The Lost Generation

Grade 12 sportsmen and sportswomen across the country face the daunting prospect of becoming ‘the Lost Generation’ in the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, writes GARY LEMKE.

Perhaps the rich talent of Siya Kolisi would have been enough to make it through the system in any case. As a teenager in Grade 11 and 12, he twice represented Eastern Province at Craven Week and was selected for SA Schools in 2008 and 2009. That platform helped him fly the nest. Western Province came calling once his school career was over and he was off on the road to what would lead to him captaining the Springboks to the 2019 Rugby World Cup. 

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Spare a thought, though, for the Class of 2020 – the matrics, mainly, whose school lives and career paths have been thrown off track by Covid-19. This Class of 2020 is in danger of becoming a lost generation. 

Every year, such is the tradition of Craven Week, talent scouts converge on the biggest rugby schools tournament in the world – laptops in hand and with spreadsheets of players and budgets – to ‘poach’ those who catch the eye and take them off to the professional unions. Curwin Bosch, like Kolisi, is a product of Grey High in Port Elizabeth, and he too made SA Schools, in 2014 and 2015. Embrose Papier was selected for SA Schools in 2014 and Ox Nche and Warrick Gelant in 2013. They did their matric at unfashionable Garsfontein, Louis Botha (Free State) and Outeniqua, respectively. All three were spotted at Craven Week, signed up and farmed off.

How much raw talent has there been at Craven Week over the years that would not ordinarily have been discovered? Are we to believe, and trust, that SA Rugby’s development programme is established enough, 25 years after the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup, to pluck schoolboy talent out of the regions that don’t have a Woolworths, Spur and Tsogo Sun within a stone’s throw off the main road. 

Which is why the effect of Covid-19, with schools weeks and schools sport heavily affected by the lockdown and social-distancing strategies, will have life-changing implications for thousands of school kids in matric.

Schools tournament weeks have traditionally been where those less privileged are given a chance to earn their golden ticket to bigger things. Quite obviously, there will be those who are ‘safe’ and ‘immune’ from the devastating ripple effects of Covid-19. ‘All’ their damage will be, is that they weren’t able to have played 1st XV, and maybe provincial and for South African Schools. However, those in the ‘big’ schools such as Grey College, Paul Roos, Paarl Gym, Affies, KES and Maritzburg College will be fine. Provincial talent scouts and unions will take a chance based on reputation. But what about those who don’t attend a big, traditional sports-playing school? 

Who is going to take a chance with a kid from a ‘no-name’ brand school? How is that kid even going to get a chance to stick their hand up to stand out from the crowd? The longer the ban on schools sport continues, the more the dreams and life paths of thousands of matrics will have been affected. There would be no turning back. 

If you happen to believe in fate and ‘everything happens for a reason’, then good for you. I prefer to believe in the human life element. I like to believe everyone should be able to be given a chance to create their own destinies. I believe in fairy tales.

Siya Kolisi’s story is a fairy tale. But he’s in the minority. How many other Kolisis are there who won’t play rugby – or cricket or hockey next year for that matter – because they will have lost interest in sport? They will have worked all their school lives to make their schools’ first team and it would have been a huge thing in their teenage lives. Now, they head off into the unknown. Where is the motivation to do it all again, to try make a name for themselves in 2021, when they are thrown among a world of adults?

I fear that an entire wave of talent will be lost to the system and potential international stars will never get their opportunity.

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