyond the means of poorer schools, whose learners barely have enough to eat, never mind money to spend on transport.

According to the EPG Transformation Status Report 2015/16 published by SRSA in November 2017, as few as 10% of all schools regularly offer sport. And most of them are former Model C schools.

“All indications are that sport’s traditional and privileged resource pipeline (schools) may be drying up and codes not actively engaged in dealing with the associated strategic realities, could be faced with a range of uncomfortable consequences in the future,” say the authors of the report.

In 2015 and 2016 10 685 learners from about 6 000 schools participated in the school sports tournament — 3 027 girls teams, 3 025 boys teams and 159 mixed teams competed in the final national championship.

But, according to some that could be an overestimation of true sport participation at school level, as some teams were hastily assembled before the national championship, without the athletes participating in any of the carefully-planned pre-events.

Yet, by far the majority (85%) of learners, believe the programme identifies the best talent, according to a SRSA report on The Implementation Evaluation of the National SA School Sports Championships.

Further good news is that the majority of schools (43%) who participated in this programme are in the township areas. “If one combines rural (26%) and township figures (a total of 69%), one could conclude that there is good representation of schools from disadvantaged areas,” the authors of the report concluded.

But, the report also documents numerous complaints — the most frequent was that the sportswear and equipment supplied were insufficient and of bad quality.

The major winter team sport codes soccer, netball and rugby are among the most popular of the 16 priority sporting codes identified for schools — and their federations are among the best resourced. Yet, even in these codes a closer look reveals a grim picture.

Soccer court battles

Soccer is the biggest participation sport amongst South African adults, and 65% of the participants in the national school sports championship played soccer. Yet, there are fewer than a hundred primary and senior schools that participate in soccer leagues. And that is not a typing error.

At the national championship many of the soccer players were there courtesy of the NGO AmandlaEdufootball.

“Football (soccer) did not report any structured/organised involvement at school level,” say the authors of the transformation report. “This is a major strategic weakness with respect to the sport’s search for elevated levels of competitiveness in the medium to longer term.”

This will come as no surprise to those who have been following the protracted court cases between SAFA and SASFA, their school sport arm, established amid fanfare a few years ago. SAFA disbanded them in March 2015 to take over the schools programme due to lack of progress in growing soccer at school level — especially in the rugby-playing former Model C schools. SASFA took the mother body to court — and they are still in dispute. And there are now two school leagues: SAFA’s Kay Motsepe Schools Cub, and SASFA’s Copa Coca Cola Cup.

Soccer is, however, a club game and the 23 269 soccer clubs represent 71% of the total number of registered sports clubs. Most of them are in Gauteng (19%), followed by 15% in KwaZulu Natal, and 15% in the Eastern Cape. The lowest number of soccer clubs are in the Northern Cape (5%) and North West (3%).

Netball organised

Netball is the unacknowledged leader when it comes to encouraging participation at school level. It is the sporting code that is the best represented in schools, and is played in 52% of primary schools and 36% of senior schools who offer sport. It is also the most popular sport in private schools, where netball is played in 30% of schools.

At the national school sport championship, netball was played by 24% of the participants — the second highest number after soccer.

It is the most popular in Western Cape schools (54%), followed by KwaZulu Natal (52%), Limpopo (49%) and Eastern Cape (31%).

Netball is also relatively strong at club level, with close to 2 000 netball clubs, of which 32% are in Gauteng, 22% in the Eastern Cape and 12% in the North West and Western Cape. But, each club only attracts enough registered players to form one or two teams.

Rugby strong

Although still predominantly a white sport — with only 10-23% black representation in senior teams — rugby is the third best supported sporting code at government schools.

In addition, nearly half (47%) of the participants at the national school sport championship played rugby.

There were 114 103 rugby players at senior schools in 2015/2016, according to the EPG Transformation Status Report. This, however, only represents 10% of senior schools.

Rugby is also played in 16% of primary schools. But, interestingly, only 6% of private schools offer rugby as sport.

Nearly 3 000 schools participated in rugby competitions in which more than 13 500 age group teams competed against each other.

Rugby is also fairly well supported at club level, and the 1 262 rugby clubs are the third most per code in the country. Most clubs are in the Western Cape (35.4%) and the Eastern Cape (35.3%).


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