Posts Tagged ‘Bishops’

The first Muslim Springbok

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IMG_0499RAMADAN starts on Thursday and that poses a challenge for one of the players on whom SA is relying this Saturday to salvage a bit of national pride from this year’s disappointing Super Rugby campaign.

Nizaam Carr, the first Muslim to have captained a Super Rugby team — last week against the Sharks — will this Saturday have to fill the big boots of Duane Vermeulen, who has been forced out with a neck injury. If the Stormers beat the Brumbies, they have a shot at making the Super Rugby finals.

Carr will enter the fray on an empty stomach. He will have been up before dawn to down a protein shake and some steak and pasta but by the time he runs out onto the field at Newlands at 5pm, he will not have eaten for several hours. Over the next month, he is likely to lose between 8kg and 12kg.

It is tough, he says, but manageable. He doesn’t feel that it affects his performance. His faith provides all the push he needs.

It is hard to believe that Carr is just 24. Rugby has both brought him fantastic opportunity and required exceptional emotional adaptability and resilience. His was not the usual path to the high road via a traditional rugby school. He grew up in Mitchell’s Plain.

His family later moved to Crawford and he attended Alexander Sinton High, a good state school but not one that offered rugby. He played on Saturdays for the Primrose club and, at the age of 15, he was spotted by a scout from Bishops and offered a bursary.

Bishops, the home of Anglicanism and old money, was worlds away from what he was used to and at first he struggled to fit in. But over the four years he was there, he learnt to take advantage of the fantastic facilities on offer.

At Alexander Sinton, there would be 45 kids in a class, whereas at Bishops, there might be 10. More than that, he told me, “they opened up my eyes to how successful you could be if you just worked hard”. After school, he sailed into the University of Cape Town, where he played for the Ikey Tigers in the Varsity Cup. From there, he was recruited into the Western Province Under-19s and Under-21s and, eventually the Currie Cup and Super Rugby teams.

Throughout, he has had to perform the difficult balancing act of remaining true to his religious beliefs while proving himself a team player in a very different culture.

At Bishops, he says, he had to explain why he could eat only halaal food. Another challenge he has had to grapple with is the drinking culture in rugby. It was hard at first, he says, and he felt he didn’t fit in. But he learnt to adapt and now happily sits through team dinners nursing a coke while his teammates get merry. He recognises that it is part of team building, he says, and he can’t slink away.

His teammates ensure he doesn’t feel the odd man out. After they won the Currie Cup last year, he took them all to a mosque and then to a halaal restaurant.

What he is desperate for now, like every other player in Super Rugby, is a spot in the Rugby World Cup squad. Carr, who last year became the first Muslim in the democratic era to pull on a Springbok jersey, is competing against a plethora of excellent loose forwards.

Carr’s articulate and confident defence of his religious rights highlights the question of freedom of religion. Christianity is central to South African rugby. Most teams pray before games. Some players and coaches offer a nod to God at media conferences.

Players and coaches have told me that prayers are about asking for protection from injury for both sides. And it promotes team spirit.

That’s all fine as long as it is acknowledged that the supreme being appears in different forms to different people — if they believe in one at all — and conformity to a particular religion doesn’t become a prerequisite for inclusion.

As far as openness in religion goes, I’d say that young Nizaam Carr offers a good example. He doesn’t proselytise but he does try to educate people about Islam: for instance, that the impression created by some media that it is a religion of extremists who yearn to join groups such as Islamic State is wrong.

This year, he and a partner opened a sports academy in Lansdowne. For now, it offers only Grades 8 and 9 and there are just 45 pupils. The academic curriculum runs from 8am to 3pm. After that there is intensive training in rugby, soccer and cricket. He is in charge of the rugby. Talented kids from poor backgrounds get scholarships and his own sponsor provides all the kit for free. It’s about giving back, he says.

His academy, the Cape Sports Academy, is not only for Muslims. “We have boys from all over,” he says proudly. “We have an African kid and a Jewish one.”

 *This column first appeared in Business Day
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RAMADAN starts on Thursday and that poses a challenge for one of the players on whom SA is relying this Saturday to salvage a bit of national pride from this year’s disappointing Super Rugby campaign. Nizaam Carr, the first Muslim to have captained a Super Rugby team — last week against the Sharks — will […]

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We should look at the real rugby factories

News | Non Fiction | South Africa 0 No Comments

 

A couple of months ago, in the final fixture of the school year, Dale Junior School’s Under 13A team beat Bishops 13A by 50 points to 5.  It was not the first time. In 2010, a touring Bishops Under 13A team got beaten 50-nil by Dale. This so intrigued me, given that Bishops is one of the richest schools in the country and Dale a struggling state school in one of our worst run provinces, that I headed to KingWilliamstown to investigate.

I found a veritable little rugby factory:  there are 500 boys and almost all of them play rugby. The 10 male teachers all double as rugby coaches.  They coach for four hours a week and the boys put in two hours of practice every day.  Obviously this produces great rugby. But it was the by-product that I found most interesting: two thirds of these boys come from single parent families so the coaches double as father figure.  It is from the coaches that these boys absorb what it is to be a man. And it’s all good, from what I could see: they learn discipline, team spirit, respect, confidence, emotional resilience and how to channel aggression into a measured fearlessness.

A little further up the hill is the senior school,  another grand, colonial era  building.  Here the picture is less rosy.  Despite its best efforts, Dale College suffers from the eco-system in which it operates.  Here the boys reach that adolescent growth phase where protein is crucial to building muscle and strong bones. Instead, poverty dictates that the boys eat bread three times a day.  Because the school has a 98% matric pass rate in a sea of failing schools, it attracts pupils from as far as Mdantsane, 50 kilometres away. Getting to practice and matches means hustling for extra taxi money.

Dale has a small, basic gym. Their rugby coach doubles as buildings administrator because they can’t afford a full-time coach.  The only help they get from their local SARU union, Border, is some part-time coaching from one of their coaches, which the school has to pay for.

This is in sharp contrast to schools like Bishops, Paarl Gym or Grey College who have entire departments devoted to rugby:  specialist coaches, biokineticists, physiotherapists and state-of-the-art training equipment.  What Dale has in abundance is talent, passion and culture. In the lofty corridors at Dale,  I encountered the same sort of courtesy  as I get from the boys at St Johns or Bishops. As the coach, Grant Griffiths, pointed out: “You couldn’t ask for a better bunch of boys. They are so polite, so humble, so hard-working.’

I stayed on for their annual derby against their traditional rival: Queens College from nearby Queenstown, another 90% black school still steeped in the traditions of British public schools. Aside from the game itself, – which Dale won 21-8 – what I found fascinating was how both schools had integrated the various traditions.  At the start of the game, the boys massed in stands at the edge of the field – Queens all in yellow; Dale in red and black – sang their traditional school songs. Initially these were in English and  Latin. As the game progressed, the drums got louder and the songs switched to isiXhosa. The boys told me that, at home,  they tap their elders for ancient war songs and apartheid-era struggle songs and integrate them into a repertoire.

The point of all this is that this is where we should be looking if we want more black Springboks.  It is schools that produce Springboks. Since 1992,  some 21 schools have produced 40% of all the Boks capped since then.  All these schools are either private schools or former Model C schools, which means that most of their pupils are white. This is why we produce so few black Springboks.  The obvious solution is to strengthen former Model C schools which are now mostly black. Like Dale College. Bishops – which Dale consistently beats the hell out of in the junior years – goes on to produce twice as many Springboks. Six to Dale’s three.  And that is simply a case of better resources. The most productive is Grey College in Bloemfontein, with 22 Boks. Second is Paarl Gymnasium with 10.  Both these schools have highly organized and committed old boys’ organisations who pump funds into the schools.

By contrast, Dale, which has in the two decades since apartheid ended, transformed from a wholly white school to a predominantly black one, gets very little help from its old boys.  The only sponsorship it gets is R40,000 from FNB every alternate year for the hosting of its Classic Clash against Queens.

If we want the Springboks to become consistent world-beaters, we need to be nurturing talent wherever it is to be found.  And it is to be found in abundance at Dale. It seems to me an opportunity waiting to be seized: it costs only around R30,000 a year for tuition and boarding fees. Putting a boy in the hostel means he will be properly fed and won’t have to beg for taxi money to get to practice.   Invest in the same coaches, mentors and training equipment that Bishops and Grey Bloem enjoy and you’d soon find yourself with another Springbok factory.

 

McGregor is author of Springbok Factory: What it Takes to be  Bok (Jonathan Ball Publishers R195)

This column first appeared in Business Day

 

 

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  A couple of months ago, in the final fixture of the school year, Dale Junior School’s Under 13A team beat Bishops 13A by 50 points to 5.  It was not the first time. In 2010, a touring Bishops Under 13A team got beaten 50-nil by Dale. This so intrigued me, given that Bishops is […]

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