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USSA President speaks on Napoli2019 Universiade

O.R. Tambo Airport, Kempton Park - On being asked how she felt regarding the winning of eighteen medals as opposed to the targeted eight, Ilhaam Groenewald said, ‘’we are extremely proud of our athletes on winning more medals that what was set out as the target and I think that this is our best performance since we started to participate in the Summer Universiade.’’

‘’I believe in the possibilities of University Sport South Africa (USSA). This is a massive target that we’ve set ourselves for the future and a specific shout-out to our students-athletes that really worked hard, the coaches, the team managers as well as the member universities. We have some wonderful relationships with some national federations, so thank you to them as well. Without everyone, and our funders being the national Lotteries Commission, the University Sports Company and member universities, we would have never been able to celebrate eighteen medals, it’s a massive achievement.’’

On speaking about key learnings taken from this year’s Universiade and areas of improvement, the President stressed the importance of early preparation.

‘’A firm decision was taken in terms of which sporting codes to take through to the Games. It’s excellent of us to provide opportunities, but at the end of the day when you compete on the world stage, there is an expectation for you to win medals. Our national university sports associations play a critical role in terms of the selection of squads and hosting training camps. Our medical team is critical and I believe that this is an area where we can even further improve. So, prior preparation is key. Some other countries bring their teams together up to a year prior, and that’s something that we drastically need to improve on. It’s not impossible and I believe that within our university sports structure we have the expertise to enable us to do even more around the preparation of the teams’’, she added.

In order to facilitate the process of having longer training camps for the student-athletes, the President said that the calendar needs to be looked at in terms of planning; USSA needs to specifically look at the sporting codes that are to be taken to the next summer Universiade and how that particular programme can be changed.

A process has already been initiated in terms of a three to five-year hosting calendar for all of the USSA games, which will be further changed e.g. long distance training needs to be at the coast. So these are some of the aspects that need to be taken into consideration. The time that lapses from the athletes having qualified for a World Student Games competition and the actual time of the competition is way too long and this needs to be resolved.

The athletes also need more competitions in Europe and Asia and part of the President’s responsibilities at these Games is to strengthen our international relations. She has had a couple of meetings, specifically looking ahead at the World University Championships, and how USSA can allow the teams to become stronger.

The President attributes Asia’s success on the global sporting arena to several reasons; the first is size. Asian countries have large populations so there is a massive pool from which to draw talent. Asian countries, within their national governments, have a person who is responsible for university sport who sits within the government.

‘’I think that is quite important and so governance and leadership is key because that allows you to develop and create networks. That’s why I was so excited for our Deputy Minister; she joined us for a couple of days, we had an opportunity to engage her directly and I look forward to future engagements. It is about your country’s system and if you don’t fix the basic stuff here in South Africa, it will be very difficult to go and benchmark, so I believe that from the school system into the club system, university system and national federations system, there’s a lot of work to be done. There are some codes that have a very good pathway but also because they have the necessary resources and there are others that don’t, and I think as University Sport, we almost sit right in the middle of it and we’re a critical resource as far as the South African sport industry is concerned. It is very important that we find that link because so many of our talent goes missing, simply because our pathway in terms of identifying, retaining and advancing our talent is not what it’s supposed to be’’, she said.

Upon being asked on how national federations can be roped in to work closely with USSA and member universities the president said, ‘’We actually have a very good relationship with South African Football Association (SAFA), we have a good relationship with South African Rugby Union (SARU), we started to reach out to Tennis South Africa (TSA), Athletics South Africa (ASA) of course, because athletics has been our medal winners over the years. So what we’ve done over the last two years is to strengthen our relations with national federations, it is a two-way process. But I think it is important for national federations to first and foremost acknowledge the importance of the Summer Universiade and this is through education. I don’t believe everybody fully understands that university sport is about, particularly at world stage. If we represent up to 60% of national teams as students, we are a massive contributor towards the sports industry of South Africa. Universities have some of the best facilities, the best coaches, sports science, we offer good bursaries, the list is endless, so why should we not partner ultimately for the benefit of South Africa’’, she said.

The President’s take on improving the medal tally at the 2021 Beijing Summer Universiade is that the current medal winners need to be looked at in terms of where they are regarding their studies, their competitions and what their future is for the next two years and this needs to be done now. USSA needs to know now already who the new first years coming in are so that direct connection with the member universities is made, so that by 2021 the students have been informed, educated and empowered around what the Summer Universiade is all about.

Posted by Vusi Zwane on 2019-07-19.
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