A rugby unites challenge during lockdown has brought out the best in people, writes former Springbok STEFAN TERBLANCHE in the latest SA Rugby magazine.
Covid-19 has changed the way many of us think about most things in life, and certainly what really matters the most. During this time, I’ve been privileged to be involved in the Rugby Unites Challenge, which saw the South African Rugby Legends Association (Sarla) and the Lions Rugby Company partnering with Spar to pack and distribute much-needed food parcels to Gauteng’s poorer communities affected by the pandemic.
It’s something that brings together not only the best people, but more importantly brings out the best in people.
To start at the beginning, Sarla was started in 2001 by former Scottish and Springbok hooker John Allan and businessman Gavin Varejes, registering in 2004 as a Non-Profitable Company (NPC). The organisation has been instrumental in growing the game of rugby at grassroots level across South Africa and beyond over the past 19 years.
With a determination to pass on the passion for the game, many former players, referees and administrators have given up their time to attend and assist in various ways. Grassroots rugby plays the biggest part of what we do at Sarla and with the Vuka Rugby set-up established just over a decade ago in the Western Cape, it has expanded to all 14 rugby unions in 2019, giving 30 000 boys and girls from non-traditional rugby schools the chance to play rugby.
The Iqhawe Week, founded in 2013, is one of a kind with regards to rugby tournaments. Not only is it loved by all the participants, but it dangles a massive carrot in front of these kids in the form of an opportunity to get a bursary at a rugby school, or to get selected for the Grant Khomo Week. Representing the Iqhawe XV is a dream come true. It’s grassroots rugby with a real twist, and offers an even better opportunity for the players to represent their respective provinces at U15 level.
It’s during times like this when I feel such things should be celebrated. In 2020, many things changed in the blink of an eye and who would have ever thought that at the start of this year many schoolboys’ dream to represent their 1st XV in their final year of school would be cruelly ruined.
Not only did the boys and girls in their final year of school miss out, but also thousands playing across all age groups. Vuka Rugby was also hit hard and all games were cancelled.
Bear in mind that Vuka Rugby is more than just a game for these kids and often an escape from a society riddled with gangs and drugs.
Even though we could not get to support these kids and the communities with sport and Vuka Rugby this year, we started the Rugby Unites Challenge to support people in dire need of a good plate of food daily. Originating in Johannesburg and again with Gavin at the helm, it didn’t take long before the professional rugby teams got involved and extended the challenge to other professional teams outside the Gauteng province.
Rugby Unites is more than just going shopping at the local Spar for essential foods; it’s the camaraderie so evident on the rugby field that bring teammates and supporters together on a Sunday, filling up trolleys and packing food parcels in their own time and often out of their own pockets.
The first time the Lions team got together after the hard lockdown was not to play rugby but to go shopping for people less fortunate than themselves. Tell me that’s not the stuff of legends!
With the Lions team joining first and then extending the challenge to their neighbours the Bulls, before crossing the borders to the Cheetahs, Sharks and Stormers, it’s clear to see why rugby players are loved across South Africa.
I can’t take any credit for people’s generosity and the momentum of Rugby Unites, but it makes me feel extremely proud to be a part of it.
*Terblanche is a former Springbok who earned 37 Test caps. He is now the CEO of the SA Rugby Legends Association and served as a member of World Rugby’s judicial committee at the 2019 World Cup.