JOHANNESBURG - Siya Kolisi impressed me immensely last week when he spoke to the media in Johannesburg for the first time after being named captain of the Springboks for the England series.
Towards the end of his press conference, he was asked about his growing up in a township in the Eastern Cape and how much his life had changed since those days. I couldn’t help but nod my head at everything Kolisi said in answering the question.
What stuck out for me was what the new Bok skipper said about how going to Grey High School in Port Elizabeth had changed everything for him. Now, it’s not so much the fact he went to a school with the name Grey in it that stood out, but the fact that had Kolisi not gone to a school where sport was deemed important and played a big part in the daily activities, he might not be where he is today.
He said only when he got the chance to play organised sport - in his case, rugby - at a school that offered it to their learners did he start to dream about rugby being a part of his life.
“Coming from the township where I didn’t have a lot ... at Grey my dreams started to become much bigger. In the township you don’t have dreams like that ... where I could believe I could be whatever I wanted to be.” He continued: “Going to Grey absolutely changed everything for me.
"And, every child deserves that, whether at Grey or in a township school ... to be able to dream big. I wish for kids in the township to look up to other people in the township, and not to be taken away and put elsewhere to look up to people ... that is how I see transformation.”
Kolisi hit the nail on the head. He was able to dream big because he was given an opportunity ... to dream and then turn his dreams into reality. Not everyone in this country has those opportunities.
It is a fact that those who are privileged enough to go to a school where there is such a thing as organised sport have an advantage over those who go to schools where there is no such thing.
Also, a child who starts playing rugby at primary school level will have a better chance against a child who only starts playing rugby at high school, or after school. And, that doesn’t matter whether you’re white or black.
Transformation is something everyone involved in sport has to be aware of and strive towards getting right, and Saru and the sports ministry have a huge role to play, but so, too, does the education department.
Somehow they need to try ensure that young kids everywhere have an opportunity to play sport. Linking up with the corporate world to help build, and maintain, fields (and courts etc) is crucial to help grow our young sports stars everywhere.
Of course, it’s easier said than done, and this country is in dire need of male teachers, too, who can serve as school-level rugby coaches. They are few and far between nowadays.
Some children are privileged enough to be in schools where sport is everything; others don’t have the same opportunities. Closing that gap will take time and effort, but it needs to be done. Every child in every school in this country deserves an opportunity to play organised sport, and an opportunity to dream big. That’s all they are asking for.