Rugby development in Khayelitsha township

Young rugby players from Connect Academy. Picture from Connect.

The Rugby World Cup has come and gone and the Boks team is still a topical issue. With only 8 black players in the team that competed in the world cup, transformation of rugby remains necessary.
In order to deal with the challenge of poor rugby development in Khayelitsha, Connect Community Development established a rugby academy to nurture the skills of young rugby players and afford them an opportunity to play rugby.

Some of the main challenges that Khayelitsha and its surrounding communities are grappling with are the issues of inequality, access to resources and opportunities. This academy is aimed at unearthing the abundance of talent of children that come from poor backgrounds and ensure that their skills are properly nurtured. The academy hopes to give a platform to children of Khayelitsha and a chance for them to play rugby with a hope of becoming  professional rugby players.

Head of rugby at Connect Academy, Murray Ingram said the academy was established in April 2014, after entering the Spur Mini rugby tournament and they were astounded by the raw talent at their disposals. Murray said in seven years that Connect has been active, their core strength has been in the area of community development and they found rugby to be the ideal vehicle for social change.

“Access to resources and opportunities is our ethos as we genuinely desire to see to it that transformation is executed from grassroots level,” he said. Asked about the issue of transformation in rugby, he said the current setup of South African rugby is unsustainable as it draws from a shallow pool of players from elite rugby playing schools in the country.

He emphasised that the wider they cast their nets, the more talent they will unearth and the more diversity and opportunities South Africa can have in the game. He added that in this way the country will be able to give the game the true ownership for all South African people.

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They also believe that, when transformation is started at the grassroots level, it gives children from underprivileged communities a chance to become professional rugby players.

Murray said that the goal of the academy is to see that their players realise their educational dreams and career opportunities through rugby. They are also busy trying to organise bursaries for their best players, so that they can study and play rugby in the best schools in the Western Cape. Thembani Ngubelanga, who is the coach of Blue Jets and the coach of the under19 Western Province rugby girls team said it is always a struggle to develop black players because they don’t have resources.

Ngubelanga said rugby is difficult for players that come from impoverished communities to compete with players that come from well-off communities because they are more advanced in terms of development. Ngubelanga said the main problem is the lack of sports facilities and resources in Khayelitsha.

“Khayelitsha has a population of almost a million and yet we have only two rugby fields and they are not even in a proper condition.”

Ngubelanga said they need an academy that is going to be based in Khayelitsha and solely dedicated to developing rugby. He also wants the South African Rugby Union to host more rugby coaching clinics because there are people who are passionate about rugby but don’t have the skills.

He said black players would always find it hard to make it in rugby because the government has turned a blind eye to developing rugby in townships. He dismissed the notion that rugby is only for white people.

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