When it comes to asking for sponsorship, sporting federations know which buttons to push. But when it comes to honouring contracts, many sponsors wonder:
Sport sponsorship means big money. In 2002 SA companies spent R2731-m on sport sponsorships, BMI Sporttrack estimates. Sporting federations thrive on sponsorship, which can mean the difference between salaried employees and volunteers or professional athletes and part-time competitors. In fact, it is the ability to attract major sponsors that set the high profile sports like rugby, soccer and cricket apart from sports like volleyball, gymnastics or judo that are as poor as Cinderella.
The asking price for sponsorship of national teams like the Springboks, Proteas, Bafana Bafana or teams representing the country at the Olympics, Commonwealth Games is exceptionally high because they represent the hopes of the whole nation. Brand exposure is international and usually exclusive.
"Companies become involved in sponsorship for the brand awareness and exposure gained, and secondly, for return on investment," says Paul Zacks, MD of Canterbury, who this year invested R135-million for the next 5½ years in the Springboks. "In return for sponsored investment, Canterbury seeks to generate maximum brand exposure through commercial activities."
As all retailers probably know by now, the commercial activities in the form of sales of supporter replica jersey received a setback when it transpired that SARFUs sponsorship contract with Castle expires in November. With stock from the previous sponsors still on the shelves, it made good retail sense to wait with the big orders until the replicas with the new Sasol sponsor logos can be sold from November.
Until then, the main commercial benefit for Canterbury lies in their association with the Springbok brand. "In SA, rugby has a hero-worship type of following and if children or aspiring sports stars see their heroes wearing Canterbury clothing and protective hardwear, trends have shown that they would want to wear it and play in it as well," explains Zacks.
That is something that the individual sponsors of these rugby stars, who have more of a following than local film stars, understand equally well. That is, after all, one reason why they invest in promising young players – sometimes from school level. They know that one day their investment might start paying off, if the youngster makes it into the big time by being selected for a national or Super 12 team that will get lots of TV and press coverage.
Not only will the investment pay dividends in the form of free advertising, but they can also sell headgear and shoulder pads to retailers based on the power of the sponsored players to draw consumers to buying that particular brand or product.
But, as Zacks so eloquently puts it: "in order for Canterbury to dominate or be the preferred choice of brand in rugby, it is vital to have the public see that the top people or professionals in their respective field believe that Canterbury’s products are worthy of being worn or used by them."
It is therefore clearly not in Canterbury’s interest to have the TV camera focusing on the Gilbert, WASP or Rugbytech logo’s adorning the headgear worn by these same top players. Nor does it do them any good if the close-ups of tackles or tries published with the match reports the following day advertise their competitors brands, while their manufacturer’s label remains hidden from the public eye.
In rugby, the close-up cameras focus on the head or shoulders of players where the brand names on the technical equipment are clearly visible on headgear or necklines of shoulder pads. And since Canterbury have perfectly good protective products that the players could wear, they would like that brand name to be theirs, thank you.
When the Canterbury sponsorship kicked in on July 1 this year, Theunie Lategan was dispatched to inform the players down under that they were only allowed to wear Canterbury – or nothing.
But, how now with their contractual obligations to their individual sponsors? These contracts bring in a handy income, albeit not in the same league as a national team salary, but still. Furthermore, breaking a contract can cost you serious money and all kinds of other penalties, as anyone who’ve ever signed on the dotted line knows. Unless, an employer contract specifically stipulates that all other contractual obligations are null and void.
According to players’ representative Jason Smith, the majority of the Springbok team members realised that if they agreed to the request not to play with their individual sponsors’ products provided that they get employee contracts from SARFU, they could force SARFU to give them the contracts that president Brian van Rooyen said they did not need. They also wanted confirmation that SARFU would protect them from any legal fall-out that may result from the reneging of their personal sponsorship contracts.
Its all about contracts
By the time we went to press, they still did not have SARFU contracts, confirmed Smith – who represents Victor Matfield, who was sent home during the Tri-Nations due to injury, who then rapidly recovered to play for the Blue Bulls, who helped win the last two Tri-Nations games, who has taken SARFU to arbitration over a contract...
Players contracts — or rather, the lack thereof — has long been a negotiating topic that at one stage boiled over into grumblings about a possible players strike.
"In Springbok rugby, pay has been a critical issue for a number of years," writes Janice Spark of brand consultancy Idea Engineers in an article for the media and marketing website Biz-community.com.
"To this day, players remain confused as to where they stand in terms of reward and recognition, more so the goal posts have shifted on a monthly basis. The result? Many of our best players have abandoned national rugby entirely, citing long term and irreconcilable differences with SARFU. Simply put, in England players know where they stand and how they will be rewarded for performance."
But, while the players are still negotiating, the individual sponsors are wondering if it is still worthwhile to invest money in players. Especially, since Investec (Western province and Stormers) followed suit and told players to remove sponsor labels from their protective gear.
Even more than high profile national teams, development teams and players rely on sponsorships to play their sport. When a company has no way of reaping any benefits from the investment once the player gets to the top, the one time business decision becomes a charity donation.
"SARFU says that they will buy out player contracts, but do they know what it entails? They have no idea what the players’ contracts entail, because SARFU never contacted us before they told the players to break the contracts," says Frikkie Crous of Rugbytech. "This will affect the income of the players significantly."
But, even more so, it will affect the income of future players and teams as sponsors will think twice before signing any new contracts, he says.
But why the outrage from individual sponsors? Surely, when a sponsor pays for the honour of providing teamwear, he should expect team members to wear his brand and nothing but his brand.
The answer to that lies in the term "team wear". In most sponsorship contracts "technical products" used by players to enhance performance are excluded from national sponsorship contracts – unless stipulated otherwise. This enables players to play with their bat or racquet of choice, and wear the shoes they choose (or their sponsors provide).
For years, it was argued that headgear and shoulder pads are technical products, designed to provide more comfort here or protection there, in other words, all the special features meant to enhance the performance of a player. Because the player chose the product that enables him to play best, protective gear is not covered by the teamwear contract. A special mould is, for instance, made to incorporate specific features for Victor Matfield’s WASP headgear, says sponsor Darryl Scott.
Now it is argued that these items are mere pieces of clothing. The IRB is not much help. In response to our question whether headgear and shoulder pads are technical products or clothing, Geoff Evans, Head of Development, responded: "The answers to your questions are covered by reference to Law 4 (Laws of the Game) and Regulation 12. The Law states what may or may not be worn and the regulation goes into this in a more detailed manner giving specifications. The issue of contractual relationships is one for the player’s parent union and is not an issue on which the IRB has a position."
IRB Law 4 – Players’ Clothing defines clothing as anything players wear. Would this imply that Canterbury can insist on players wearing their brand on all the rugby paraphernalia covered in the Law … like elasticated supports, shin guards, ankle supports, mitts, mouth guards, bandages, boot studs or tape?
This argument is not only waged in rugby. The dispute between individual contract and national contract holders crops up everywhere and in all sports. Prior to the Athens Olympics, Israel’s top tennis player Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi was involved in a dispute with their Olympic federation when her personal sponsor, Lotto, said its OK to wear the apparel supplied by the official sponsor Speedo … as long as she wears Lotto in all the tennis matches she plays! Not surprisingly, Speedo suggested that she leave Lotto at home and play in the official gear.
And as was well publicised, Speedo SA had a contract with SA Swimming for the SA swimmers participating in the Olympic Games to wear their highly technical Fastskin FSll one piece suit. Since adidas was the official teamwear sponsor – and they incidentally make performance swimwear – this contract with Speedo was clearly a special deal to supply a highly technical product that can not be supplied by the official supplier.
These suits, designed with all the bells and whistles and tests to prove that they can make swimmers move faster through the water, were made for the individual swimmers (they’re stroke-specific, to boot) in the national colours of the teams and swimmers who opted to wear them. Among them Michael Phleps.
Swimmers wearing the first Speedo speed suit, the Fastskin 1, won 83% of the medals at the Sydney Olympics and according to Speedo, the new model reduces passive drag by even 4% more. This was a serious performance product that Swimming SA was getting – in fact, these suits are so hi-tech and pricey that they will probably be too expensive for the general public.
So, what does Swimming SA say when our record breaking, gold medal winning swimmers suddenly choose to swim in Arena suits?
"Swimming South Africa’s CEO, Dave Norman’s press statement August 25th, that ‘swimwear is regarded as technical equipment, and the athletes are entitled to wear what they think suits their needs best’ achieves two new milestones: one, it completely breaks the written agreement with Speedo SA and goes against the official FINA and IOC ruling. Two, and here is the real crunch, it effectively kills any future team sponsorship dead in the water," says Speedo SAs Paul Barrett-Smith.
"The SA swimmers have not only broken the World Record, but they have also broken any control that the swimming federation, and NOCSA, previously had over them. "We are now entering an interesting new era of individual athlete sponsorship, which may not be that good for the sport. The tail is certainly wagging the dog — this time anyway!"
Sport sponsorships involving millions can make or break a company. Sporting federations may believe that if this sponsorship does not pan out, there will always be another company ready to foot the bill. But unless sponsorship contracts are treated as serious and far-reaching business deals, they might run out of companies willing to play (or pay).
initiatives providing a lifeline for the industry?
Every year about a thousand people who would otherwise fear water learn to swim as part of a Swim SA campaign. One of them is expected to qualify to swim in the Olympic Games next year. BEVAN FRANK swims into new waters to discover if initiatives to grow swimming are helping the trade to stay afloat
Swimming means different things to different people: for the priviliged it means lazing around pools and on beaches; for the competitive minded it means hard training and galas; but for a large portion of the SA population it means the difference between drowning and staying alive.
Learn to Swim is an initiative of Swim SA that teaches this latter group of people to be "water safe". Water safety education, water orientation and swimming as a vital life skill are all key factors in this increasingly successful campaign to teach a large portion of our population to swim for survival.
The aim of the Learn To Swim (LTS) campaign is to make "every child a swimmer by 2014". According to Godfrey Monei, co-ordinator for marketing and communications at Swim SA, swimming lessons should be the norm in SA schools by 2014.
Apart from the survival factor, LTS has the objective of encouraging all children to participate in sporting activities – even if it is only to enjoy playing in water - thus drawing them away from the ills of crime and creating a healthy youth and community, says Monei.
The LTS programme also provides the starting point for the development of clubs in areas that do not have a formal swimming infrastructure. "The LTS programme assists clubs to get started," explains Monei. "This includes capacity development and administrative infrastructure planning and implementation. These clubs provide an opportunity for the community to participate in aquatics at a recreational level, and eventually at a performance level."
To achieve these LTS goals, resources that are required to support the programmes include:
Since the LTS campaign was launched in 2001, about 300 000 people have taken part, mainly adults (trained instructors) and school children.
Swimming in all schools
Swimming South Africa launched their portapool-project in October last year as part of the ‘Rural Splash’-leg of the LTS programme. "The progress of the children has been phenomenal, " says Monei. "With the objective of ‘Every Child A Swimmer by 2014’ this enables more children to swim at schools."
It is also becoming easier every year to convince local and provincial authorities to buy into the LTS programme as they are seeing the benefits for themselves, Monei points out.
"The demand for LTS instructor training grows every year with almost 1 000 people seeking this skill annually," states Monei. "Every time Swim SA runs a project, new demand for the product is evident."
The demand is so high that they do not have enough resources to satisfy all the requests.
While teaching water safety is a far cry from developing competitive swimmers, LTS has exposed more of the market to the benefits of swimming, not only as a recreational activity, but also for safety purposes, says Chantal Swemmer, marketing co-ordinator for Cressi-Swim.
"If we look at the number of people entering the swimming market over the past couple of years, we clearly have a hugely developing market," she says.
"The main focus of the LTS initiative is teaching swimming to the previously disadvantaged, and through this process regulating water safety not only in swimming pools but also dams and oceans. Not only has the indoor swimming market grown, but the number of participants in the open swimming market, such as the Midmar Mile, has risen dramatically."
Midmar numbers growing
In 2002 the Midmar Mile had 13 218 entries, which grew to 16 050 in 2003, and the record breaking 23 000 entries in 2007 – with a third of them children under 12 and two-thirds between 12-30 years old.
"LTS has set the bench mark in swimming initiatives, with the primary target being children, but the adult market is also growing at a dramatic rate," continues Swemmer.
"There are definitely more consumers reaching the market through the efforts of Swim SA and their national LTS programme," says Paul Barrett-Smith, president of Speedo SA. "The real crunch comes through the availability of pools and facilities that will allow these new consumers to stay in the sport. Perhaps the biggest push swimming has seen in this country is the easier accessibility to Virgin Active pools through the Discovery Medical Aid programme."
This, however, does not necessarily mean more sales of swimming accessories and teaching aids as Swim SA normally subsidises equipment to disadvantaged communities. But, if the growing participation base leads to more clubs, more schools offering swimming as sport and more competitive swimmers entering the market, this will have a positive spin-off.
As swimming equipment is very affordable and available for all levels of the market, from entry level right up until master swimming, it is within the reach of developing markets, says Swemmer.
According to Barrett-Smith swimming is one of the cheapest sports to participate in. "You need your racing costume (boys R120, girls R200), goggles (R70) and possibly a swim cap (R20)."
Where clubs operate in areas that struggle economically, Swim SA tries to assist with equipment, mainly with funds obtained from Sport & Recreation SA.
"With programme such as these and various other exposure to the market, such as the outstanding performances of our professional swimmers such as Ryk Neethling, Roland Schoeman and Natalie Du Toit, the market will continue to receive an influx in consumers," states Swemmer.
Apart from the water safety programme, Swim SA also has programmes in place to grow and improve competitive swimming in communities who do not normally swim, or have access to coaching. This includes a fast track team.
"The swimmers to join the fast track team are identified at our national competitions that are part of our national strategy," says Monei.
"During the 2006-7 season approximately 30 swimmers were on the elite level fast track programme. Many of these swimmers have gone on to various junior and senior international competitions and will continue to improve if they are provided with the appropriate opportunities."
Thabang Moeketsane from Soweto has been one of Swim SA’s biggest success stories. He was discovered through the LTS programme and placed on the fast-track programme at the high performance centre in Pretoria. With the right interventions and financial support from sponsors like Gauteng Sports Academy, SASCOC and Telkom, Thabang has become one of the leading swimmers in the country and Swim SA believes that he has the potential to qualify for the Olympic Games.
Monei emphasises that swimming is a long term development sport. "What this essentially means is that swimmers really only start realizing their full potential once they reach maturity. However, it is imperative that in order for swimmers to achieve their full potential, they are given the proper grounding in their formative years and not deprived of basic facilities where they can train."
Many of the basic facilities are lacking in the poorer communities and in the townships. "We are committed to transforming our sport and believe that there many other young swimmers like Thabang in the townships who if given the opportunity can go on to make our country proud," proclaims Monei.
One thing is certain: the various initiatives such as "Learn to Swim" and transformation in swimming will continue to make waves in the market and in the water. Now that is something to splash about!
A current LTS initiative involves an SMS-campaign. The public can donate towards the Learn to Swim programme by sms-ing the word "swim" to 38585. SMS’s are charged at R10 and no free SMS’s may unfortunately be used. VAS rates apply.
June/ July 20009
adapting for the next 2 000 years
Nearly 2000 years old, bowls is appealing to an ever younger market, reports JOHN MCKEAG*
Bowls, sometimes also called old man’s marbles has over years evolved from the dreary sport it was, into one that now calls people of all ages to its greens and any weekend you can see hosts of players occupying bowls greens on the many bowls clubs throughout SA.
One of the main reasons for this has been some radical changes in the way the game is played, changes that appeal to the younger set and a less conservative dogma about how bowlers should dress.
While you will still see the nurses in starched whites and the ice cream vendors in their whites on some bowls greens the trend has been more towards an exciting introduction of colour, coloured shirts and coloured bowls. Also expect some big changes in the way the game is played and its interest to outsiders soon.
There has not yet been much change in the habits of bowlers and their needs for bowls clothing and equipment, says specialist bowls clothing and equipment retailer Lorna Raubenheimer, who runs her business out of a converted cargo container at Edenvale Bowls Club in Gauteng.
Raubenheimer, who years ago took the bold step to sell only bowls goods, says her business is going well and she was happy with trading in the last year. “Of course, I know that my being there with my display of goods at bowls tournaments is a good selling point and sales from my shop have therefore been consistent.”
She travels all over Gauteng, and some other areas, to be at bowls tournaments and feels that bringing the mountain to Mohammed has seen interest in her lines grow with her presence at national, district and local events. She recently attended the Atlantic Championships at the Wanderers in Johannesburg with her trademark Bowls Shack and had a very good fortnight of trading, as players from sixteen countries bordering the Atlantic Ocean and beyond, stocked up with new bowls goods — and paid in American dollars!
She has found that white clothing — the standby of the bowls game — was still the best seller, but coloured shirts have their place, although most of these were private orders from clubs or associations who wanted distinctive colours for their teams.
In Gauteng there seems to be a return to the conservative, and to my mind, boring, black or brown coloured bowls, while the delightful pastels and primary reds, blues and yellows are not getting the support they need.
However, at the coast, and particularly in Cape Town, colour is the watchword again with the return of the exciting Super 10 competitions for U45s that began at Pollsmoor at the end of May. There coloured bowls are enjoying a good run. The vivid splashes of colour among the other dour, dark looking bowls, adds so much interest to the game, as does the now established trend of coloured clothes.
Another aspect of the change in clothing has been the introduction of peaked caps. Seldom do you see a hat on a bowls green nowadays as the vivid splash of many coloured caps takes your eye.
Changes in administration with a more realistic look at bowlers’ needs could, however, be on the cards. Moves to oppose sitting members of the national bowls board are afoot and if they are successful, one can see changes that have been needed for some time.
Expect a change in the attitude of the administration to all facets of the game, and more particularly, in the line of relaxing many of the stringent laws that preclude bowlers from expressing themselves freely; a more friendly attitude to new players of the game, and most importantly, a reaching out to members of races other than white to take the game to them and bring them into play.
This will, by its very nature, see an influx of players to the game and as the diehard group — now mostly in their late sixties and early seventies, disappear by natural attrition, imminent death lays heavily in bowlers’ minds — the number of bowlers is sure to increase and so bring even more markets to the retailers stocking bowls.
Bowls by its very nature is a personal game, but also a game where camaraderie and friendship are at the forefront. Often called the largest singles club in the world, it has been the saviour of many lonely people who have found new friends and a sense of being wanted at a bowls club, not to mention the number of partnerships and marriages formed after meeting like minded people of the opposite sex at the club.
Bowls is well, alive, and living in many countries throughout the world and the game is sure to still be around after all of us of have long been forgotten.
And the game has been around for a long time already. In the players’ manual Playing Bowls published in the year 2000, it appears to have been introduced into Britain by the Romans in 43 AD.
Interesting to note the Dictionaire Universal del Sciences and other sources indicate that the game of billiards originated from bowls. Historian Strutt, writing of billiards, says: I cannot help thinking that it started from an ancient game played with small bowls on the ground, and it was, when first instituted, the same game transferred from the ground to the table. The green cloth of the billiard table may have its origin from the green grass of the bowling green.
From 43 AD till now is a long time and bowls can surely survive another 2000 odd years.
Bowls in South Africa has undergone a rejuvenating cure and a face lift to make it more appealing for the youth. But will this new market stem the decline in the number of people who play bowls? There are two opposing views, FANIE HEYNS found
The national bowls federation believes that it has successfully arrested the dramatic decline in membership of this sport, says Michael Burger, administration manager of Bowls SA.
Bowls boast membership of about 34 000 individuals and 600 clubs, but there have been some significant developments that augers well for the future of the sport, says Burger.
One is that a national u.25-tournament, as well as development tournament will be hosted in Bloemfontein in July, similar to the Craven Week rugby tournament.
"Furthermore, the coal face of national level tournaments is changing. There are far more youngsters in our national tournaments currently," adds Burger.
Bowls South Africa has gone on a intensive development drive into schools to present bowls as an alternative sport and a vehicle for relaxation.
"In black schools in the townships, bowls were very, very well received, but the question is sustainability. We have to keep the children interested.
"We have introduced a short carpet project. We supply carpets of twenty and ten meters respectively, which have been used extensively by the schools."
Bowls SA ran a bowls exhibition at the Sandton Convention Centre from 5 to 7 June as part of their marketing campaign to attract new members to the sport.
It is true that the sport has lost members over the past few years, says Burger.
The sporting channels on TV have added entertainment value to weekends and have contributed to the decline in the membership of bowls.
Some bowling clubs — traditionally funded by Eskom, the municipalities and the mining industries — have closed down as a result of these funds being channelled elsewhere, which have added to the decline of membership, he said.
But, dwindling membership is not only a South African phenomenon.
"There is a big concern about dwindling numbers in England, Scotland, Wales and the Jersey-islands," added Burger.
Not that the country is in a state of melancholy and has gone into premature winter-hibernation because of the decline.
The Specsavers Mixed Fours Tournament will be hosted by Central-Gauteng from 27-31st August.
In September, the mixed pair championships will take place in Kimberley.
South Africa will play a series of two tests against Namibia, also in September.
The annual Botswana International Pairs will be played in Botswana in October with the World Bowls singles taking place in November.
All these activities will provide vital training for the World Bowls championship in Christchurch in New Zealand in 2008.
SAs men are currently ranked 4th in the world and the ladies are ranked 5th.
Lorna Trigwell of South Africa is the number 1-ranked woman in the world.
"She has been the top-ranked player in the world for the past 8 months and is a great ambassador for our sport," says Burger.
It might have been a coup d’état for South African bowls as a TV-sport if they could have entered into the World Bowls indoor tournament to be held in Australia later in 2007.
Burger explains that the Proteas decided to withdraw simply because the country has no indoor-facilities of note and it could have hampered preparation for the more important World Bowls championship in Christchurch if they had accepted the Australian invitation.
Tys Pringle, media liaison officer of Bowls SA, says bowls are growing internationally, and specifically in Japan and in Australasia.
SA’s intensive development program has had a positive impact in that more and more young players have been attracted to the sport.
Bowls SA has introduced a new membership card for school children to lure them to bowls. Children in possession of such a card do not need to be affiliated to a club to play the sport, he adds.
Herman van Rensburg, chairman of the development committee of Bowls SA says 1 200 of these affiliation cards for juniors, or red cards, have been handed out, which would give young players free access to competitions at club level.
Bowls SA want to change the perception of bowls as so-called old man’s marbles. "During the past ten years, that image has gradually changed, with more school children participating in the game," says Pringle.
Lately, some young players have gained international recognition. Amongst them is Wayne Perry, who played at u.21-level only two years ago.
Van Rensburg said that Piet Breitenbach, president of Bowls SAa, is still negotiating with the department of education about allowing bowls as a sport at schools level.
If the president succeeds, it will have a positive spin-off on the acceleration of membership of the sport at junior level.
In the drive to grow the active numbers of bowlers, the national body is also keen to promote the image of bowls as a vital cog in team building exercises of businesses. That is why Bowls SA is engaging in the exhibition in Sandton, says Pringle.
Not everybody agrees that targeting the youth will grow the sport of bowls.
Steve Fullard, owner of Drakes Pride SA, is very concerned about the decline of bowls members in SA, especially amongst the sport’s traditional participants.
When SA competed in the World championships at Zoo Lake in 1976, the country had 75 000 members. The number dwindled to 50 000 in 1989. A year or two ago, the membership had shrunk to 35 000.
Fullard says all amateur sports in SA are struggling. Research done in Gauteng revealed that soccer clubs in Soweto are dwindling and the main reason is that families love to spend time in shopping malls on weekends.
"We have further problems in bowls in that the sport has not really taken root in the previously disadvantaged market. It spread in colonial areas and has prospered in Australia, New Zealand, and England.
"But the sport has generally not appealed to people from different backgrounds. The white people in SA — the traditional feeding system of the sport locally, has diminished in numbers.
"Also, it is not a sport you could easily play in your back garden. They (bowls SA) have tried the indoor-stuff at school level. It will never take off," he added.
"Our climate is generally not conducive to indoor-sport. People want to play outdoors and experience the sunshine and the fresh air."
Three other factors have affected growth — sport on TV, the decline of clubs and crime.
With the advent of TV-sport and professionalism in sport, many older members have preferred to become coach potatoes, says Fullard.
The change to liquor laws that made alcohol available at any hours on weekends, have also made traditional sport clubs less attractive as an option for people to go to the bar of the sport clubs.
"Thirty years ago, clubs were vibrant social centres and liquor laws were different, but now that people can buy alcohol at any day or hour, and with the increase in crime, people don’t want to go to the traditional sport clubs any longer," says Fullard.
In Australia, bowls clubs are attached to big gambling casinos, which finance them every year, so they are not fighting for survival there.
In SA, the decline has been marked. He knows of at least fifteen clubs that have closed down in Gauteng, and two in Port Elizabeth.
There are one or two areas of growth.
The South Coast of KwaZulu/Natal is a thriving and fast growing bowls centre, simply because many older players retire to the South Coast and then continue playing their beloved bowls.
The retailers have also suffered because of the dwindling numbers. Usually, bowling coaches go to a bowling club and set up a small pro shop there, where they will coach the bowlers and sell them equipment.
The traditional sporting shops no longer keep all the bowls hardware and clothing. They go for the fast moving products – like cricket bats and hockey sticks that are purchased annually and even, sometimes, quarterly, he says.
So they are no longer a one-stop-shop where bowlers purchase everything they need at once.
The amateur bowler needs 2 sets of bowls once in a life time, while a top-bowler will replace his bowls every three to four years. Because it is not a fast moving item, sport shops won’t keep them, adds Fullard.
Fullard is adamant that while Bowls SAs enthusiasm and passion to grow the game amongst school children should be respected, it might not grow the game substantially.
"Firstly, I don’t believe that a child of 15 or 18 should be playing bowls, unless he or she has a physical disability. I believe the schools market might be a captive market, but could you create sustained interest in the game and attract masses of school children. I don’t think so.
"Maybe they should be shifting their focus to the traditional market and focus on rugby, hockey and soccer clubs where some people might retire within a year or two," he adds.
Fullard also emphasizes that one should accept that the sport would be predominantly practiced by elder people. The average age at the Port Elizabeth Bowling Club — the oldest club in South Africa — is 68.
October / November 2008
SA could once again play host to the top tennis names when we start hosting the SA Open as an ATP event from next year
There are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of the tennis market in SA, reports FANIE HEYNS
Inflation is up from less than 6 % in 2007 to more than 11% in 2008. The price of petrol has increased by more than 50% in one year. Bank interest rates have escalated alarmingly. Export markets are closing doors due to the US meltdown. Tennis clubs have closed down.
And yet, tennis retailers and suppliers have not immigrated to Australia, or needed anti-depressants because they have become totally pessimistic about business prospects for the coming season.
They are, in fact, fairly optimistic.
“Tennis rackets have been selling consistently well over the past few years, but we do anticipate this slowing down over the next year or so. Thankfully, I think that there has been some growth in the sport as a whole,” says Brett Burnill, marketing manager and director of Leisure Holdings in SA.
He attributes the renewed interest in tennis to the excitement created by the rivalry between players like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, says Burnill.
In addition, a plethora of national and international events promise to restore the high profile tennis enjoyed in SA during the 1970’s when we became Davis Cup champions and the SA Open was considered by many to be the fifth Grand Slam.
Retailers and suppliers mostly sing from the same hymn book as Burnill about the sales of tennis products in SA.
According to Jerome Goslett of Omni Sport, the return of the SA Open as an ATP event, and the prospects of this tournament gaining momentum and possibly attracting some top-ten players, can only benefit SA retailers and suppliers.
“If you have a tournament in your back yard attracting top players, with a potential bigger audience, it can only be a good thing for the tennis goods industry.”
The sales of tennis products seems to be on the up, agrees Steve Gallienne, owner of Dunslaz Distributors. More attention to junior tennis has been a positive factor to boost tennis sales and the fact that it is more an individual sport, instead of a team sport where politics seem rife, he believes.
Asked what the short and medium prospects for sales of tennis products are, Gallienne says: “I guess retail confidence has a large role to play here. With economies slowing and hesitant consumers, we will possibly see a slow down in top end sales as players will probably make a frame last for another round before replacing it. Previously, they had to have the latest, which is OK for those who can afford it. There will continue to be entrants into the sport and lower to mid-priced frames will do fine.”
Asked if anything can be done by the SA Tennis Association (SATA) to support the retailers or suppliers and their business prospects, Gallienne responds that it is the responsibility of the association to build a profile for tennis that will maintain structures and stability within the sporting code. This has greatly improved during the past five years, he adds.
Most suppliers are currently doing well, he says “but maintaining sales in an industry like this is hard work, believe it or not,” says Gallienne.
Dates to remember:ITF Futures: 20–25 October 2008, Pretoria
SAA Open Nationals: 3–7 November 2008, Johannesburg
SA Open: February 2-8 2009, Johannesburg (full ATP calendar event)
Davis Cup vs Macadedonia: 6-8 March 2009, SA venue tba
SAA Open: April 2009. East London (ATP Challenger event)
The visibility of tennis, the depth in talent in men’s tennis, as well as the attractive faces in the women’s game, has done a lot for retailers too.
“A factor that has enhanced sales, is the visibility of Grand Slams on TV,” says Marinus Potgieter, owner of M-Sport Tennis in Pretoria. “The fact that a Davis Cup-event was recently hosted in SA, has also created heightened awareness and interest,” he says.
The sales value of rackets and grips, as well as tennis shoes, are more or less the same as in 2007, but the economy has influenced the buying pattern. “People like to buy cheaper products that prove to be excellent value for money,” he explains. “They prefer to buy entry level rackets and upgrade as their level of playing evolve.”
Says Tony Jackson, owner of Jackson Sport in Durban: “Racket sales for the year so far have been pretty good, considering that I have had another two shops opening in opposition to myself. People do shop where it is convenient for them and the old loyalty seems to have dwindled a bit — but again, the happy customer always comes back if not satisfied with the service of others.”
He adds that suppliers of major brands need to promote their products during the good and bad times. This would boost sales in the tennis market.
Greg Moran, co-owner of Roscoe’s Tennis in Durban, says: “Being in a club that has a large membership of affluent people, we continue to have good racket sales, particularly to clients of our coaching academy. We are able to give prospective buyers professional advice on rackets, which make them more comfortable in spending on the frames.”
Moran says the Wimbledon final was a great catalyst in getting people out on court. Another contributor to growing sales is to stock the top tennis brands. The majority of the players at the coaching academy are kids and they are very brand conscious, he says.
Anchel Wiid, sport division manager of Kloppers in Bloemfontein, says their sales of tennis products have been excellent and they have seen double figure growth annually for the past few years.
All the surrounding towns regularly buy their tennis stock from them, and they have also had massive interest from Port Elizabeth and Durban.
He adds that Grand Slams have a massive influence in attracting people who want to start playing tennis socially. He believes the return of the SA Open, as well as TV-coverage in a good time slot, would do much to stimulate interest in the game and to lure prospective buyers of tennis goods.
A competitive price structure, and good product offering at different racket price levels, have contributed to the greater interest from other regions in buying from Kloppers, he adds.
Only one club in Vanderbijlpark
But, on the other hand, says Daleen van Rooyen, owner of Thinus Rakette in Vanderbijlpark, “my market has dwindled over the past three years. The lack of finances and social factors have played a big part in this state of affairs. Ten to twelve years ago, the whole family used to play tennis. The mother played in the morning league, and the father played on a Saturday afternoon. Now the parents don’t play anymore.”
In addition to interest rate hikes and other tough conditions, the residents of Vanderbijlpark have been hard hit by lay-offs in the steel industry, the main employer in the area.
“We have only one tennis club left in Vanderbijlpark,” she says. “A few years ago we had three. Other sports clubs have also suffered because of financial factors. The chairman of the squash club boasted 1 500 members six years ago. Currently, they only have 300 members,” says Van Rooyen.
Yet, new players are constantly being introduced to the game as, she says that junior tennis players still at school provide her biggest market.
The drop in tennis product sales is not limited to the areas surrounding Vanderbijlpark, as sales in other country areas have also been disappointing of late, says Andrew Wentzel of W.E.T. Sports Importers, who market and distribute mainly to independents in towns across the country.
He believes that this was due to a combination of factors — from winter being a quieter time, to the tough economic climate, which has left the consumer with less disposable income.
Wentzel says events like the hosting of the Davis Cup and SA Open in SA, and the events being televised, will help to spark an interest. But, ultimately the country needs a Wayne Ferreira or Amanda Coetzer compe-ting successfully in Grand Slams to act as role models, as that will have an impact on creating tennis growth. This will help to create greater junior involvement, which will help grow the tennis market.
In order to help ensure the development of young players, W.E.T. Sports sponsor the Boland Tennis Union’s RoxPro junior tournaments.
“Looking at the medium term, we believe that there will be an upturn in the SA economy with the World Cup around the corner, and hopefully this will create a knock-on effect that will boost tennis racket sales,” adds Wentzel.
“With 2008 proving to be a tough year for the retail industry, and consequently the wholesale sector as well, we have decided not to cut back on the marketing budget. We have just launched our catalogue and our agents will keep calling on our customers across the country on a regular basis.” The building of new tennis courts is usually a good indication of growth and interest in the tennis market. This industry has been on the wane since the 1990’s when most schools had to pay for their own tennis courts, instead of the education department providing the finances, says Harry Greenberg, owner of Plasto Top Barret’s.
After municipalities became responsible for the provision of local community sporting facilities, the building of municipal tennis courts also practically came to a standstill — a situation that SRSA hopes to address by making the provision of sports facilities a function of central government again.
Currently, Plasto Top Barret’s only provide court structures to a few clubs, while 80% or more of their income comes from private industries, courts at golf estates, or private families in the higher income group requiring private courts. Many private schools are also building new tennis courts.
How Stay and Play will grow SA tennis
There are very few sporting codes that have remained static over the past twenty years — there’s sevens rugby, Twenty20 cricket, indoor hockey... and now there is Play and Stay tennis.
This is the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) response to a worldwide drop in the number of tennis players. The programme is aimed at showing prospective players that learning tennis can be easy and at keeping starter players interested by showing them how much fun it can be to serve, rally and score from the first lesson.
For tennis retailers, this offers a whole new product range to sell as the success of the programme depends on the use of the right ball (slower red, orange and green lower compression balls) and a special court size.
This portable colour-graded court will especially be important for popularising tennis in SA — it makes it possible to create a tennis court on any flat surface.Therefore, even cash-strapped schools and sport clubs will be able to offer tennis coaching.
Most of the major tennis product manufacturers have pledged support by developing Play and Stay equipment, all colour coded according to the level of play. Some also offer kits comprising of throw down lines to form a court, portable nets, balls and coaching material.
The three levels are:
The ITF had the following aims when they developed the programme, explains Charl Marais (SATCA Play and Stay coordinator):
The programme is especially aimed at providing coaches with a practical programme that is easy to implement to starter and prospective players. It is also something that will help them to sell the game to prospective players, as the focus is on fun.
Tennis federations across the world have adopted this programme and developed innovative strategies to implement it. Read more at www.tennisplayandstay.com.
Aug/ Sept 2009
Worldwide, tennis is gaining popularity and the trend seems to be repeated here. But, is it only gaining ground amongst the aspirant Federer’s and Nadal’s, or is tennis also growing at grassroots level? FANIE HEYNS investigates
It ain’t pretty any longer, as they say in the classics. The economic recession has affected everybody, from the rich to the poor. Yet, there are a few sectors that have remained unaffected and have sailed untroubled through category 5-storms while the international economic downturn has affected millions. The sales of tennis goods, for example, have remained on par, while sales in many other sectors have dwindled.
There is, however, some disagreement amongst distributors if the growing interest in tennis (see below) has been converted into a growth in sales.
The improved profile of SA tennis has been a factor in the increase of sales, says Brett Burnill, a director of Leisure Holdings. “The state of SA tennis has been healthy the past six years,” he adds, and more people are probably taking up the royal game.
He says Prince has had a very good year with an overall increase in unit sales. The new Prince EXO 3 Rebel, popularised by the athletic and iconic French player Gael Monfils, is selling excellently internationally.
Monfils (22) this year again reached the quarter-finals of the French Open after eliminating Andy Roddick. As in the semi-finals of the tournament in 2008, he again fell prey to the eventual winner, Roger Federer. Injury prevented him from competing at Wimbledon.
The flamboyant Caribbean player has a large following among the youngsters because they like his attitude and the way he dresses, says Burnill.
“Our rackets are selling very well in the recreational racket price range between R500 and R1 000,” continues Burnill. “Although, there will always be a place for the top of the range rackets that are selling for close to R3 000.”
The spotlight on tennis has not necessarily grown sales, especially not at the top-end of the frame category, “but there are increased sales in the intermediate category, where most of the activity takes place,” says Steve Gallienne, national sales manager of Super-Brands, supplier of brands like Dunlop and Slazenger.
Overall, tennis sales remained pretty static during the past year, with most activity in the price points below R1 000, he says.
That indicates that players are making the more expensive frames last longer, and are restringing their frames more frequently than replacing them.
“Certain brands will still benefit from the dedicated player wanting the latest cosmetic frame to keep up with their hero player,” he says. “Junior frames are still showing a slight growth, but it is always difficult to have an accurate measure of sales figures across brands when statistics of frame sales are not monitored by any specific body.
“If one looks at the international economic downturn and the affect on all type of industries, we in tennis should be very satisfied with our growth,” he says.
Jerome Goslett, MD of Omni Sport, agrees that the SA tennis market has grown the past year, while he believes the international market is slightly down from previous years. “The market place is certainly buoyant. Other brands have also said that things are looking positive for them,” he adds.
Goslett says the fact that there are some lights on the horizon in terms of young up and coming SA players in the ATP and WTA might have aided the local companies in growing their products.
Andrew Wentzel, director of WET Sports Importers, paints a more sombre picture of tennis sales. He says: “To date we have not seen a great increase in demand for tennis rackets but we have found that accessories and strings have sold well. I think the economic climate being tough, people are rather restringing their old rackets than going out to buy a new frame.
“In our RoxPro brand the main focus is on value for money entry level and intermediate rackets and there is always a market for that. We have found that the racket market in general has been quiet this year and chatting to retailers it would seem that the market for tennis is depressed.
“Obviously, it is difficult to say whether we will see growth towards the end of the year when the season starts up again, but only time will tell.”
There has been a determined and major effort by the SA Tennis Association through Ian Smith (the CEO) to get tennis back into one of the top-three sporting codes in the country, says Bruce Davidson, executive chairman of the BLD Group, former manager of Amanda Coetzer and current manager of the SA Davis Cup player Jeff Coetzee.
The SA Open was the springboard and its success at Montecasino created a bigger awareness of the game and excited the audience. Then there were back to back challenger events, including a women’s event in Soweto, that created a lot of awareness.
The SA Davis Cup team has been on a winning streak and will go into the match against India (from 18 to 20th September at the Arena at the Wanderers in Johannesburg) with a good chance of winning at home and catapulting SA into the World Group. “There is a lot of interest in this and our country like to back a winning national team,” says Davidson.
SATA’s great work in securing several big tennis events for SA, where the public can see the local and international stars, has been a major factor in increasing the visibility and profile of local tennis, concurs Michael de Jongh, national operations director of ASG Sport Solutions, a member of the executive board of SATA and a former coach of Martina Navratilova.
TV coverage of these events, as well as the increased coverage of the ATP- and WTA tours, bring the game into the lounges of the public.
“The interest in tennis is definitely growing because of more tournaments being hosted in SA. Three Davis Cup-matches have been hosted in SA and that created more interest in the game locally, says Steve Gallienne, national sales manager of Dunslaz Distributors, supplier of Dunlop and Slazenger tennis.
Nadal and Federer
Davidson adds that the intense rivalry between Nadal, the undisputed king of clay, and world number one until Wimbledon 2009, and Federer, winner of fifteen Grand Slam-titles, have sparked new interest in tennis.
“Roger is a hero amongst all sport lovers, not just tennis lovers,” he says. “Nadal has also done wonders for the game. His spunk, energy, youth and looks have captured the imagination of all sorts of people. Yes the rivalry has played a major role.” This rivalry is the greatest in the history of men’s tennis, according to many pundits. The five-set Wimbledon final in 2008 between these two giants of modern-day tennis was described by the legendary player and commentator John McEnroe as the best tennis match ever seen, and was an instant classic. Federer is the main driving force behind the sale of Wilson rackets, says Brett Summer of local distributor The Golf Racket. “Sales are driven by kids who strive to be like Federer. He is a tremendous draw because he is so well liked.” He also has a strong SA connection through his mother, who regularly visits SA, and he has a tennis development programme in the Eastern Cape.
Wilson is aware of the selling power of a Federer and scouts have already identified youngsters on the junior circuit earmarked to be the next Federer, says Summers.
(While Nadal has done a lot for the sales of Babolat rackets internationally, the restricted distribution of the brand here would have limited sales.)
The SA Open has also injected new business interest into SA tennis and the securing of the Key Health sponsorship of R8-m has encouraged more sponsors to consider the game of tennis as a possible investment, adds Davidson.
Tennis audience figures are up, according to ESPN, Supersport and the tennis channel. Even the SABC, who have given tennis the cold shoulder for the past ten years, have decided to cover the Soweto Challenger. They made the approach to SATA to buy the rights, which is positive for SATA and the local game.
“With SuperSport taking the rights out on the women’s WTA Tour, we are seeing more of the women’s game on TV and the women’s game is in a very healthy state with so many hopefuls, top stars and depth, says Davidson.
“This is important. The beautiful players have also caught the eye of the male sport fan, even though he is not a major tennis fan. The Williams sisters have increased enormous awareness in the black communities.”
Women’s tennis in SA has always been fairly strong, and if one thinks back to the Spar Women’s Doubles event, it has assisted women’s tennis, says Gallienne. “Beautiful women do stimulate viewership and do encourage people to go and either upgrade frames, or enter the sport.”
“To a certain extent the appearance of beauties like Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova have also helped to increase the popular appeal for the sport, but that has been overshadowed by what is happening in the men’s game. Internationally woman’s tennis, apart from the Williams sisters, is not particularly strong at the moment,” says Brett Burnill of Leisure Holdings, distributor of Prince.
The hometown boys
The continued success of local players like Wesley Moodie, Jeff Coetzee, Kevin Anderson and Liezel Huber and Cara Black, the success of the hometown-boys of the SA Davis Cup team, as well as the increased coverage of home ties, have also been significant factors in raising the profile of tennis.
Leon Freimond, manager of junior tennis of SATA, says there has definitely been a bigger demand for participation in national coaching courses. SA is a respected player in junior international circles, and the 70 junior tournaments hosted officially by this country, a few of them international events, certainly plays a role in securing a live interest at junior level.
SA is also an annual participant in the Junior Nike Tour, which culminates in an annual masters championships in which some of the best U12 and U14 boys and girls contest a non-official championship of the world. One of the previous champions in the U12 and U14-section was Nadal.
“An initiative like the International Tennis Federation’s Play and Stay, currently being rolled out in SA, is always great to get the younger players into the sport and grow with it, says Gallienne.
Play and Stay makes tennis more fun, adds Summers. “Where in the past people who started playing tennis lost interest because they couldn’t hit a ball, they can now actually play a game.” Coaches registered with SATA have to do a Play & Stay course — but the problem is that many coaches are not registered with SATA, he says.
Interesting results from Sports Trader’s school sport survey:
‘School sport’ conjures up images of soccer, rugby, athletics, cricket, hockey and netball. But, more and more schools are offering volleyball, table tennis, basketball and squash as school sports. Even cycling, scuba diving, target shooting (presumably not at teachers) and surfing are now sports options offered by schools, DORETTE KRUGER found
With a few exceptions, the love for a particular sport starts at school. It is very rare for an adult to suddenly develop a passion for kicking a soccer ball or testing the mettle of a cricket bat. A child that becomes passionate about rugby at a young and tender age, would be more likely to become a club player one day, than his neighbour who never enjoyed the pleasure of tackling a school rival in full flight.
There are a few exceptions: squash is not a traditional school sport, yet far more squash courts are filled with enthusiastic 20-30 year old yuppies, than tennis courts. Even though tennis is a sport offered by most schools. A passion for activities like golf, canoeing and fly-fishing also tend to develop later in life — or used to, in any case.
Be that as it may, most sporting codes depend on schools engendering a love for the game for their health, growth and sustainability.
The strength and growth of a particular sport at school level would therefore be of major importance for a sport retailer planning future stock items.
For some time now, we have been hearing of interesting — or non-traditional — sports being offered by schools. We have also heard that some sports like rugby, always considered to be one of THE major school sports, is losing its lustre.
We at Sports Trader therefore set out to discover what school sports have been pushed to the curb or placed on the bench and what new sports are being introduced. This is a long-term survey and our aim is to contact as many primary and high schools in SA as possible.
We started by contacting schools whose Email addresses we have. Half of them are in Cape Town, a third in Gauteng and five in Durban. We asked them what sports they offered now — and what sports they offered five years ago. We also asked them how many competitive teams or individual participants they had now, compared to five years ago.
Unfortunately, several sports masters/mistresses were not at the particular schools five years ago and were not able to provide figures for 1999. The sample used for comparing sport participation in 1999 is therefore less than half, but even so, the results are interesting.
These urban and internet-connected schools are naturally more sophisticated than the schools who do not even have fax numbers — and in some cases, no telephones. We therefore expected them to offer a much wider choice of sport than those who have fewer resources.
Although our sample is still small (just over 30 schools), the responses we received all confirmed the same trends. Besides, the trends that emerged were so interesting that we decided to share them with you. We shall report any changes in future issues.
Before we started, we simply assumed that the majority of schools would offer soccer, athletics, rugby, cricket, netball, hockey, tennis and swimming as sports … in that order.
The feedback proved us very wrong.
The gentleman’s game, aka cricket for boys, came through the strongest, with 83% of the schools that responded currently offering this sport option. Next in line was athletics and — yes — tennis, with 77% of the schools offering these sports. Netball and swimming were next in line (63% of the schools) … followed by soccer for boys, and hockey for girls offered by 50% of the schools.
No, we did not forget about rugby. Less than half (43%) of the schools that responded currently offer rugby as sport. The same number of schools have cross-country running as sport, and it is only slightly more than the schools who offer basketball and squash (37%). Further surprises were that 33% of the schools offered golf and waterpolo as sports, 30% had volleyball and 27% table tennis and judo.
Although mass gymnastic displays could lull one into believing that gymnastics is a common sport at schools, only 13% of the schools in the survey offered this sport.
When it came to schools volunteering information about the extraordinary sporting codes that they offer, we were even more surprised.
The numbers are still very small (only between 1-4 schools in our survey mentioned that they offered these sports), but the reality is that the following sporting codes can now be considered to be school sports:
No schools currently offer badminton, boxing or fishing as sport.
But, in 1999, badminton was offered as a sport by 27% of the schools surveyed — the same number who had judo/karate and cross-country as sports.
Athletics (offered by 93% of the schools) was then the major sport, followed by cricket for boys (87%). Equal numbers of schools offered netball and tennis (73%) and 67% had swimming teams.
Five years ago, soccer for boys and hockey for girls were offered by the same number of schools surveyed (53%). Hockey for boys was offered by 40% of the schools… the same number that had rugby as sport.
Rugby has — and had — this low profile despite the fact that 6 boys-only schools compared to one girls-only school responded. We can only attribute this to the fact that fewer Afrikaans schools, where rugby is still strong, responded than English-speaking schools. We therefore expect that rugby will get a higher profile as the survey progresses.
What is even more intriguing, is the relatively small number of schools that offer soccer as sport. Cricket, athletics, tennis, netball and swimming all seem to have bridged the language gap much better than soccer (traditionally English schools) and rugby (traditionally Afrikaans schools).
The number of major sporting codes offered by schools now also include sports that were previously thought of as non-traditional sports — for instance, volleyball, golf, table tennis, basketball, squash and water polo can now be categorised as school sports. Learners can now play these sports at between 37% and 30% of the schools that responded.
Non-traditional sporting codes have made a huge leap over the past five years in terms of what options are offered to learners, as these schools did not offer these sports five years ago.
We also asked the schools to provide statistics about the number of teams or learners participating in the different sporting codes, but unfortunately only a few (14) schools provided these figures.
These figures do, however, show that although fewer schools offer sports like rugby and soccer than anticipated, where these sports are offered, there is relatively high participation.
The participation figures supplied reflect more what we expected the norm to be. Athletics is the most popular participation sport. Almost a quarter (24%) of the learners that participate in sport, take part in athletics, followed by netball (15%) and cricket for boys (14%). Even though fewer schools offer these sports, soccer is played by 13% of all the learners and rugby by 10%.
Hockey, originally considered to be a girls-only sport, now enjoys almost equal support from girls (7%) and boys (5%).
Even though tennis is offered by 77% of the schools, it is played by only 4% of the learners.
Judo made up 2% of the total, while 1% of the learners participate in cross-country running, soccer for girls, volleyball, gymnastics and basketball.
Participation in table tennis, golf and squash are still low, with 0.5%, 0.3% and 0.2% learners participating in these sports respectively. Unfortunately, no schools supplied us with swimming and water polo participation figures.
We’ll keep you updated if the information we receive from schools changes the results… we’d also like to hear from you. Tel:021 461 2544 if you have information.
April/ May 2009
Is school cricket helping to grow the sport, or does the pursuit of wins at all cost at some schools drive potential players away? And are school coaches laying the skills foundation to create future match-winning heroes who will be endorsing bats in a few years time? asks FANIE HEYNS
Did a disgruntled newspaper reader who blamed a flawed schoolsport system for the sudden collapse of the Protea cricket team in the home test series against Australia, make a valid point? A reader wrote in a letter to the Sunday Times that the test losses by the Proteas, after winning in Australia, showed that the we lack the skills to be a consistent winning team.
At the heart of the battle is the school sport system, he wrote.
The majority of those involved are more concerned about the results between their respective schools than what it takes to develop long-term champions… the mindless pursuit of results involves rigid training within a team environment with a single objective — win a match every weekend. Minimal focus on individual skills development is only exposed when teams reach international level and battle to compete consistently due to technical deficiencies, says the Sunday Times reader.
The development of champions requires a more holistic focus on the enjoyment of sport and individual self-esteem. The short term poaching of players to mindlessly win matches with almost the only interim being to market a school, is often at the expense of the child and not in the best long-term interests of SA sport, declared the frustrated cricket lover and author of the letter.
Research by the Human Science Research Council (HSRC) on behalf of Sport & Recreation SA (SRSA) showed that the experience of sport at school is the most significant factor that determines whether you will do sport later in life. Therefore, every young cricketer who stops playing the game because he does not enjoy it any more, or cannot get a place in the team, is lost to the sport for ever.
As seen in the previous article (see Cricket heroes DO sell bats), young players follow the lead of cricket heroes who conquer their opponents with bat or ball — which will not happen if future players lack the skills. In addition, the national euphoria when a national sporting team is doing well spikes interest and greater participation — and more equipment sales. But, when a team is performing badly, interest wanes.
School sport bad for game?
Is the newspaper correspondent therefore correct that the school sport system could be detrimental to the nurturing of future cricket heroes? Is the mindless pursuit of results being driven at the expense of individual skills development, and is the development of more players and long-term champions being forgotten? Should more be done to encourage broader participation of cricketers in school sport?
Representatives from schools cricket, with whom Sports Trader spoke, had a mixed reaction to the sentiments expressed in the letter.
Jacques Faul, chief executive director of North West cricket and a man who can boast involvement with youth cricket for twenty years, agrees with much of the criticism levelled against schools cricket in the letter.
Unfortunately, short term glory is emphasized at the expense of long term benefits in SA cricket school, he says. Winning at sports has become a very useful marketing tool for any school. Results are used abundantly to drive the image of a winning school. Thus the first team coach will be under pressure to win and to try and win every match.
Add to this mix the fact that there are increasingly longer seasons for the various sporting codes, fewer teachers who are able to coach, a more scientific and technical approach to coaching cricket that will scare many newcomers to the game, and the fact that cricket is seen as an all-day-in-the-sun-activity, whereas other codes are shorter.
The result is quite simple: Less capacity to do skills training with more players, or to just give more players a reasonable chance of playing cricket.
Deny players chances
“The harsh reality is we are denying a late developer an opportunity, or even a true talent a chance; by having too small a base of players,” adds Faul.
He is, however, mindful of the role that school sport has always played in promo-ting performance in traditional Commonwealth team sports.
But, with so many recreational options available to the youth, one should actively promote your specific sport code, he stresses. “If it is not fun, your average sports person will not play it for too long. We need innovative coaches to bring the youth back to the game.”
Another ill is that players are bought from other schools, says Heinrich van Jaarsveldt and Helen Jacobs, senior teachers at Afrikaans Hoër Seunskool (Affies) in Pretoria. Good players, especially from rural areas, are coaxed away.
“Instead of developing your own learners, you take a child away from his own school and deny him the privilege of playing for his own school.” (At the same time you deny a learner from your own school a place in the team).
There is a supposed to be a gentleman’s agreement between headmasters in Cape Town about poaching, says John Young, first-team coach of Pinelands High School. Sometimes it is ignored to improve the one school’s transformation credentials or to improve their win ratios.
“But it is not only poaching. I know of senior schools who send scouts to primary tournaments and festivals looking for potential, armed with cheque books. So schools have become like Chelsea and Manchester United,” adds Young.
If a school coach simply buys next year’s fast bowler, he really is taking a lazy short-cut; but perhaps the old boys demand it. If they do, they are stupid because the chap in Grade 11 might be the greatest fast bowler ever — if the coach just took the time to work on him, explained Young.
Smaller schools do suffer because of a myriad of reasons, like the lack of skilled coaches, lack of players, financial strife and the lack of equipment, says Van Jaarsveldt and Jacobs.
A few factors hamper the development of school sport, they say. One is competitive sport — some schools are so focused on silver ware in the trophy cabinet that they lose perspective. “Players do not get the opportunity to express themselves on the sporting field. They must stay within a certain pattern, and are afraid to make mistakes.“
A school prepares learners for life in general by participating in sport, says Dr Pierre Edwards, headmaster at Affies.
“Therefore, we believe very strongly that every child should participate in sport and that school sport involves more than the A-teams and the first team.
“A second factor associating with the previous point is the increasing trend of professionalising sport at school level. Almost all leading schools currently sport gymnasiums, because if your A-team do not gym, they cannot compete with the top-schools.”
Edwards says a topic on its own is the sporting father who tries to fulfil his dreams through his son. His whole life is focused on school sport and then they expect the school to abide by their plans and dreams. These types of parents become an increasing problem. They smother the fun that every parent should get out of school sport.
Win and grow the game
There is a certain amount of truth in the letter — but winning matches does not necessarily mean that you discourage greater participation, explains Peter Knowles, a former senior WP provincial player and director of cricket at Wynberg Boys High.
There is enormous pressure on schools to produce good results, and sometimes definitely to the detriment of the game, he agrees. At Wynberg they do focus on results at A- and B-team level, but never at the expense of the boys’ enjoyment or the right way to play the game. But, the school also has seven U19, five U15 and seven U14-teams. They therefore encourage boys of all skill levels to play — and they do so with tremendous enthusiasm and enjoyment.
They try their best to give good coaching to all, and to this end a cricket professional runs open nets on Friday afternoon when any boy in the school may attend (and they do).
The school tries to keep abreast of the latest coaching methods via the local coaching authority. They also run specialist clinics with the likes of Denys Hobson, Geoff Love, Aubrey Martyn, Adrian Holdstock and Peter Kirsten coming along to share their expertise.
Disagree with correspondent
“Winning is not the alpha and omega at Hoërskool Grens,” says Lourens Koorsen, director of sport at the East London high school. “Our purpose is to encourage young players to participate according to their level. We emphasize competition. The pressure to win is big, because the position of every player hinges on his performance.
“But at Grens, the players present at every training session who demonstrate the necessary self-discipline, are awarded with selection. Many excellent players have missed out on selection because of the above-mentioned reasons. We are willing to lose a match, rather than to forsake our principles,” adds Koorsen.
Rob Dalrymple, a former senior batsman of the Boland team and director of cricket at Rondebosch Boys High school, also disagrees with the criticism levelled against SA schools as being too focused on winning at all costs.
At Rondebosch, they are very conscious of the development of individual players and there is not much emphasis on the results achieved by the teams, he says. The team does specific goal-setting at the beginning of every season and the goals are never allowed to be result-orientated. They place a heavy emphasis on the process that you need to follow in order to become a successful cricketer.
Much time is spent discussing the mental aspects of the game, as well as working on the technical aspects of it.
To blame the schools for technical inadequacies at international level, is ludicrous, he says.
Most schools cannot afford to employ international standard coaches and make do with whichever teachers are prepared to give up their weekends for cricket.
Also, many of the flaws develop from season to season — a player making his national debut at 24 (still young) has already been out of school for six years. Surely this is the provincial coaches’ responsibility? adds Dalrymple.
“Although there is a fair amount of interest in the school’s results, they are not regarded as paramount. However, if you concentrate on technical skills, coupled with a knowledge of how, as a player, you can ensure that you can replicate what you practice in a match situation, results will look after themselves,” adds Dalrymple.
What’s wrong with winning?
A representative of Grey College said the results of matches should be important: Life is a competitive environment and the scoreboard next to all sports fields prove that people play to win. Teams that regularly lose can surely not claim that they are enjoying the activity!
In order to win, individuals and teams must train with determination and the will to succeed and this would also involve individual and team skills development.
However, winning at all cost, is not educationally sound and therefore the practice of buying players should not happen. Loyalty to the team and/or school you represent is one of the more positive benefits of school sport and that loyalty is in the heart of the player concerned, not in his wallet.
Grey College believes it is important to make players in all teams feel that they contribute to the success of their team, their school. Should a team only have eleven cricketers, that team will battle against schools with 100 or more players.
Also that sport is part and parcel of the educational process and should not inflate the egos of only a few individuals, especially since those individuals will need the support of the whole school community when they play in inter schools matches.
Emphasis on skills development
At Bishops there is a great deal of emphasis on skills development, especially in the first team, second team, third team, U15 A and B and U14 A and B, but with much emphasis also on enjoyment, says Geoff Kieswetter, director of cricket at Diocesan College and editor of BishopsBlue.
“For example, I hire two dedicated professional coaches to work specifically with the second team and U17 A’s (third team) and the U15 A and U14 A teams, mainly to help the teacher-coaches cope with the demands of their jobs, with cricket not being their main business. Across the board the focus is on skills development, fitness and the psychological aspects of the game.
“The first team coach and his assistant are as good as any professionals I know in the Western Cape.”
The school organises specialist clinics where people like Denys Hobson (on spin bowling), Vaatjie Minnaar (captaincy), Adrian Kuiper (batting) and a variety of wicketkeepers highlight specialist skills. The competitive environment in which Bishops operates, does mean that the first team is the key team, but the philosophy of the school allows them to focus also on cricketers across the board.
Several companies help to develop and promote cricket through professional coaching at schools, or clinics for individuals. Among them are Sporting Chance in Cape Town with a strong grassroots focus, Ryan Maron Cricket School, Dale Hermanson’s Sports Horizons in Johannesburg, Danny Becker and many more.
Solutions to grow schools cricket
John Young of Pinelands says he is convinced that the Australian example, where the emphasis as far as youth sport is on participation and playing lots of sports, should be contemplated at SA school level. “I am told that Stephen Larkham (star of the World Cup-winning Wallaby-team of 1999) never held a rugby ball until he was 15.
“Apparently, the Aussies do not place much emphasis on schools (age-group) competitive sport. Nothing to the extent that we do (think of the Craven Week being televised and the match of the day between two schools’ rugby teams).”
Young says Dr Deborah Hoare, a prominent Australian sport scientist who was seconded to SRSA a few years ago to set up a talent identification system, told him that there is very little evidence that early specialisation leads to later success.
In Australia, they start selecting teams at the U12-age group, but they expose talent, rather than specialise, said Hoare. They do not have a formal interstate primary school competition. “Even at high school, the focus is on quality participation, not competition.”
Jacques Faul of North West believes that sport federations don’t have the resources to take the game to all people at grassroots level in order to broaden the player base, and that this should be done in partnership with national government, in particular SRSA and the Department of Education. He says these departments should be doing more to encourage cricket participation at grassroots.
“Commercial academies can play a role in developing the sport at grassroots level,” says Faull, “but I agree with Cricket SA that it should be regulated.”
The cricket fraternity at Bishops encourages greater participation by making all mid-week games (D-teams and below) Twenty20 games. They aim to play more and more Twenty20 cricket — their inter-house cricket is played in this format, with both the junior and senior finals being played under lights, and it provides a great vibe.
Heinrich van Jaarsveldt and Helen Jacobs of Affies says that playing more friendly matches relieves the stress of having to win and allows players to express their natural talent, because losing is not the end of the world.
“In these matches, there is more fluency and the players express their skills.” They can also enjoy the game more.
BEVAN FRANK targets the SA darts scene and finds that two distinctive camps are still making their mark — but who has hit bullseye when it comes to attracting players: the televised pro tournaments or the national federation?
A new era for darts in SA
In September 2006 a jubilant Wynand Havenga won prizes valued at least R75 000 in a fun-filled televised Emperors Palace SA Masters darts tournament, organised by the PDC. The event was glamorised by exhibitions from one of the world’s biggest darts icon, Phil Taylor, and a lively audience showed vocal support for their favourites.
It was darts as showbusiness, with the appropriate remuneration.
The last eight South Africans in the tournament won a total of R225 000 in prize money. By winning at Emperor’s Palace, Havenga became the first South African to qualify to participate in the world’s richest dart tournament, the Ladbrokes.com World Darts Championship in London. There he did exceptionally well by reaching the final 16 and winning at least a further R40 000.
Darts SA disapproved of the tournament and of any players participating.
The following year, bolstered by Havenga’s success, the number of entries in the Emperors Palace PDC SA Open darts championship doubled. The event was won by Charles Losper of Cape Town, who went on to compete against the world’s top professional players in the Ladbrokes.com World Darts Championship.
Negotiations between Darts SA and the PDC resulted in a truce whereby Darts SA sanctioned the participation of its members in this PDC tournament.
During the past few years the game of darts has been transformed all over the world.
It has now been two years since the first Professional Darts competition (PDC) was held in SA, allowing South Africans to win large sums of money by playing darts (see box "A new era for darts in SA").
Worldwide, darts has been given a much bigger profile with broadcasts of entertaining and lively darts competitions shown on Sky TV and other channels.
But, the darts scene in SA is still broken into two distinct camps — the glamorous, razmatazz professional competitions represented by the PDC, and the leagues and competitions catering for all levels of players, represented by Darts SA.
“Darts SA has sanctioned the PDC tournament played in SA during 2007 and allowed its members to participate in the said tournament,” says Graham Stark, president of Darts SA.
“The situation in SA is similar to what is happening on the global darts scene in that a country has its national federation, which is the controlling authority for the sport in the country, and then you have an outside organisation like the PDC coming in to provide playing opportunities for the elite players — but without making an investment at grassroots level.
“After all, most, if not all, players start at grassroots level and need to be nurtured and developed to elite level. This requires resources.”
When PDC SA was launched two years ago, the relationship between them and Darts SA was not harmonious at all.
“This happened mainly because Darts SA falls under the banner of the World Darts Federation, which was in conflict with the PDC,” says Jon McGowan of PDC in SA. “Through much negotiation and meetings, we finally found a path by which we could grow the sport together, whilst working in unison.”
When asked if the fighting between Darts SA and the PDC has harmed the sport, Stark maintains that there has never been any fighting between the two organisations. “Darts SA merely disagreed with an overseas organisation coming into our country and staging a tournament without consulting with the national federation for the sport in the country,” says Stark.
“Darts SA also rejects the claim that players who win a PDC tournament represent SA. The only players who represent SA are our Protea players, who are selected by Darts SA in terms of an approved selection process subject to the National Sports Colours Regulations.”
Stark believes that in all its endeavours, Darts SA always puts the welfare of its members first and attempts to, at all times, protect them from exploitation.
Did interest in sport grow?
50 000 Players to participate in Japan
Harrows Darts is currently sponsoring the Harrows Darts Cup series in Japan, estimated to be the world’s largest darts tournament. The DJO organised tournaments, that run until November, will cover the entire length of the country, in over 20 cities.
The format of these electronic softip darts tournaments, which were established in 2005, gives over 50 000 different players a chance to win the Harrows Darts Cup in their own region.
According to Robert Pringle, sales and marketing director of Harrows, “our mission is to promote the exciting sport of darts worldwide. Japan was one of our first export markets, 35 years ago. Our sponsorship of this fantastic series, which attracts between 2 000 to 5 000 players to each venue, is recognition of both our brand leading position and a celebration of our long-term commitment to the growth of darts both in Japan and worldwide”.
The two organisations also disagree on the benefits that a professional darts competition will bring to SA — and whether the exposure on TV has grown, and will grow, the sport.
“Any form of news and publicity is good for any sport,” says McGowan. “The players, even though they remained loyal to Darts SA, expressed their views and excitement about bringing the PDC to SA — Darts SA listened to their players and decided to do what’s best for the sport. As we stand, we have laid the foundations for achieving our goals.”
McGowan believes that the global darts scene has a huge effect on what happens in SA as many of their players follow the latest news from overseas. Phil Taylor has been a role model for many years and most of the players use Phil’s success as a vision to where they want to be.
Stark, however, doesn’t believe that the public’s interest in darts has grown due to the publicity generated by the PDC.
“Interest amongst the players has grown, but the interest is more in the prize money than in the sport as a whole,” says Stark. “It is my opinion that the playing of a professional tournament in our country hasn’t grown the sport in the home market — the players are also the spectators.”
McGowan feels it is too early to measure the success of the PDC tournaments at this stage as they have only staged two so far.
“I have seen a massive increase in interest from both existing and passive players, so much so that I feel that in the not too distant future, we will see our numbers double in both the Darts SA and the PDC tournaments,” says McGowan.
The PDC tournament is played with Unicorn darts. Anne Vilas of local distributor Opal Sports agrees with McGowan that the darts market has grown due to the additional publicity generated by the professional tournaments — and her impression is that this resulted in more people playing social darts.
Francois Plaatjies of De Wet Sports agrees that the exposure of darts on Sky TV has grown the number of social players. “What I would like to see, however, is televised local competitions. This would help children and social players strive to be more professional and play competitively.”
Vilas belies that watching the PDC can help dart players around the world to improve their game. “By our players getting exposure to this competition, they can only improve their ability to play in these high exposure tournaments,” she says.
Unicorn and Harrows darts manufacturers both sponsor the Professional Darts Players Association (PDPA), which represents the approximately 300 professional darts players in the UK who make a living from playing in cash-rich tournaments like the PDC and other televised exhibition matches.
With pro nicknames like Eric Crafty Cockney Bristow, John Old Stoneface Lowe, Phil The Power Taylor, Mark Flash Dudbridge and Wayne Hawaii 501 Mardle — with their own personal logos, too! — there is no doubt: these stars have made darts a fun spectator sport.
According to Colin Farrer, sales director of LGB Distributors who locally supplies Harrows darts, professional darts can play an important role in promoting the sport.
“This can only do the sport a world of good. It is exciting to watch and the sport is definitely geared for television audiences. More needs to be done in SA though,” he says
From a retail point of view, Harrows’ sales are very strong says Farrer.
“However, we are always mindful of changes in the industry and believe that we must become more active with our trade partners in helping to grow their sales at regional level, for example, sponsoring prizes and tournaments,” says Farrer.“Based on improved sales, year on year, I can only assume that the sport is growing in SA.”
“Putting big prize money into a sport can only improve the focus of clubs and representatives participating in that sport,” says Farrer. “I am sure that things will pan out well for darts in SA.”
But, according to Stark, their membership figures do not reflect that more people are joining darts clubs.
“In fact, the sad reality is that membership figures are on the decline,” Stark says. “Where people do join, it is because they are seeking an alternative recreational activity, not because they want to participate in a professional tournament.”
Andrew Wentzel of Wet Sports agrees that these televised tournaments will not have a significant impact on darts sales. “Not that many people are aware that darts are shown on TV and besides, not everybody is able to watch Sky TV on a pay channel.”
More social players
Wins for Darts SA teams
Darts SA recently played host to the Zone VI Youth tournament at the SABC Hall in Auckland Park where young men and women aged U25 from six countries — namely SA, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland and Zambia — competed against each other.
SA were overall champions in the Youth Boys (U18), Junior Men and Junior Ladies (U25) divisions.
SA won gold in all four league categories as well as seven gold and six silver in the singles and pairs events.
SA players also participated in the Darts World cup last October in the Netherlands. Pearl Jacobs competed well, but lost in the quarter finals of the girls’ singles. Crystal Spannenberg and Vicky Carnow did extremely well in the ladies pairs section, but lost in the quarter finals to the US.
But, where there has been a slight decline in competitive club players, this has been offset by a growth in social players, says Plaatjies, resulting in the darts market remaining stable.
Their biggest volume sales are therefore in the social market, who predominantly buy cheaper brass darts. “Our top end tungsten darts are marketed towards the competitive club players,” says Plaatjies.
Wentzel agrees that the market has remained fairly stable and that there has been no sudden spike in sales.
On the other hand, they still record strong sales of all their darts stock to a good mix of both club players in the Western Cape (buying 80% tungsten) and surrounds and “because our prices are competitive, we also have a fair number of social players buying our Datadart and cheaper ranges,” says Wentzel.
The way ahead?
Consolidation and empowerment are key factors in strengthening the future of darts. “The future of darts in SA can only be secured if we first consolidate our existing membership and empower our officials (who are all volunteers) at all levels to provide good governance and efficient administration and management,” Stark maintains.
Darts SA does have a development plan called Operation Bullseye, which covers all these aspects, although it does not have the financial resources to implement this plan in all corners of the country.
“Growing the sport from the bottom up is imperative,” states Stark. “It doesn’t bode well for the future just to provide playing opportunities for the elite players who, anyway, plough very little back into the sport.”
Stark is confident that, amongst the existing membership, the sport has a bright future. “The challenge is to entice more new people to play the sport. This can only happen if you have an attractive product, namely a sport of darts where players conduct themselves in an exemplary, sporting manner and become positive role models as well as competent administrators who provide good governance without fear or favour.”
Plaatjies agrees with Stark that the future of darts will only be secured if more people are encouraged to play competitive darts by either joining or forming a club.
“As with any sport, darts needs a competitive league system for it to grow.”
But, he says, the biggest problem facing many clubs is the lack of resources and support from the governing bodies. “More needs to be done to develop the game in areas where there is traditionally a lack of finance or know-how in the marketing of clubs and leagues.
“Also, more needs to be done to promote darts as a bona fide sport, as opposed to its traditional stigma of it being a pub game.
Wentzel believes that the future of darts lies with the youth. “Darts SA should look at getting the youth involved by running clinics and creating awareness around the sport, as this would bolster their number of club players in the future.”
Big money, big excitement
McGowan, however, maintains that for the first time in SA darts, the players have the opportunity to earn REAL money.
“This in itself is a huge motivation for the players and sponsors,” McGowan says. “Big money attracts big attention — hence we are looking at getting a permanent spot on television, and once this happens... well as they say: the rest is history!”
McGowan’s long term goal is to have six established annual tournaments hosted in all the major cities. The spin-off will be a pro circuit like in England, where there are many players that have turned professional in darts and have made a lot of money.
“In SA this vision up till now has been nothing but a pipe dream,” says McGowan. “Should we be able to achieve this goal, we too can have professional players not only competing on stage in front of millions of viewers, but helping to promote the sport throughout the country.”
Barry Hearn, chairman of the PDC, has taken darts out of the pubs and placed the sport firmly on the world stage, he believes.
“Barry Hearn’s drive and passion has expanded darts around the world from England to Australia, China, Las Vegas America, Germany etc, and now SA,” McGowan enthuses. “With the backing of the PDC and Barry Hearn, I see no reason why, one day, darts cannot become one the biggest sports in SA.”
Time will tell as to whether these views are on target.
Snooker and pool are among the fastest growing sports in the world today. The two local governing federations, Snooker and Billiards SA as well as Pool SA are both very happy with the growing popularity of their sports, reports PHIRI CAWE
Although snooker and pool have different organisations, affiliations, rules and equipment, they are often lumped together as a sport that offers an indoor alternative to rugby, soccer or cricket.
While snooker was first played by English gentlemen as far back as the 15th century, and was introduced to the rest of the world by British army officers, pool has a much more robust heritage. Originally known as pocket billiards, the game gained popularity in gaming – or pool halls – where money were pooled so that bets could be placed, and hence became popularly known as pool.
For many years the authorities tried in vain to call the sport pocket billiards because they thought pool had a negative connotation — but the name stuck and the families who nowadays buy a pool table to keep the children occupied at home give no thought to gambling.
The first snooker world championship was held in 1916, and in 1927 the legendary Joe Davis, considered by many to be the father of modern snooker, helped establish the first professional world championship. He was world champion until his retirement in 1946. But it was only after the snooker world championship was featured on BBC television for the first time in 1976, that the game took off as a mainstream professional sport. These championship broadcasts draw millions of viewers – it was estimated that 18.5-m UK viewers watched the 1985 world championship on TV.
In the modern era professional players like 7-times world champion Stephen Hendry and 11-championships winner and former England captain John Parrott draw the fans. Hendry has won more than £8-m in prize money.
In SA, snooker has grown tremendously over the past five years, says Flip Bester, president of Snooker and Billiards SA, although it is difficult to provide an accurate figure for the number of people playing the sport competitively. It is especially popular in urban areas, where it is being played at all times, but it is not played much in rural areas, says Bester. The Western Cape is the strongest region, where snooker is very popular and is also growing the strongest.
There are many factors contributing to the growth of the sport.
As people become more aware of snooker, more people realise how interesting the sport is, what skills are required and come to regard it as an alternative to sports like rugby, soccer or cricket, instead of a pub game, says Bester.
Mini-tournaments organised by some retailers have also made many people more aware of the sport.
Another factor is that snooker is an international sport with SA players participating in four international events per year. It is also televised, which makes the sport seen and known.
"We are proud of the growth in snooker over the past 5 years," says Bester. "I cannot say if competing in the four international events are enough or not, but I can say that it has helped to change some perspective about the game."
Participation in the international events have definitely boosted the sport. SA snooker is ranked 15th in the world.
But, what will be a tremendous boost for growth, is admittance to the Olympic or Commonwealth Games — objectives that the international organisation have been aiming for. "If snooker becomes a Olympic or Commonwealth Games sport, it will definitely help grow the sport."
While snooker is an organised sport, pool is more often played for fun. It is more accessible to people in urban and rural areas, says Temba Wiso, president of Pool SA.
He does not have exact figures for the number of participants as the player numbers per region are constantly changing, but says that there are between 4 000 to 6 000 registered players. There are many more recreational players playing in pool halls, pubs or at home.
"Pool has grown tremendously. It has grown strong in a sense that you will find a pool table in most taverns and shebeens," says Wiso. "It is one of the most accessible sports in the country."
While most pool players fall in the category of social players, there are structured leagues in the cities, while the rural areas still need to be structured, although taverns often organise mini tournaments in rural areas.
Wiso says that pool is more accessible than snooker as the latter is played predominantly in the urban areas. "Snooker tables are big and expensive, unlike pool tables that are smaller and more affordable. Because pool tables are set up in so many pool halls and pubs, even the disadvantaged people can afford to play the game."
The pool market is certainly vibrant, says Glenda Babaya, who last year took over the Day Motion manufacturing business from Alon Monastursky.
"We have had very good sales of pool tables," she says. "We get a lot of orders for them from all over the country,"
As a matter of fact, the demand for pool tables has prompted them to start developing one or two new lines that will be launched later this year.
Business in general is booming, says Babaya, who recently also moved premises to 32A 13th Rd, Kew, in Johannesburg.
De Wet Sports
De Wet Sports reports that the increased market presence of their Riemann branded snooker and pool equipment range has led to unprecedented growth in this sector. "The main reason behind this growth is that Riemann offers the retailer reliable products at the most competitive prices," says Kevin de Wet.
"High standards of quality control ensure the retailer can sell Riemann products with confidence, and this confidence translates to increased levels of consumer satisfaction."
The range includes cues, cue bags, balls, tips and various other accessories. The extensive cue range ensures that every conceivable budget and skill level is catered for — starting at the entry level 1 piece Ramin cues and culminating in the top of the range 2-piece Graphite cues.
"The most popular Riemann cues are the mid-priced range of designer cues which include the Snake, Spider, Lion, Leopard, Flame and Marble models. The Riemann brand is a must for any retailer interested in meeting the increased demand for snooker and pool products in SA," says De Wet.
Snooker & Pool Warehouse
Jörgen Noordermeer of Snooker & Pool Warehouse has, once again, paid one of his regular visits to their agents in China and Taiwan in order to stay abreast of changes, trends and new products on the market.
The result is that Snooker & Pool Warehouse now have their own branded air hockey, commercial and home soccer tables.
"This Orlando range is robust, sturdy and pleasing to the eye and looks good in any home," Mike Slabolepszky.
All tables come with accessories and spare parts are available.
One of the Chinese innovations is a lazer cue — a graphite cue with a red lazer light that shines on the cue ball through a pin prick hole in the tip of the cue. The light and an energizer battery have been placed in the ferrule, which also serves as a switch for the light when turned. The two-piece cue is sold with batteries included.
Another new product is a 2-piece laminated bamboo cue with brass ferrules that is becoming very popular, says Slabolepszky.
The range also include 2-piece graphite cues with titanium shafts in bright neon colours — even pink for women.
They have also extended their Peradon range and are still the exclusive agents of Joe Davis.
Players who perform well attract sponsors and more participants to a sport. But in order to do well, players need international recognition. South African squash and badminton players are slowly starting to gain that international recognition
Like many smaller sports, the fortunes of squash and badminton in SA is closely linked to the availability of resources. That, in turn, depends on how much investment support the sports can attract.
It is a bit of a Catch 22 situation.
Talented local squash and badminton players will only be able to prove themselves against the rest of the world if they compete internationally. In order to do that, they need funds. But, once they prove themselves internationally, sponsorship investment is likely to follow, that will not only help grow the sport, but also enable more players to compete on the international circuit. Who will attract even more sponsorship, which will enable the sport to send more players overseas...
Therefore, any funds spent on developing players and improving their world rankings can be seen as an investment in the future of the sports.
Dunslaz Distributorship, supplier of Dunlop squash equipment, has made this kind of investment in players in the form of performance bonuses as well as sponsorship and support of the SA Squash Association, who has the responsibility of attracting sufficient sponsors to finance SA players abroad.
By sponsoring Richard Castle, the coach of the SA national team "we yet again emphasise that Dunlop is serious about the game and that we, togerther with Richard, will drive the game as hard as we can and develop players who will , and can, perform internationally," says Steve Gallienne. "We are working closely with the international head office to push top performing SA squash players to international heights."
While European players can stay home and travel relatively short distances to compete in international events, SA squash and badminton players have to relocate if they want to join the circuit. The cost of travelling, accommodation, food, joining fees and international coaching is prohibitively expensive.
Yet, several SA players have made the leap. According to Squash SA "in 2007 there were more SA players on the international squash circuit than during the previous decade".
And this is starting to pay off in terms of improved world rankings.
The undisputed star is Tenille Swartz (see below), but other SA squash players are also starting to come to the fore.
Jesse Engelbrecht, who was the number one South African in the world Team Championships in India, is ranked #75 in the world. Stephen Coppinger is ranked #99 on the men’s circuit, after he jumped from # 185 to #87 at the end of 2007.
Capetonian Clinton Leeuw, who has been playing and coaching squash in Germany since 2004, has also dramatically improved his world rankings. He climbed from #302 in the WISPA rating in August 2006, to #140 in April 2007 and #114 in December 2007.
Leeuw spends half of the year in SA, playing the local circuit, where he is currently ranked #2 in the Western Province and #4 in SA. He makes sure that he meets his local commitments as he wishes to remain eligible to be selected to represent SA.
As players gain experience and confidence by playing in international tournaments, their rankings improve. In 2006 the SA women’s squash team was ranked #12 in the world, but they finished 6th at the Women’s World Team event, having beaten Australia. The SA men’s squash team was ranked 12th and finished 11th.
SA therefore has the potential players, and hopefully with more home tournaments on the horizon, local players will get an opportunity to gain valuable experience — but the costs of hosting a tournament is also high.
Boost for badminton
Interest in badminton is sure to peak during the Olympics as it seems fairly certain that the Dednam brothers, Chris and Roelof, would represent SA in Beijing. Currently #59 in the world for doubles, this ranking would allow the siblings to qualify — and there are still a few tournaments left to improve their rankings before the May 1st Olympic qualifying deadline.
This high ranking is to a large extent thanks to the scholarship that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded him last year, says SA champ, Chris Dednam. This enabled him to gain valuable international experience as a singles player, and with his brother, to gain sufficient doubles international ranking points to qualify.
Badminton is a relatively small sport in SA, and a lack of funds for international participation is therefore always a problem, although they are sponsored by the major badminton supplier, Yonex.
"You need to participate in a minumum of ten international tournaments in order to improve your ranking," says Dednam, whose whole family is concerned with the growth of SA badminton — his father is a Free State and national administrator.
There are currently six SA players on the international circuit. Apart from the Dednam brothers, SASCOC grants enable Michelle Edwards and Chantelle Botts (doubles gold winners at the All African Games), Wiehan Viljoen, and Dorian James to participate internationally.
Previously, SA badminton players would only travel to international tournaments in the year of a major event like the Olympics, but the IOC scholarship made it possible to gain more exposure over a longer period, says Dednam.
Apart from gaining ranking points, this helps them to get to know their international opponents, which helps them to achieve better results.
Growing squash & badminton at grassroots
While the achievements of SA players on the international circuit will help to lift the profile of sports like squash and badminton, sales of rackets and shoes will only grow if the sports could be grown at grassroots.
It is obvious that if more people in smaller communities and at school start playing the sports, more products will be sold. It is less obvious how to attract them to the courts.
The development of sports like badminton in smaller towns is very dependent on the availability of decent facilities and the drive of the organisers, says Andrew Wentzel of W.E.T. Sports, distributors of RoxPro rackets.
"We try to supply decent quality rackets to our retailers so that they are able to attract new players by offering a good racket at an affordable price."
W.E.T. Sports does not sponsor individual players, but believe that by offering a competitive intermediate level product, they are able to help grow the sport. "We believe that the development of facilities would allow more players to enjoy the sport and for talent to be unearthed," says Wentzel.
In SA Dunlop sponsors ten of the top events on the calendar, which is currently governed by Squash SA, "but I am sure that if the organisers could choose a preferred ball for their events, Dunlop would be at the one," says supplier Steve Gallienne.
Squash footwear brand Hi-tec has been sponsoring a mixed team tournament at Parkview squash club for the past five years. The month-long tournament that is played from end October to end November attracts squash players from all over Gauteng. Players receive prizes and playing shirts with the Hi-Tec logo, creating a lot of brand awareness. They also sponsor the SA Schools Squash Association Tournament at the Parkview squash club, in which the six best juniors per province compete against each other.
"Hi-Tec’s involvement at a schools level is very important to us," says marketing manager Lauren Ploos, "as we are reaching out to these youngsters at an early age.
"Hi-Tec also sponsors local squash players, as this gives us the opportunity to get involved with squash at a grassroots level."
Apart from about ten Gauteng league players, Hi-Tec also works closely with former SA national champion Craig Van Der Wath who is still a force to be reckoned as a doubles partner for young Clinton Leeuw and as a Masters player.
Free Stater Tenille Swartz, became the first SA squash player to secure a major international sponsorship with racket brand Prince.
This four times winner of the S.A Championships, is now ranked #30 in the world and was a nominee for the WISPA (women’s international professional squash association) most improved player award. She has made a number of excursions to Hong Kong, Qatar, England, Iceland and Egypt to gain valuable ranking points.
Her improved international standing has earned her the sponsorship from Prince and the opportunity to play with their sought after O3 Tour rackets. She’ll play her first tournament with this racket at the Alexandria Sporting Club Open in Egypt in August.
Swart first came to international attention when she made her debut for SA in the 2004 Women’s World Team Championships in Amsterdam, aged 17. She won three matches and the Player of the Championships award.
She won her first professional title in November 2006 in only her second appearance on the WISPA Tour, namely the Meersquash Open in the Netherlands — which she entered as a qualifier.
In May last year, she claimed her third successive SA national title to confirm her status as one of the brightest prospects the country has produced.
April/ May 2009
Over the past few years, the growing consumer interest in indigenous games created a demand for equipment at retail level. BEVAN FRANK discovers that a popular game from the sands of time is so much on the rise that there could be an opportunity for retailers to sell thousands of boards
Morabaraba is an ancient and traditional African board game that has been played for thousands of years. Its origins predate recorded history in Africa. Today, Morabaraba is played in several countries — there is even a World Championship and South African players have been awarded national colours. It has been claimed that approximately 40% of South Africans know how to play Morabaraba — which would be about 20-m people!
Morabaraba is an accessible game that is easy to learn, although its strategic and tactical aspects run deep. While it may be played on specially-produced boards (or computer software) with special counters, it is simple enough that a board can easily be scratched on a stone or into sand, with coins or pebbles, or whatever comes to hand, used as the pieces.
It is far easier to learn than chess or draughts and the rules can be internalised in a mere few minutes. The game is, however, not just a variation of noughts and crosses and has been described as subtle and thought-provoking.
On the surface this popular game seems to be a simple variant of the European game Nine Men’s Morris (also known as Muehle, Mill or Merelles). On closer scrutiny it seems more likely that Morabaraba evolved from Mancala games, known to date back to ancient Egypt. A Morabaraba board has actually been found carved into the Great Pyramid of Khufu. One can only speculate as to whether the board was perhaps placed there for the Pharaoh to use in his afterlife, or maybe for the relaxation purposes of the stonemasons. If the board is indeed the same age as the pyramid then the game could be dated back to 2560 BC!
Closer to home, Morabaraba boards that are 800 years old have been found at Mapungubwe in South Africa.
Morabaraba, derived from the English Morris, is its Shangaan name and the one which has come to be actively used in promoting the game. In South Africa it is also commonly known by the Xhosa form of the name umlabalaba. The name is ultimately derived from Latin merellus meaning a gaming counter. In the traditional European game the counters are commonly referred to as “men”, but in the South African version the counters are referred to as “cows”, the game being particularly popular amongst youth who herd cattle.
Over the centuries Morabaraba has played an important role in African culture, and has been used to teach herdboys an appreciation for tactical thinking, as well as evaluating the strategic skills of a chief’s advisers. The game is taken very seriously by its players and, according to legend, African chiefs would select the best Morabaraba players as their advisors and council members! With a recent revival of interest in traditional African culture, Morabaraba is being well received, and is thus being promulgated by many organisations, as well as the department of Sport and Recreation SA (SRSA) as part of the annual Indigenous Games tournaments supported by the department.
Building a New Identity
The game obtained official recognition from SRSA, as well as the National Sports Commission (NSC), SASCOCs predecessor, in 1996. Thus, South Africans may obtain Protea colours in the sport.
Mind Sports South Africa (MSSA) has taken on the mandate of putting Morabaraba on a sound sporting footing in South Africa and internationally. They promulgated a standard set of rules, and organise tournaments at regional, national and international levels. They also designed, and registered, a Morabaraba board and counters that have to be used in all official local and international competitions: the board has annotations along the side and the MSSA logo appears on the board and counters.
According to Colin Webster, president of MSSA, the organisation’s members have invested financially, and through devoting their time, to the development of the game. This has resulted in regular, and very successful, tournaments being held across SA, helping to popularise the traditional game with a new generation of players, he says. They run an annual championship for mineworkers, as well as the SA national and provincial championships, school national and provincial championships, and inter-school leagues.
In order to qualify for the national team trials, a player has to finish in the top 20% or top 3, whichever is greater, of a recognised provincial and/or national championship. The national team is then selected at the national team trials. Any registered player can enter the provincial and national championships.
MSSA is affiliated to the International Wargames Federation, which allowed for the establishment of an official Morabaraba World Championship.
Webster claims that through MSSA the game has grown enormously in both numbers and stature.
“Not only has a player (David Hlophe) received the President’s Award — Silver Class — in 2002, but there are now universities, like the University of Johannesburg, that offer bursaries to players who excel in the game,” says Webster.
“From having argued with the NSC in 1996 to have Morabaraba recognised as a sport, it is most rewarding to see the joy on the faces of players receiving provincial and national colours.”
According to a report published in the Sowetan, it is estimated that as many as 40% of all South Africans have at some stage played Morabaraba on a recreational basis. Webster points out that the competitive field is a lot smaller. “The largest entry that the MSSA has ever had in any one year is 36 000,” he says.
While the official boards with notation must be used in all the MSSA-organised Morabaraba championships and international competitions, there are millions of South Africans that play Morabaraba on a non-competitive basis, even if the Sowetan estimate is only half correct. When Morabaraba is played for leisure, any board and counter may be used — whether self-made, or supplied by the growing number of distributors supplying retailers. Which can translate into sales of thousands of boards, even if only 10% players choose to buy a board, instead of drawing their own.
Webster is excited that the game is growing every year on a global level. “There is no doubt that with the right support, Morabaraba can be one of the biggest games in the world,” he says.
Please note that the colours of the national flag may not be used on commercial products without permission from the State President.
Professional squash is currently strong in SA with upcoming players like Rudy Willemse, Milnay Louw, Tenille Swartz and Clinton Leeuw climbing in world rankings, but league squash is in decline, says SA national squash coach Richard Castle
More people, however, play squash as a leisure activity and this market segment is definitely growing as more and more people realise the health benefits of squash. Squash is also becoming more popular with athletes who excell in other sport like hockey and cricket, as it improves their ball skills.
He comments that more players from different races are enjoying squash in SA and the transformation can be seen in the number of black, Indian and coloured players that are playing squash.
The reason for the decline in league players, says Castle, is that people are too busy to commit to playing squash seriously. Also, club membership fees have become higher and the expense is a turn-away point for many players.
A few years ago the average age for male squash players in test series was 30; now the average age is 25. The fact that the players are younger means that the involvement in the sport is getting stronger. A sport can only grow and benefit if the youth has a strong interest in it. Most professional squash players start at a young age and have already shown potential before they go to high school.
The problem is that schools simply cannot afford to build squash courts and membership to fitness clubs are expensive. Castle believes the solution lies in building what he calls a multi-zone — an open-air cement construction with two walls where children of all communities, especially disadvantaged ones, can bounce balls off the walls. It is also suitable for basketball or tennis practice.
Castle has been playing squash since he was four and was national junior squash champion at the age of 12. At the age of 16, he started coaching at school level and by the time he was 21 he was a level 2 squash coach. In the 90s Castle became the Gauteng senior squash coach, but also played professionally.
His team won the Jarvis/Kaplan cup three years in a row and in 2003 he was asked to coach in KwaZulu-Natal. During that year the men’s squash team won in the A, B and C section and the women’s team the C section.
In 1997 Glenn Whittaker, former SA champion, started training with Castle. In 2001, 2002 and 2003 Castle and Adrian Hansen won the men’s doubles tournament and had great winnings with Jeanne Cowdrey. In 2004 Castle was appointed by Squash SA to coach the national team.
Funding is the biggest problem for squash. The National Lottery started funding Squash SA in 2005 and these funds enables them to send four players overseas to expose them to the international arena. SA squash players therefore have the opportunity to turn professional, but only when they are within the top 40 in the world — for example 20-year old Tenille Swartz (world #35) who is currently training in Germany. Swartz has been training with Castle for two and a half years and he says she has the potential to become world #1.
Some squash players return to SA to receive training, for example Milnay Louw, but Holland, Germany and other European countries are the best training grounds since the world’s strongest players train there — and, according to Castle, you can only better yourself once your opposition is the best.
The most expensive aspect of squash, and the reason why many SA children cannot play squash is the price of the racquet. Castle therefore appreciates it when brands try to bring out the best racket that they can and sell it at a lower price range.
His sponsorship with Dunlop is in an advisory capacity — and while he will not sell Dunlop products to his players, he does believe that Dunlop’s new range of Aerogel rackets have really hit the spot with the extended sweet-spot and a very good multi-filament.
SA player climbing world rankings
It only needed an invitation from a friend to join him in a game of squash to convince a 12-year old Clinton Leeuw that squash should become his sport of choice. Today, he is one of the few South Africans fortunate enough to make squash his career
Alternating between Bremen, Germany, where he trains, coaches and plays the European circuit, and Cape Town where he meets his SA team commitments, young Leeuw‘s life evolves around playing squash.
According to former SA men’s squash champion Gunner Way, now a regional agent for Leeuw’s sponsor Asics, far more young people will become squash players if they were only exposed to the game. "I started in the same way as Clinton — I played a game of squash and immediately switched sports as it was far more fun than other sports," he says. "Unfortunately, squash is not accessible to most SA youngsters as it is considered to be a business man’s game."
Leeuw was fortunate that his school in Umtata, had access to squash courts. A natural athlete, it was not long before he was selected to play for the Border junior team in 1996.When he moved to Cape Town the following year, the U14 Western Province squash team had already been selected and his school did not offer squash as sport. He consoled himself by attending free squash coaching lessons at the Elsiesriver squash club, where his talent was soon spotted and WP agreed to give him a chance to try for the provincial team.
He not only won a place in the WP squash team, but also a place at Wynberg Boys High — the almal mater of Rob Jordan, MD of Jordan & Co, who arranged for Asics to sponsor the youngster while he was still at school.
After matriculating, Leeuw won a sports bursary to study biomedical technology at the Cape Technikon, where he was selected for the SA Students Team (as well as playing for the Tech and WP).
Since 2004, Leeuw has been playing professionally in Germany. "The first six months were difficult as the Germans are not very friendly," he concedes, "but once I picked up some of the language, it became easier."
Apart from coaching at clubs, his international career has also taken off and he climbed from #302 in the WISPA rating in August 2006 to #140 in April 2007.
Leeuw spends half of the year in SA, playing the local circuit, where he is currently ranked #2 in the Western Province and #4 in SA. He makes sure that he meets his local commitments as he hopes to be selected to play for SA in the World Championships in Pakistan and the Commowealth Games.
His future ambition is to emulate Gunner Way by winning the SA title and to be ranked in the top 20 in the world. "In order to be successful one needs talent, hard work, commitment and a big heart," says Way. "Clinton has what it takes to get to the top."
Aug/ Sept 2009
Will water polo participation and performance get a boost if it is administered by a dedicated sporting federation, seperate from Swimming SA? NELLE DU TOIT looks at best practices around the world
Since its inception in 1908, FINA, the world’s governing body of aquatics, has provided a standard to the rules and regulations of aquatic sports such as swimming, diving, synchronised swimming, water polo and open water swimming under one federation.
As a result, many countries govern all aquatic-related sports under one federation. South Africa, the Netherlands, Montenegro and Germany, to name a few, are examples of countries who run water polo and swimming under the same governing body.
But, it is also not unusual to find that swimming and water polo are administered by different bodies. In fact, the water polo teams that performed the best at the 13th FINA World Aquatics Championships in Rome this year, are from countries with a strong independent water polo organisation.
The most prominent independent water polo associations are US Water Polo, Water Polo Canada, Australian Water Polo, Russia Water Polo, Water Polo Federation of Serbia, Croatian Water Polo Federation, Water Polo Federation of Serbia,Water Polo (Greece), Hungarian Water Polo Federation, New Zealand Water Polo, and Turkish Water Polo Federation. In addition, Italy, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Israel have their own separate water polo associations.
The top four teams at the 2009 FINA World Championship were.
And the men:
The US was the 2008 Beijing Olympic Silver Medalist for both the women’s and men’s water polo teams. As teams from Europe traditionally dominate the men’s side of the sport, America is the only non-European country to win medals at the Olympic games. The US women’s team are the reigning World Champions for the second consecutive time and the third time this decade.
Not only is America one of the strongest water polo countries, they cultivated some of the world’s greatest swimmers as well - think Micheal Phelps – and have been dominating the swimming medals tables. At this year’s FINA Aquatic Championships in Rome, the US again topped the medal table.
Could this dominance in both sports be attributed to the fact that they have two separate governing bodies. The US Water Polo association provides it’s members with training, educational resources, opportunities to compete and insurance. This association allows its members to benefit from membership at a local club, certified coaches and officials, Olympic training, water polo clinics, regional and national tournaments and cutting edge developments in sport science.
The Canadian women’s team this year came an extremely close second place at the July/August World Championships this year. Their men’s team came 8th . The Canadian Water Polo Association Inc (WPC) is a separate governing body from swimming in Canada with their own by-laws, code of conduct, apeals process, dispute resolution and discipline, anti-doping program and anti-discrimination and harrassment” policy.
The Montenegro and Croatian teams participated under the Yugoslavian flag till 1991, and Serbia participated under the Yugoslavian flag untill February 2003. These Eastern-European countries, as well as Hungary and Romania, have traditionally always been the dominating teams in men’s water polo. In 2000 Yugoslavia won the Bronze medal in the Olympic games and in 2004 Serbia and Montenegro won the Silver medal and in 2008 Serbia won the Bronze medal again.
Croatia formed the Croatian Water Polo Federation as soon as they gained their independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. The Croatian national swimming team has always been a strong contender as well and is organised by the Croatian Swimming Federation.
Having an independent governing body for water polo is, however, not a guarantee of success. The Netherlands women’s water polo team, Gold medal winner at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is an example: one organisation is in control of both swimming and water polo. This year the Netherlands women’s water polo team achieved 5th place in the 13th FINA World Chapmionship.
The Netherlands has always had a strong women’s water polo team and during the 1980’s and 1990’s they were considered one of the leading teams in the world. The tradition of women’s water polo in the Netherlands stems as far back as the early 1900’s. They have also produced strong swimmers.
Germany, which have also actively participated in water polo since the 1900’s, is also governed by a single organisation in charge of swimming and water polo. The German women’s water polo team this year came 10th and the German men’s team 6th. Traditionally, the Germans have also been quite strong in swimming, with Britta Steffen currently breaking records for them.
But, why would it make a difference if water polo is administered by an organisation separate from swimming?
It does not take a sports scientist to realise that swimming and water polo are two vastly different sports. For one, water polo is a team sport and requires good ball handling skills. The pool in which water polo events should be held does not have the same dimensions as a competitive swimming pool - it must, for example, be a minimum of 1.8m deep to ensure that no player touches the bottom of the pool during play.
Using the sides of the pool during water polo constitutes a foul, whereas the starting kick-off in swimming is a determining factor in eventual success. It is necessary for water polo players to be fit and able swimmers - but swimmers ned not be fit and able water polo players.
The style of swimming used during water polo is also vastly different to the style swimmers would use – water polo players keep their heads out of water at all times to observe the field, the arm stroke used is also a lot shorter and quicker and is used to protect the ball at all times. Water polo backstroke (used by defending field players to track advancing attackers and by the goalie to track the ball after passing) differs from swimming backstroke as the player sits almost upright in the water.
The cap used by water polo players is different to that used by swimmers – and their swimwear also differs.
In fact, the only thing water polo and swimming have in common is that they are both played in a pool. To quote Steve Douglas from a 2008 Sports Trader article on water polo “… Just because rugby and soccer are both played on grass and with a ball, should we do away with SAFA and allow SARU to run soccer as well? Of course not.”
Swimming and water polo both have a very long heritage. Swimming has been an Olympic sport since 1896 and in 1900 water polo became the first team sport admitted to the Olympic Games.
The problem with having one federation arises in countries where swimming has a stronger tradition than water polo - often leading to the latter recieving less promotional and developmental attention than the other - and vice versa. In SA, swimming is the undisputed leading aquatic sport that has traditionally been one of the main medal winning codes at the Olympics.
Women only started playing water polo in SA in the late nineties, and apart from this year’s 16th place at the FINA World Aquatics, their previous international exposure was in the Commonwealth Games (in 2006), where they came 4th.
SA men’s water polo team has only qualified to participate in the 1952 and 1960 Olympics. At the World Aquatics Championships, which FINA founded in 1973, SA’s men came 15th in 1994 and 2005 and 2009; and 14th in 1998 and 2007.
This means that they are ranked among the best in the world – and are the undisputed African champions. During the African qualifying leg for the FINA World Championships they clocked the second highest score ever to be recorded in water polo when they beat Libya 60-0. Since international matches last 32 minutes SA had to score a goal every 32 seconds. They compounded this massive success with victories over Morrocco (22-3 and 32-6), Libya (42-0) and Algeria (25-6 and 34-2). Not bad, when compared to a sport like soccer!
Yet, these victories are overshadowed by performances by swimmers.
The importance of having an association dedicated solely to the advancement water polo, would be that the association then takes full responsibility for the promotion and marketing of the sport, for the legislation and regulation of the sport and competitions, training and national representation, development of proper facilities and the staging of national water polo championships. Also, that association will be held accountable for financial and organisational management of water polo.
WHILE SA celebrated the four medals and two world records by our swimmers at the recent 13th FINA World Championships in Rome, the fact that two SA water polo teams had qualified to compete in the World Championships was hardly noticed. Nor was there much comment about the fact that at the time of going to press, two SA junior water polo teams were competing in the FINA world junior championships in Croatia (men) and Russia (women).
But then, water polo players would tell you that being ignored is nothing new.
There are currently 2 000 registered senior and 5 000 school water polo players. The number of league-level participants are growing steadily, especially at school level, says Guy Pinker, an international referee and the water polo representative at Swimming SA. It is estimated that about 20 000–25 000 unregistered people play water polo.
It is not a massive participation sport, but, compared to the 11 000 swimmers that were last year registered with Swimming SA, the number of 7 000 registered water polo players is quite substantial.
One of the major challenges to growing the sport, says Pinker, is “incorporating the youth across all demographics”. A business plan has been submitted to Swimming SA to grow water polo amongst the youth, especially in disadvantaged areas, but it has not yet been adopted.
Nothing should make suppliers and retailers of water polo equipment happier than the thought that a vast pool of new participants will be entering the sport through transformation plans. But, instead of growing the number of participants, the thorny transformation issue has caused such dunking in water polo circles during the last few years that the debate about transformation in rugby sounds like friendly banter in comparison.
At issue is the Swimming SA rule that every team must have at least one black member — and a black manager. It came to a head when Western Province was barred from competing in the schools water polo championship finals in 2007 because they did not conform to the quota. When Gauteng was declared the winners, they refused to accept their medals as they did not consider the team that was promoted from last place in the round Robin to meet them in the finals, as worthy opponents.
Any relatively small sport has difficulty finding a dedicated volunteer willing and able to take on the job of team manager — and often the team coach fulfills both jobs. Water polo teams have, however, been penalized when they arrive at a championship without a black manager.
While it certainly does not sound unreasonable to have one black team member amongst 13 — and there are several black water polo players who get selected on merit — the problem arises when there is a shortage of black players at all age group levels in a particular province.
Swimming SA has battled to meet their own target of 200 elite black swimmers training at the hpc as part of their athlete development programme, and Thabang Moeketsane has been quoted as saying he is now tired of being the only black swimmer comepting at international level. While talented swimmers can be fast-tracked and relocated to train at the hpc in Pretoria, a team sport like water polo is area-bound.
Water polo is a sport requiring specialized skills and temperament — and a pool where you can practice regularly.
Most white SA children (used to) grow up with a pool at home, or at a friend’s house, but few black children enjoy this privilege. It is therefore safe to assume that most of the 1.5-m private pools (as estimated by a commercial swimming pool care company) in SA are in predominantly white areas. While most former Model C schools have pools, few in underprivileged areas have. Without a pool to train, young people will take up one of the many other sporting codes vying for their attention, especially with soccer fever growing.
The Swimming SA business plan for 2004-2008 made provision for the upgrading of facilities for aquatic sport in previously disadvantaged areas. Provision was made for the upgrading of a total of 55 pools over the five years: 13 in Gauteng, 9 in KwaZulu-Natal, 9 in the Western Cape, 9 in the Eastern Cape, 6 in the Free State, 4 in the Northern Cape, 4 in Mpumalanga, 1 in the Northwest and 1 in Limpopo. In that period, the responsibility for sport facilities was, however, transferred from Sport & Recreation SA to municipalities — and because municipalities have such a long queue of other priorities requiring funding and attention, sport facilities are often bumped to the back.
The water polo fraternity is obviously keen to grow their sport and promote it at all levels. Yet, they have to share the (already scarce) resources of Swimming SA with diving, synchronised swimming, open water swimming and, of course, swimming — which includes elite athlete development and Learn to Swim. (See competition allocation budget)
No wonder so many in the water polo fraternity agree with the sentiments of Pat Wiltshire (distributor of the official game ball of the Olympic Games, MIKASA): “unfortunately swimming is the main focus of Swimming SA and in our view waterpolo is a distant afterthought. We believe that the sport needs independence and administration by individuals that are passionate about the sport and about it’s future. We feel water polo needs to be governed and run by its own elected officials who have the commitment and vision to grow the sport from grass roots level through the school years and on to provincial and national league level.”
SSA Competition budget
Source: Swimming SA Business Plan 2005-2008
BEVAN FRANK learns about conflicting schools of thought when it comes to the world of darts
Worldwide darts is breaking out of the pub game mould and is gaining recognition as a sport. Just as in other sporting codes about a decade ago, a heated debate is now being waged on whether darts should remain an amateur sport or embrace professionalism. The SA dart world is divided: the amateur and the professional camps both believe that their way is the right way forward for the future of darts.
The growth of professionalism
The Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) was initially formed after 16 top professional players, along with their managers, decided to break away from the British Darts Organisation (BDO) and the World Darts Council (WDC) in January 1992.
The two organisations have since resolved their differences and will stage a combined Grand Slam tournament from this year.
Since 2001 a specialist team, headed by top promoter Barry Hearn, have been running the PDC. "Hearn has done wonders for the sport through exposure on TV," says Harrows Darts president Robert Pringle. "He offers TV stations a package deal, consisting of a whole stable of diverse sporting events like fishing, boxing, darts, etc. They have to take the whole package if they want to televise one specific event. That led to the growth of darts in countries like China, where it was unknown before."
The televised tournaments have had the further benefit of establishing darts as a proper sport — resulting in sales of higher end products as people strive to improve their game. "The professional tournaments have given credibility to darts as sport and increased its profile," says Pringle. "People who watch see how much fun it is and want to start playing."
Worldwide, professional darts has grown considerably and there are currently 28 Pro Tour events in the world where players compete for £2.5-m in prizes.
Five ranking tournaments are staged live on Sky Sports each year, broadcasting to a global audience of more than 300-m viewers, and 2005 saw the introduction of the successful Premier League where crowds of 4000-5000 weekly fill UK arenas to cheer on their favourite amongst the top seven players competing in one of ten different towns.
PDC in SA
At the first professional tournament in SA, the Emperor’s Palace Masters held in Johannesburg in September last year, players competed for R225 000 in prize money.
This was the biggest prize fund in SA darts history and the winner, Wynand Havenga, got the opportunity to play in the Ladbrokes.com World Darts Championship in the UK, the biggest darts tournament in the world. This tournament, sponsored by Unicorn, will this year have a purse of £2.5-m.
Havenga surprised everyone by reaching the final 16 — and beating the 2005 runner-up, Peter Manley, in the process. This earned him R68 000 in prize money, in addition to the prizes worth R75 000 he won at the SA Masters.
Conflict in SA
There is, however, a rift between Darts SA and the PDC.
"I am still trying to get Darts SA on board with our goals of making darts the 4th biggest sport in our country," says Jon McGowan, the SA representative of the PDC.
"The main goal we have at the moment is to establish the SA Masters tournament as an annual event with a prize fund of R250 000, and the PDC have the infrastructure to help us achieve all goals," he says. "From there, we wish to have at least four tournaments a year televised, following that, we will introduce a televised premier league, and eventually we will have a pro circuit.
"The top players would be able to make enough money to play professionally by travelling around the country to the competitions, as well as do marketing and promotional work to help grow the sport."
But, according to Graham Stark, president of Darts SA, overseas intrusions have the potential to divide the sport as it was divided in the Apartheid era.
"It is my view that a clear distinction should be drawn between professional and non-professional organisations, as well as professional and non-professional players, and that there be no inter-playing allowed between the two, other than in mutually agreed tournaments."
The stance of Darts SA is that players who participate in tournaments of a professional body, or any other body not endorsed by Darts SA, will not be eligible for selection for the Protea teams.
"This may change in future, when all dynamics have been worked out and agreed upon," Stark explains.
"Our national championships will be played in Cape Town in July and we would welcome a sponsor for this event. The Protea teams that will compete at the World Cup in the Netherlands will be selected at the championships."
Stark points out that when one subscribes to membership of any sport organisation, one is expected to adhere to, and uphold, the constitution and other rules of the organisation. It is also not unreasonable to expect members to be loyal to the organisation, he says.
"Members who play in events not endorsed by Darts SA are effectively guilty of misconduct," says Stark. "Despite this, it is my view that we cannot just wish professionalism away. We have to find a way to reconcile our organisation with players who choose the professional avenue. I believe that if you cannot slay the beast, you can try to tame it."
Stark believes that while consensus is sought regarding the place of professionalism in SA darts, members should abide by the rules and be loyal to Darts SA as it is the national controlling authority for the sport.
"We offer our members the highest honour in any sport, namely selection for the national team, the Proteas." Thus all players who go the professional route will not be officially recognised with SA colours.
As far as professionalism goes, The SA Masters will again be held later this year, offering SA darts players the chance to compete for a purse of R225 000. The winner will compete against the 32 top ranked players in the world in the Ladbrokes.com World Darts Championship, with a minimum prize fund of £3 500, even if he or she fall out in the first round.
"This is a very exciting time for darts in SA," says McGowan.
The PDC plans to stage at least four televised provincial tournaments a year in future and the winners of each tournament will automatically qualify for the staged event at the Masters.
"Our main goal is to establish a pro circuit in South Africa," McGowan states. "There are no limitations as to how far we can go, and with the PDC as our foundation, the world is our oyster."
Stark believes that Darts in SA has a bright future. "The sport offers members the opportunity to spend their leisure time constructively and productively. It provides competition as well as time to socialise.
"However, if we cannot alleviate the financial plight of the member, then the sport will suffer as is indicated by the present decline in membership. A person who cannot support his family financially, cannot be expected to play any sport where he has to pay financial dues," says Stark. "Sponsorship can relieve such circumstances."
Darts SA currently has one sponsor, Winmau, supplied by Sportsmans Warehouse.
McGowan believes that darts is bigger than any man, player or political point of view. "We can only hope that one day we can all unite, until then, we must all do what we can to benefit the sport. If we leave it up to fate, the chances are our sport will die. Thus far, the PDC have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have the winning formula to take darts to the next generation of players and beyond."
But, according to Stark "any rift between parties is easily reconcilable if all parties display a willingness to seek solutions together, instead of just forging ahead with an agenda that is in conflict with the constitution and rules that govern our sport."
Darts becomes a world sport
The sun does nowadays set over the British Empire, and if Edward Lowy, owner of Unicorn, and his fellow PDC supporters have their way, it will be setting over a darts tournament being played somewhere in the world.
The British are again moving into markets across the world, this time armed with darts. Aided by the power of TV, they are getting the rest of the world to adopt the sport. "Sky TV broadcasts the Premier League every Thursday night from the end of February till May, where the top 8 players in the world each play twice in a course of events," says Edward Lowy of PDC sponsor Unicorn.
"The events are completely sold out, we can sell the number of tickets twice over. And many of the audience members are young — for them its a fun, noisy night out."
Darts players from more and more countries nowadays get the opportunity to compete in local tournaments that will qualify the winners to compete in the lucrative Ladbroke.com World Championship.
In the US, the Las Vegas Desert Classic was introduced in 2002 and the US Open in 2006; in the Netherlands current World Champion Raymond van Barreveld has been winning the Antwerp Darts Trophy since 2003; China’ first Pro tournament was held in 2004; in SA the SA Masters was introduced last year at Emperor’ Palace and Australia will stage their first pro tournament this year.
Although there is a pro darts tournament in China, the sport is still relatively unknown to the country’s 1.3-bn people. Lowy set about to remedy it at the ispo China Show in Beijing with exhibitions from World Champion John Part and arranging mini-tournaments that had the visitors queuing for a chance to win a prize.
Lowy has been told by many consumers that they want a higher quality dart, but are unable to buy it from retailers that think that only lower priced darts will sell. Where darts have been introduced at a higher price point, the good sales have surprised suppliers and retailers — even in SA.
"The darts player who wants something special, wants the Phil Taylor signature dart, irrespective of the price point," he says.
This was one of the facts Lowy learnt when he joined dart forums on the internet, where he was not only able to dispel myths being spread, but also found out what was bothering players about Unicorn darts — and then won customers by adapting ranges to incorporate suggestions made in the forums.
"The people on the internet were amazed: Unicorn actually listened to us and made the changes we asked! they said."
During the past year the squash world’s most famous luminaries visited SA, the world body held its AGM in Cape Town and the 8th World Masters Championship was held locally. All this attention has benefitted the local game as more players join and the level of local play improve with the top class competition. Therefore, expect squash sales to boom, reports FANIE HEYNS
Jahangir Khan, Peter Nicol or Sarah Fitz-Gerald are not the only ones to blame. Yet, if the growth of South African squash was a crime, the three former world champions might have been convicted of changing the hearts and the minds of the South African sporting public and contributing to a movement that could only have lured disciples away from the state religion, soccer, and the temple god, rugby... it is not too late to notify the Scorpions and stop this squash-defection!
The visits of Khan, Nicol and Fitz-Gerald in 2006 to SA, as well as the annual general meeting of the World Federation in Cape Town and the eighth World masters championships, also under the shadow of Table Mountain, have benefited squash and contributed to its growth in South Africa.
"These visits and international events definitely had a positive influence on squash in SA," says Ilse van Buynder, national director of Squash SA.
"There were more squash-related articles in the media and more exposure on radio. It had all the players talking. It also inspired the juniors to new heights."
The motivating factor was evident when the players competed at the Women’s World Team Championships in 2006. The women, ranked 12th, ended 6th.
Within months, Tenille Swartz moved from 134th to 43rd on the world rankings of the Women’s International Squash Professional Association (WISPA) circuit.
Squash South Africa had 21 juniors participating in the British and Scottish Junior Championships. Rudi Willemse lost in the final of the Scottish tournament and in the semi-final of the British tournament.
Currently, Swartz, Clinton Leeu, Stephen Coppinger, Richard Colburn and Gary Wheadon are competing on the WISPA and Professional Squash Association circuits, said Van Buynder.
It is encouraging, and also a revelation, for during the past ten years, Rodney Durbach was mostly the only South African shining light in the professional arena.
Peter Nicol was the world’s highest-ranked player for 60 months. He won 1 World Open-title and 2 British Open-titles, as well as four Commonwealth Games gold medals. In April, he went on a four day promotional campaign, visiting Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town with the local distributors Leisure Holdings SA, in association with Squash South Africa.
The English legend challenged Craig Wapnick and Craig van der Wath in Johannesburg. In Pretoria he competed in matches against Richard Colburn and Craig van der Wath, while Rodney Durbach and Gary Wheadon tested his skills in Cape Town. Nicol was a special guest on the program Super Saturday on SuperSport, Morning Live on SABC and also did three radio-interviews.
He also conducted some coaching master classes for juniors in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria.
"His visit created huge enthusiasm, and everywhere he went, all the tickets (for his challenge matches) were sold out," said Van Buynder. "I know that the Prince O3-racket that he played with, was sold out in all the shops, and Leisure Holdings simply ran out of stock.
"Nicol is a special athlete — a good example for everybody with his fluent movements. He is a magician with a racquet. He also inspires everybody because he is well-mannered, is committed and his attitude towards squash and life is exemplary."
South Africa hosted the World Masters squash championships in October 2006.
In all, 677 players from 33 countries participated. Five South Africans won gold medals, Craig van der Wath (40 to 44 year old), Angie Clifton-Parks (40-44), Mike Tootill (35-39), Janet van der Westhuizen (45-49) and Peter Fahrenheim (75 years and older).
Glenda Erasmus (65 years plus) and Vivienne Doeg grabbed silver, while bronze-medalists Jonathan Leeb (40-44), Gary Fourie (45-49), Peter Stephens (50-54), Alan Colburn (55-59), Nick Pebnstone/Des Schultz (60-64), Brian Heath (65-69), Alex Hamilton/Terry Christy (75+), Sharon Wakeford (35-39), Sharon le Roux (40-44), Margie Hunt-Kemp (55-59), Jean Grainger/Lix Pratten (60-64) and Dawn Kaiser (65+) completed SA’s successful quest for medals.
The 36th annual general meeting of the World Squash Federation at the Cape Town International Federation Centre focused on taking the sport to the next level.
Sixty five representatives from thirty international countries were gathered for the conference.
Newcomers like Iran, Qatar, Norway and Chinese Taipei attended.
Jahangir Khan, long considered the world’s greatest-ever player, was re-elected as president of the World Squash Federation at the conference. Khan went unbeaten for 555 consecutive matches and won 6 World Opens and 10 British Opens. When another Khan, Jansher, emerged and dominated Jahangir for a while, the older statesman rallied to win 11 out of their next 15 encounters.
Discussing the conference, Van Buynder said Squash SA acknowledged that it had to compete internationally more regularly and had to host more PSA- and WISPA-events to ensure more exposure.
"We also have to exploit more new technology to our advantage, like a glass court with glass floor panels, like that introduced by Horst Babinsky.
"But the reality is that we are in need of sponsorships to host such big events. We expressed the view to the WSF that the currency plays an enormous role and that is why we currently cannot host big tournaments.
"The registration money to host tournaments on behalf of WISPA or PSA, amounts to thousands of rand and one has to provide accommodation for the qualifying players. But Squash SA is very positive. Hopefully we all will see an international event on South African soil in 2007," says Van Buynder.
The new glass court is a wonderful concept, yet moving and assembling this modern technology at show-venues, is astronomically expensive, according to the national director.
Bermuda will host the World Open championships for men and women in 2007. Swartz will represent South Africa, and Van Buynder hopes she will excel.
The 19-year old Swartz is a committed athlete, and extremely talented. In November last year she beat the Italian Manuela Manetta, 35th on the world rankings, to win the international Meersquash Open.
One of Swartz’s privileges in 2006 was to compete in a challenge match against the legendary Australian Sarah Fitz-Gerald, arguably one of the four greatest-ever squash players in the world.
The young Free State-champion’s big scalp in 2006, was the Kiwi Shelly Kitchen. Kitchen was ranked 12th in the world when Swartz beat her.
WISPA crowned Swartz as young player of the year at the end of 2006.
"Tenille is a wonderful example and inspiration for junior women. She is surely a role model and ambassador for SA.
"The massive contribution of the Lottery enabled us to host the test series against the Netherlands in 2006, as well as our participation in the World Doubles championships and the Commonwealth Games in March, have given opportunities to our young generation," says Van Buynder.
Steve Gallienne, director of Dunslaz Distributorship, one of the official sponsors of Squash SA, says Van Buynder has done wonderful work for the development of squash over the past four years.
"She has taken the game to a new level and has generated more cash as well as game-time for the sport on TV."
The visit of Nicol as well as hosting the 8th World Masters squash championship did much to enhance of squash in South Africa. So did the presence of Fitz-Gerald. The Australian player endorses Dunlop, the official racquet of the PSA.
"While she was in SA, she did much for brand sales, and assisted in reaffirming its position as the leader. While she was playing or socializing, she promoted the brand 110%," says Gallienne. "A key to improved sales would be the marketing behind the individuals who represent a specific brand."
The former winner of five World Open-titles attracted many more spectators while she was participating at the world masters-event in Cape Town.
According to Gallienne Dunslaz witnessed a growth in squash products in 2006. One of the greatest increases has been in the growth of premium frames. "We have seen a nice improvement in the sales of these frames. It is seen as tactical moves by players to enhance their play by acquiring a frame that will offer more feel and control and could benefit their performances," he says.
Yet, for all the positives, the down side is that there is no real squash-specific sport magazine in South Africa.
While the World Masters championship was being played in Cape Town, many members of the general public were unaware of the event.
"There was no real advertisement campaign in Cape Town, no or little radio coverage. A lot of money is needed to have a marketing drive and TV-coverage.
"The South African Open tennis tournament in Durban is a case in point. You hear a bit about the event on the radio, but not an intensive advertisement campaign. It is simply because the federations do not have the money to blow R200 000 on a media-campaign that will publicize the event," adds Gallienne.
Van Buynder’s vision is to host a World Open for men and women at Sun City. She would require R5-m to R6-m to fulfill that dream. With the growing squash-interest in SA, anything is possible.
Soccer stars in their eyes
|Team SA previous Olympic medals|
|Swimming||Gold & Silver x 2||Silver, Bronze||Gold, Bronze|
|Athletics||Silver x 2||Gold, Silver, Bronze||Silver & Bronze x 2||Silver|
Shaun Rubenstein is one of SAs medal hopefuls in Beijing. If you have just arrived from an extended visit to Mars or have been living in the Namib Desert without internet-connections, you might ask: Shaun Who? For those: Rubenstein won gold in the K1 event at the World Championships in 2006 and with Shaun Biggs, won silver in the K2 event.
The technical apparel for Rubenstein, as well as the K4 women’s team of Michele Eray, Nikki Mocke, Jen Hodson and Carol Joyce are sponsored by Helly Hansen. Recently, Jen Hodson also qualified for the women’s K1 500m event.
“Helly Hansen is the foremost brand in the paddling marketplace internationally — in any water sport internationally,” says Rebecca Laird of local supplier Texas Peak.
“Helly Hansen is tried and tested by this level of athlete worldwide and is the athlete’s racing garment of choice due to the technical advancements and unique features of the fabrics and garments,” adds Laird.
7: Amidst the uncertainty surrounding the survival of water polo in South Africa, manufacturers and distributors of water polo equipment and accessories are apparently all for the separation between Water Polo SA and SSA. Increased demands for gear across the country confirm the growth in popularity as well as the need to make a breakthrough.
SSA RESPONDS: Again, we cannot comment on the fictitious Water Polo SA. We would assume though that the increase in activity has a lot to do with increased media exposure leveraged by SSA.
PB: You expect to get, in return for funds, or product, some rights and association that can be used for your Brand’s commercial advantage.
GC: The word “Sponsorship” creates certain expectations and sounds like a handout. We prefer to talk of a “partnership”, which is a more business-like arrangement to the mutual benefit of the athlete, company and ultimately the retailer. Companies expect to get exposure and want the sponsored athletes’ to be loyal to the brand. In SA we do not seem to expect the same level of active involvement from our athletes as abroad. Sponsors need to educate athletes and discuss with them what their expectations are.
PB: The problem is that one spends all that money, but the consumer is still not aware of what brand the athletes are wearing…
GC: …except the youth, who are very brand conscious.
TB: The Springbok jersey is an interesting example — the Springbok is the brand … irrespective of whose logo appears on it, the jersey will sell. But, on the other hand, NIKE gets brand exposure on TV by 15 people wearing the swoosh for the duration of a match, getting their branding message across.
TVB: It’s horses for courses – depending on how well the sport is organized, whether you are going to build brand awareness or generate sales.
GC: Brand extension is important, but in the final analysis the bottom line is performance. What does a company actually get out of a sponsorship?
GC: You expect to get out as much as you put in! There are stumbling blocks, like the lack of understanding of a brand’s culture and values by an athlete. Top athletes have limited time to build an image and when they have to travel a lot, you have limited time to use them. It may also happen that a brand chooses the wrong athlete, or choose an athlete for the wrong reasons — for instance, signing someone to prevent other companies from doing so. “Money grabbing agents” are also an industry concern.
PB: It really depends on how much effort YOU put into the sponsorship. Unfortunately, in SA there is still very little professionalism in the “minor” sports. It varies from individual to individual, and from team to team how much you get out of it. But, having a number of swimmers based in the States really does not work. Speedo has had a monopoly in the swimming market for more than 10 years, but there is no doubt in my mind that the buyers do not know how many medals Speedo swimmers have won.
TB: We found that it does affect sales, though: people do ask for the brand. Speedo is in the enviable position that it is perceived to “own” a sport… and the public bought into it.
PB: We do run product clinics, but it is difficult to get access to buyers. They are often too busy to attend our product clinics … we have to find a way to link retail to sponsorship and synergise the money that is spent.
TB: I believe that the greatest benefit is derived from top international sponsorships — it is not relevant to sponsor everyone. Everyone knows what brand Anna Kournikova represents… but who know what Jacques Kallis wears?
TVB: It is not a static process — two years ago Hansie Cronje was a fantastic product. Now... But I believe the question was: does sponsorship work. There is no question about it, of course it works — maybe the problem is just that in SA we have limited disposable income.
TB: Athletes like Anna Kournikova and Tiger Woods do a lot of work for their sponsors, but many local athletes are not expected to do more than just wear the sponsored clothing. An icon like Bob Skinstad, could do much more to promote his sponsor (adidas). Athletes like Anna Kournikova and Tiger Woods do a lot of work for their sponsors, but many local athletes are not expected to do more than just wear the sponsored clothing. An icon like Bob Skinstad, could do much more to promote his sponsor (adidas). Perhaps brands should allocate more money to less athletes who promote the brand more effectively and therefore help to sell more product. If an athlete is not going to sell products — why bother with him or her? Joe Bloggs in a team will not do anything for a product — but Bob Skinstad will. Identifying these athletes at a young age will be very important.
GC: Locally we also have to provide for developmental funding, which is an important part of the mix.Core athletes should have a charitable link … Hansie was very good in this respect, he gave a percentage of his earnings to charity. That sort of thing fits in with our brand image.
PB: You can never predict what kind of publicity an athlete will get… sometimes something out of the blue will happen to generate a lot of publicity, like the accident and recovery of Natalie du Toit. Then again, one can spend a lot of money and nothing happens. How do sponsors measure the exposure they receive from a certain sponsorship?
TVB: Sponsorship hinges on performance… brands should measure the exposure time on TV.
TB: When a range of clothing is directly linked to a sponsorship, you can measure the worth directly through sales.
TVB: The right athlete will generate more money and exposure than a TV ad … how much money must Speedo spend to run an ad campaign, and how much do they spend on swimmers? You get much more through spending on athletes.
PB: Numerous companies have approached us to measure our publicity on TV — but in the end, it depends on how much control you have over what is broadcast.
GC: Developing licensed products are important as there is a measurable return on the investment. Incidental exposure outside sport can also do a lot to promote a brand... adidas has used personnel in Hollywood for product placement on key entertainers.
TB: Big Brother was a great opportunity outside sport for placement of products… Is it necessary for a brand to be associated only with sport?
TVB: Consumers usually identify a brand with a specific sport. Asics, for example, is “stuck” in the road running category, Gunn & Moore is not going to sell apparel.
PB: Once consumers identify a brand with a product, it is difficult to get them to accept that you have other products. There has been some resistance, for instance, to accepting Speedo’s board shorts. Women are, however, more inclined to move to other products like fashion and road running, than men.
TB: Some brands can only sell specific products as that is where their credibility lies.
PB: But, does it really make such a difference that a brand sponsors a sport? Speedo took Penny Heyns on a road show after the Atlanta Olympics and she met the staff at retail outlets all over the country. They thought it was great… but 6 months later, they’ve all left. The high staff turnover negates all the effort you put in.
TB: Buyers only respond to sales and trends — not to how much they like a brand or athlete. If they once bought too much of a line that did not sell, they will never repeat the mistake.
PB: Does it give you an edge if you push a brand and invest a lot of money in promotion?
TB: A retailer will not support a brand because the distributors spends money … we look at factors like last year’s sales. How does it do internationally? Do the customers want it? Things happen because consumers want a certain product, it is a question of profit. But, without sponsorship and investment, a brand will not become desirable. A small brand or company has to sponsor a sport or top athlete to be taken seriously. Sometimes events will influence buying. For instance, the Soccer World Cup will result in us buying in a lot of soccer products because we know there will be a big demand for it. One must also be clear what constitutes the brand. For instance, the Stormers is the brand — not the company sponsoring them — unless you consider the Stormers as a billboard for advertising your brand
TVB: But then, the billboard needs to give intrinsic value … All Gold is not going to get as much mileage out of the Stormers as adidas.
TB: Everything that contributes to the success of a brand should be considered successful promotion.
TVB: Well, track and field is a high profile sport, with high impact, one would expect more promotions there.
GC: Sponsoring track events that take place in front of the Grand Stand and the TV cameras is OK … but sponsoring field events like discus does not provide the same exposure.
PBS: In a niche sport like swimming, where there are not many competitors, we do find that we have a lot of credibility with the buyers because we are closely associated with the sport. The buyers listen to us and believe what we say … how do you put a value to that?
TVB: On the other hand, administrators of a sport see how much money is spent on participants — and they ask questions like: how come the company spends so much money on athletes and we can not even afford a CEO? Partnerships create loyalty – and we need federations to buy into this. Direct investments are necessary to keep sport alive.
PB: Brand building comes before selling the product. We have about a 50/50 advertising and sponsorship spend. The key word is partnerships.
GC: But it needs to be long-term. You can not achieve much in a single year.
TB: Players who are only in it for the money, can damage a brand. Sponsorship only works through people who can drive a product and build a brand image.
GC: People need to understand what you want to achieve — loyalty also means that the brand will stand by the athlete if he is injured. We used Chester (Williams) more when he was injured, because he then became more readily available. The same with Skinstad. They knew that they could count on us to keep on paying them despite being injured.
TVB: I don’t like the word sponsorship — you are not given something for nothing. You want a return on investment, and there is a duty on the athlete to perform.
GC: Brands are at fault too — how often do you not give a team some jerseys and boots and then get upset if they wear an unbranded tracksuit. The problem is, you must make it clear that you have certain expectations from the sponsored team. There is no such thing as a half sponsorship — you either do it properly, or not at all. You have to kit them out from tip to toe and you must make sure that they understand the brand properly.
TB: We sell more Manchester United shirts than Springbok jerseys... but that is because they wear Man United as a fashion item as well. An interesting example of a sponsorship that seems to work well is the number of black and white adidas T-shirts we sell in the Southern Suburbs of Johannesburg ... it can directly be linked to adidas’ sponsorship of Orlando Pirates. The fans buy the black and white T-shirts in the Pirates colors because they can’t afford the replica strips.
GC: The trend is towards niche branding. Soccer is big in SA — we place the products in store with high expectations for sales. But why has the netball market — the second biggest participation sport in SA — not been as successful in terms of sales? It is a huge sport, but it attracts no sponsorship.
TVB: Crowd support is very important and it has to be an appealing game to watch.
TVB: Sponsorship is misperceived in SA. There is a perception that there is big money in sport, but not so! I think we tend to overestimate the number of consumers. We are over-geared in terms of seats. Then we bargain on an event like the World Cup, to fulfill these expectations.
TB: Remember, it’s the black and white T-shirts that sell, not the player replicas. Sponsorship of a sport can work when you sign deals — for instance, Gilbert with rugby balls, or if you supply tennis balls or cricket balls to a federation. But with equipment like cricket bats, it is crucial to sponsor an athlete because the kids will pick the bat that their hero plays with.
TVB: If a player switches brands often, the consumer becomes confused about which brand he represents and the sponsorship does not work. It is not good for the athlete either. How can everyone work together to benefit from sponsorships?
PB: Sponsorship must be directly linked through the sport to both product and retailers. We all have budgets, but we do not synergise enough.
TB: The people who sponsor athletes do not do enough to promote sales with their top athletes. I’m not talking about signings in stores — that means you lose turnover for two hours and you also have the problem of shrinkage. But what about having Bobby (Skinstad) on a poster in the store window, wearing the latest range of clothing? That kind of exposure should be in his contract, because that will sell products.
GC: I believe we could work together if everyone understands what we need to achieve. We must move away from prostitution to professionalism. In the past, an athlete would have a beer with a mate, and the mate would ask: Do you have an agent? Next thing you know, he’s the agent. And that is where things go wrong. There should be a Code of Ethics for agents – or sports managers as I prefer to call them. Some people have become involved in ambush marketing, without any regard for the industry.
TVB: We have, for instance, strategized Jacques Kallis’ career way beyond 2003 — he has a lot more to offer than cricket, he has a media value way beyond sport.
GC: That is a classic example of how it should be done for everyone to benefit.
PB: The bottom line is that we HAVE to build better relationships between brand, retailer and the sport in order to maximize our joint sponsorship spend.
In times when consumers become reluctant to part with their cash, it takes some innovative thinking and brand building to ensure that when they do spend, they buy your product. The internet and all its chat rooms are where consumers are spending more and more of their time. There are, for example, a few hundred forums where pool and snooker and everything related, are discussed.
Good for the sport, not so good for a manufacturer or brand. Because in these chat rooms anyone is free to say whatever they like about a brand or products. There is clearly nothing that brand owners can beat, or control, and Unicorn Group MD Edward Lowy therefore went one better: he joined them.
By engaging with consumers in chat rooms, he can set the facts straight when uninformed views are expressed, can and also learn first hand if their are concerns with any of their products. He can therefore rectify problems — and win the respect of consumers — and also be one of the first to pick up on a new trend developing.
The world economy is a mess and the SA economy is in recession for the first time since 1992. The cost of living has increased tremendously and economic growth is slowing, impacting on jobs. As can be expected, this has lead to a change in lifestyle for consumers. Restaurateurs report that more potential customers prefer to entertain at home — and for many, entertaining often involves a game of pool.
The sport is better positioned than ever before, says All Africa Confederation of Cue Sport president, Peter Hawley. “Youngsters don’t want to go out any more, therefore families save to buy pool tables and play at home. In that way they practise their game, while having fun at home.”
Hawley, who is also the president of the All Africa Pool Association and the executive director of the World Pool Association, says the sport has shown steady and healthy growth on a competitive level over the last five years.
“I’d be lying if I said pool hasn’t been affected by the economic crisis — but the effect has not been very significant. The reason for this is that pool is one of the few sports that is really cheap to play.”
He continues: “The bulk of our players — at least 80%, if not more — come from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. Obviously, we have been affected by all the other issues that confront the world — like unemployment — but still the passion for the sport has not subsided.”
Hawley insists that pool is not a game but a lifestyle. “We are creating champions. We have four world champions in SA. Wetsi Morake from Soweto is the number one black ball pool player in the world. He clinched the title in Swaziland in August 2008. SA is also very well established in the sport internationally.”
As tough times continue to hit people’s wallets, it certainly does seem that sports like pool and snooker can be relied upon to generate sales for retailers.
A family would be much more likely to buy more cues and replenish accessories when they are playing more often, or entertain more friends at home, instead of going to the cinema or to clubs. They would also be more inclined to spend a little more on affordable, interesting accessories.
Cape Town based De Wet Sports, which imports Riemann pool and snooker accessories, reports that they experienced a 20% increase in the sale of accessories in the past year alone. “There were price increases, but still the trend is that more people are using pool equipment. Sales have definitely increased in the past year, compared to the last couple of years,” says Kevin De Wet.
De Wet doesn’t foresee any trouble for the cue sport market in the future — even if the recession takes deep root in the country. “I don’t think it will affect us that much. The economy has been bad for a while now, but the market is alive and well.”
The pool accessory market has generated good sales, agrees Andrew Wentzel of W.E.T. Sports. “We initially started carrying a small range to satisfy some of our clients’ needs, like some basic cues and a few accessories like chalk , tips and so on.
This has grown to include triangles , cue and black balls and cue racks to satisfy the growing demand, he says.
“We find that this is a good range to carry in winter as most people like to stay indoors — and it would seem that many people have their own pool tables.”
He believes that another reason for the growth in the market for pool and snooker accessories could be because more pubs now have pool tables and “their rate of attrition on cues is high.”
Stateside Pool’s Pankaj Sanghavee concurs that it’s business as usual. “We haven’t seen a drop in the sale of pool accessories. People are unemployed, but they still want to do something and therefore go and play pool.”
One would, however, expect that the sale of expensive items like pool tables would be affected by the economy. Yet, although table manufacturers have been affected somewhat, the damage is not all that bad, says Shahin Furmie of Shoot Games.
The spending bubble of two years ago when people splashed out on extra pool tables for their holiday homes and upgraded to newer, better R20 000 customised tables has however burst, says Glenda Babaya of Day Motion. “While there is still interest, the demand for luxury items has slowed.”
There have been a few turf wars between suppliers to the SA Tennis Association the past three years. Call it the battle of the balls, if you wish, or the ferocious arm wrestling about alleged "monopolistic practices."
Apart from this "fight" around ball sponsorship, there has also been a lively debate ranging within South African tennis circles about the question: should the suppliers of balls pay for the growth of tennis, or should suppliers of other products, like racquets or shoes, also make a financial contribution to SATA?
Suppliers of equipment for most sporting codes know that the honour of being selected as the "official equipment supplier" to the federation come at a hefty cost — in exchange for which the federation protects your status as their official sponsor and you are assured of good sales because your product is used exclusively in official tournaments.
Three years ago, SATA awarded a contract to Dunslaz Distributorship to be the exclusive SATA-approved ball supplier.
That decision was, however, overturned when Wilson lodged a complaint with the Competition Board that the wording in the contract excluded Wilson from competing on equal footing with Dunslaz in the official ball supplier-market.
"There was never a ruling by the Competition Board, but rather a settlement," says Johann Koorts, president of SATA. "The Board felt that the word ‘exclusive’ was not fair, and that SATA should rather have used the phrase ‘preferred ball’. That specific wording would have allowed Wilson entrance into the process."
"This year, we had a reverse situation: when SATA only signed an agreement with Wilson, Dunslaz Distributors approached the Competition Board about being excluded from the process. We had to reformulate our contract and we now have an agreement where a number of ball brands pay the same sanction fee and every one of those suppliers can exclusively supply the balls for an equal number of official SATA-sanctioned tournaments," says Koorts.
Initially, suppliers paid SATA 50c for every tennis ball sold, but currently, every tennis ball brand that have an agreement with SATA pay a set sanction or affiliation fee.
Steve Gallienne, director of Dunslaz Distributors, says that the brands Dunlop, Slazenger and Wilson each have 34 %, 33% and 33% access as sponsors and ball suppliers to SATA-sanctioned tournaments.
In essence it means that no balls of other suppliers should be used in SATA-sanctioned tournaments or club events — because if the ball of another company (even the event sponsor) is used in an official tournament, the points amassed at the tournament would be declared null and void.
"Say we currently have 45 tournaments and three suppliers are involved, we would divide that by three to use the balls of every supplier in 15 tournaments," says Koorts. He says that other suppliers who want to become sponsors of the tournament structure at the end of the next term in 2008 would be welcomed.
Gallienne explains that there are two options for affiliated ball suppliers. The first, or A-option, classify the ball brand as a "conforming ball". The ball can be used for play in league matches, but not in SATA tournaments.
The second, or B-option, costs more than double the A-option, and it affords a brand "conforming ball" status so that it can be used in leagues, but also in a certain number of allocated tournaments as per agreement with SATA.
"This decision to ask the ball suppliers to pay a sanction or affiliation fee, has resulted in an injection of cash into the coffers of SATA. But recently we have also invited the suppliers to negotiate with the provinces and to offer their sponsorships at regional level. It has added much to provincial tennis," says Koorts.
The stronger the federation and regional structures, the more resources are available to attract new participants and grow the sport.
But, since all suppliers and sellers of equipment for a sport benefit when that sport grows, Gallienne asks if it is fair that only one kind of equipment supplier — tennis balls — contributes to the coffers.
"What about the number of tennis shoes and other products that are sold? If the ball suppliers do not contribute to the growth of the sport, the sport will decline and shoe sales will also drop," he says.
Another supplier, who wishes not to be named, says they have actively supported the development of tennis in SA, and have sponsored some SA tennis athletes overseas. "Why then should we be paying twice for development of tennis?" he asks.
Brett Burnill of Leisure Holdings, SA distributor of Prince, says they opted not to pay the affiliation fee or levy for the simple reason that they did not derive any benefit from supplying balls for the tournaments. "We are not a significant enough player in the tennis ball market. In return we opted not to pay an increased ball affiliation fee."
Brad Summers of Wilson distributor The Golf Racket, however says that the levy was a good system implemented not only to assist SATA, but also to help grow the game of tennis. "It has always been our position that we will support any ball policy that helps better the game and is not detrimental to the Wilson brand. We firmly believe that it is in everyone’s interest to keep the sport strong," says Summers.
"Better organization, more leagues and tournaments lead to retailers and wholesalers selling more product. Wilson took SATA to the Competition Board for unfairly enforcing a sponsorship monopoly, not because we were not prepared to pay a levy. We feel that under Ian Smith’s leadership SATA has not only grown strong again, but tennis seems to be thriving," he adds.
But, says Gallienne: "We feel that we should support and respect the intentions of any governing body: the initial levy on the sale of tennis balls was instituted to help SATA to get back on their feet and functioning at a level where provinces etc. would regard them as a legitimate and strong association … something which they had been lacking for years due to weak structures.
"That credibility and legitimacy has now been restored — with the help of the funds raised through the ball levy. But there was no way that the levy was going to continue forever and unconditionally.
"Again, why should one product — tennis balls — be targeted when other suppliers to the same sport are profitting from the growth in the tennis industry, yet contribute nothing financially towards the game?" he asks.
SA tennis was plagued by political in-fighting and persistent rumors of an incompetent administration for a part of the 1990’s and the early part of the new millennium. Koorts, Smith (CEO of SATA) and the new executive board — introduced in 2002 — brought a new level of professionalism to the sport.
Under the guidance of Koorts and Smith, the sport has introduced a solid administration and a more unified executive board. It has established an excellent working relationship with the major ball suppliers as well as with the SA Lotto Board, interested sponsors and with the leading guiding body of men’s tennis, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).
Koorts says SATA is communicating on an almost weekly basis with the ATP. The ATP might decide to move the current date of the South African Open tournament from the second week of the Australian Open to late in February, if it so wishes.
The governing body is also restructuring the whole calendar and might decide to give the SA Open the status of one of the three compulsory 250-point category tournaments that the top-players in the world have to compete in come 2009.
If the ATP supports SATA by giving the SA Open this exalted status, SA tennis might revive the glory years of the 1970’s.
The reason for the growing interest in Pilates is because it has such wide appeal, explains Colleen Craig, a well known Canadian Pilates expert and author of Pilates on the Ball, the book on the method she pioneered (visit her website, www.pilatesontheball.com, for more information).
"Pilates appeals to those who do not wish to train in a gym-environment, but know they need to do exercise and make their muscles strong, to those who are older, and especially those who suffer from back pains," she said during a recent visit to SA to promote the Pilates techniques she developed, using huge inflated balls.
"Another reason Pilates is such a popular excercise technique is because it works most of your major muscles all at once — instead of you having to concentrate on one specific muscle, and risk the chance of neglecting another."
Pilates makes use of both weights — but the weights are smaller than those in the gym and used merely for resistance — and exercise balls for strength and resistance training.
The ball adds resistance to the workout, allowing for a more 3-dimensional workout regime where all the muscles are targeted. The ball is an unstable surface, which allows for balance training, and therefore recruits the muscles used in your body to stabilise you.
For example, if you are going to work on your biceps using Pilates, the trainer would also be concerned with your shoulder and neck muscles, and while working on the ball, you have to concentrate on your balance, which works your lower abdominal muscles.
In addition, the method is endorsed by professionals like doctors and chiropractors who refer patients to a Pilates trainer.
But, it is mostly ordinary people who have tried the exercises, experienced the benefits, who spread the word.
Part of the appeal of Pilates is that you do not need a gym or designated exercise period to benefit from it. There are several everyday uses for the Pilates ball that you might not be aware of. You can use the ball as a chair in the office to improve posture and to provide an overall workout, because it forces you to concentrate on how you are sitting and to maintain your balance.
In the US and Switzerland these balls are even used in certain schools, because studies have shown that children concentrate better when they are not slouching in their chairs, and it is quite difficult to slouch on a round object that can bounce out from under you.
Due to back fatigue, these balls cannot be used continuously during a work-day as a chair, but it has been noted that switching between your ball and a normal work chair can give you a quick pick-me-up during the day, which comes in quite useful.
However, there are chairs on the market that are essentially a Pilates ball with a back rest. These can be used through the day, because there is less stress on the back.
Although it is now tops of the pops, Pilates has been around for nearly a century. It was founded early in the 20th century by Joseph Pilates, born in 1880 in Düsseldorf, Germany. He was an excercise enthusiast, trained nurse, boxer and circus performer who developed Pilates while he was interned in the Isle of Man with other German nationals and Prisoners of War (POWs). He was especially interested in developing a form of exercise that can be done while bed-ridden, and subsequently developed the Pilates Reformer, a wooden bed-like structure still in use in various designs.
He called his method Contrology, which refers to the way the method encourages the use of the mind to control the muscles. It is an exercise program that focuses on the core postural muscles that help keep the body balanced and are essential to providing support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and alignment of the spine, and strengthen the deep torso muscles, which are important to help alleviate and prevent back pain.
He wrote at least two books about the Pilates method — Return to Life through Contrology and Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education.
Yoga is fast becoming THE fitness trend — even in ordinary fitness gyms.
"There is a growing interest amongst fitness trainers to be qualified as yoga-flex instructors," confirms Armand Botha, MD of the Bodyline Fitness Academy. "Students usually combine yoga-flex with Pilates."
There are now about 10-12 students who register for a yoga-flex course, which is about a 10% increase on previous years. "This is due to the focus on mind-body concepts, and in particular yoga, in consumer magazines," he says.
While yoga-flex teaches the safe yoga poses, with the emphasis on flexibility, increased muscle strength, improved posture and stress management, it is not yoga as most people know it.
Authentic yoga classes in all of the many styles available are also experiencing an influx of students. "The demand for yoga teachers who have completed a comprehensive training course has increased considerably," says Swami Yogasar of the Satyam Yoga School, which offers a 2-year training course for yoga teachers.
This demand for yoga teachers has been growing over the past 3-4 years, he says — and interestingly, especially amongst men who now constitute between 30-40% of the classes. There is also a growing trend in children joining yoga classes in order to improve concentration and to help balance hormones during puberty, he says.
Swami Yogasar attributes this growing interest in yoga to "a modern lifestyle that created a society that is overworked and experiencing a high level of stress. This is due to a competitive consumer based society that has eliminated the natural forms of work as an exercise to keep the body healthy and promote clarity of mind," he says.
"The aerobic exercise of the gym does not solve these issues. Yoga, on the other hand, creates a slow prolonged release of hormones and endomorphins that result in a feeling of calm and tranquility.
"People also realize that yoga is more efficient in treating specific health conditions, while aerobic exercise is basically limited to cardiovascular workout and tightening of the muscles that only increases the tension and general stress of the body."
There are currently about 60-80 different styles of Hatha Yoga, an ancient system of self development aimed at relieving stress that started in India about 6 000 years ago. Although there are so many different styles, all rely on teaching asanas (stretching exercises) and breathing based on the science of Hatha Yoga.
The number of South African badminton players have grown steadily the past few years, while squash boasts 529 000 adult participants and about 700 000 adult spectators, not even recording the fans supporting the 45 junior open and closed championships in the country annually.
Judging from the “State-of-the-sport-addresses” by Larry Keys, president of Badminton South Africa, and Liz Addison, chief executive officer of Squash SA, retailers could be performing well as there is enough interest in the sport.
There is one major problem, though...
South Africa’s leading indicator of economic growth, which predicts trends six to 12 months in advance, fell by a record 13,9% in November, as official data showed at the end of January.
The Reserve Bank’s composite leading business cycle indicator — compiled with data from surveys, local share prices and SA’s main trading partners — has been falling since April 2007, with the pace gathering momentum late in 2008, reported Business Day in January 2009.
Economic growth stuttered to 0,2% in the third quarter of 2008, its slowest pace in a decade, curbed by contractions in mining, retail and manufacturing.
No wonder that sports retailers were not too happy with the amount of money customers spent over the holiday season — which is supposed to give most retailers a comfortable cushion for the year.
According to the BMI Sport Info report, there are 529 000 adult participants in squash, of whom nearly 53% are social or casual players. There are about 700 000 adult spectator interested in squash, making it the 37th most popular sport in South Africa. Of them, 42% are black and 58% white, coloured and Asian.
There are 45 junior open and closed championships held countrywide annually, while 34 senior championships are contested every year.
The interest in squash at school level is stable. In Central Gauteng, for example, 36 schools are taking part in the Central Gauteng league, and even more schools are participating in Cape Town.
There are 270 clubs, representing about 1 500 courts, affiliated to Squash SA. In addition, a number of private people, including former provincial players, have their own courts. There are squash courts in numerous secure complexes in Johannesburg and around the rest of the country.
Hotels, holiday resorts, for example Sun City, a number of game lodges and even corporate companies have courts.
While all this indicates healthy growth in the interest in the game, Squash SA unfortunately has no idea how many players that represents, says Addison.
“But, there has definitely been a trend over the past few years of a swing away from structured league squash amongst senior players, and in particular women, in all areas. Country district areas have the added challenge of the distance needed to travel and safety at night,” says Addison.
Keys, president of Badminton SA, says at this stage there is no sign that the current economic slow-down has affected the popularity of badminton.
The South African membership increased by 13% from 2006 to 2007. “We have no finalized figures for 2008, but 80 % of our provinces have recorded increased membership, so it looks good.
“Our strength is in the schools. In 2008, we had 38 schools participating in our SA Schools tournament, which was a record. We estimated about 60 000 people are playing the sport, competitively and recreationally,” says Keys.
Five South Africans participated in badminton at the Beijing Olympics, while eight athletes are currently world ranked.
John Abrahams, of Shuttle Sports, distributor of Yonex, says the South African badminton market has performed steadily the past year. “At our major outlets sales of badminton products have increased nicely,” says Abrahams.
“Our sales of badminton units were almost identical in 2007 and 2008. In 2008, however, the sales of shuttlecocks increased by 14%, which is a positive sign. Players might hang on to their rackets a while longer, but they are using more shuttlecocks, which points to an increased activity in badminton,” he adds.
A few big chain groups mostly stock entry level rackets for the social players, while they might also make the odd racket at intermediary level available, he says.
Ronel Louw, owner of Baseline Runners, says the sales of squash rackets have dropped over the past two to three months. Normally, she has to replace a bundle of leading brand name rackets after two to three months – at one stage she sold about twelve rackets per brand per month, but in January she sold no rackets of some of the brands.
Also, customers currently prefer to buy the cheaper squash racket. They would opt for a R599-product instead of one with a price tag of R1 000.
There is, however, an increased demand for the repair and restringing of graphite rackets, she says. She has been selling a lot of squash socks, but not shoes, as her main supplier ran out of stock.
She does not sell badminton products, as she believes the activity level in her area has dropped dramatically the last few years, says Louw. “This sport was very popular at a stage, but that is no longer the case,” she adds.
Tony Jackson, owner of Tony Jackson sport, says squash and badminton sales account for about 30% of his turnover, with tennis providing the bulk of his business. The economic slow-down has affected his sales by about 10% over the past twelve months.
“Last year was an average year for trading. Turnover was pretty static and there were no excellent months. I find that squash players are not as faithful as tennis players. Therefore, they will buy wherever they are at the time when they need a racket. Badminton is very quiet in this part of the world,” says Jackson.
“Prices have just gone up (some by as much as 30%), so I cannot give any details of what to expect with the current slow-down. I think it will definitely affect our sales, but only time will tell,” he adds.
Ahmed Ayob of Ayob Sports, says excellent customer relationship and their ability to offer five star service, has enabled Ayob Sports to maintain steady growth in the sales of squash products. The sales of badminton in the Durban-area have declined a bit, though. “The government is not doing enough for this sport,” he says. “There is a market out there, but it has slowed down.”
In terms of squash products, the sales have remained steady for the past year. That is mainly due to the customer-relation policy of his company. “My dad has been in the business for 27 years. Our policy is that the customer is king. When a customer buys a product, we view it as an investment in his career.
“South Africa is a highly price conscious country and when players say he can only afford a racket costing R700 instead of R900, I usually let him play with the cheaper racket to see if that is what he wants. Sometimes he comes back and says he would rather take the upgrade.
“Generally, it is true to say that we have maintained our sales over the past twelve months,” adds Ayob.
Anton Klopper, director of Kloppers Sport in Bloemfontein, says he recorded strong and dramatic growth of squash products the past year. That is partially because of a thriving schools market in Bloemfontein. Grey College boasts the fifth or sixth best team at schools level in the country, while St. Andrews has the second best schools team in SA. As a result, squash as a competitive and social sport is healthy and thriving.
“The tendency in this unfavourable economic climate is that players buy the cheaper rackets. Aluminium rackets are by far the best selling, followed by cheaper composite rackets. That part of the squash market has grown a lot. The top-end market has shown a drop, but is not totally dead. The top-end market in badminton has dropped, though.
“The squash and badminton shoe market have shown the same tendency: the cheaper shoes of all the brands are selling the best,” said Klopper.
Although the cheaper badminton rackets and shoes are selling well, there has been a drop in the general interest in the sport, he believes. At one stage, in the years after 1995, badminton grew strongly, but currently there is a drop in interest, Klopper believes.
Yonex made history at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games when all 24 badminton medals were won by players contracted to them. The medal-winning teams China (8 medals, 3 gold), Korea (3 medals, 1 gold), Indonesia (3 medals, 1 gold) and Malaysia (1 silver) are all sponsored by Yonex, the Japanese brand founded by Minoru Yoneyama in 1946.
Since their first branded racket was launched in 1961, Yonex have been a market leader in badminton – a sport that enjoys huge support in Asian countries.
For the new season, their SA distributor, Shuttle Sports, will not only be introducing several new rackets and technologies in the SA market, but also the first racket specifically designed for women.
The Arcsaber 10 nanoscience racket, featuring their new CS Carbon Nanotube structural fabric in the frame, offers more impact power as it absorbs and harnesses the energy created upon impact with the shuttle, and then explosively transfers it into a powerful return shot. Resembling a stack of multi-layered cups, the CS Carbon Nanotubes provide increased durability and improved flexibility, allowing the frame to return back to its original shape faster. By positioning the “Cup-stack Carbon Nanotube” technology at the sides of the racket, the frame elasticallly “holds” the shuttle on the string, which provides better control at the point of impact.
The Super HMG (high modulus graphite) outer frame produces high repulsion power, while the strong UltraPEF (ultra poly ethylene fiber) shaft has high shock absorption, yet is light enough to float on water. The racket also features a new grommet system and an Isometric Square Head shape, which equalizes the length of main and cross strings in the stringbed, enlarging the sweetspot for more consistent accuracy. The new built-in T-Joint is manufactured from an epoxy resin material that enhances the level of quality and performance by increasing the stability of the shuttle on the string bed and through the air. The Control Support cap is now thinner to reduce air friction, whilst still providing an area for racket control, allowing for maximum manoeuvrability.
The Nanospeed 9000 Type X nanoscience racket features Elastic Ti technology, which provides the high elasticity needed for structural strength and a powerful rebound effect. It also boasts a new grommet system and Yonex’s Muscle Power design, which seats the string in the rounded archways of the racket frame. This eliminates stress-load and fatigue through contact friction. The Nanospeed 9000 also has an Isometric Square Head shape and a Built-in T-joint design.
The Armortec 700 racket features the Power Armor System, which means that the edge of the frame top is reduced to minimize distortion and maximise control. This results in Armortec rackets generating more speed, better face stability and provides a robust “metallic feel” upon impact. It also has a C.S Cap, Isometric Square Head shape and Built-in T-Joint. The Ultimum TiTM technology is moulded into the racket to store energy on impact and then releases it in a snap-back action.
The Armortec 250 racket also features the Power Armor System, which is combined with a Delta Power Frame that creates a stable and solid hitting face without sacrificing any of its power. The Armortec 250 comes with an Isometric Square Head shape and Built-in T-Joint.
They are also introducing the SHB-100 LX shoe that is suitable for squash and badminton. It features a Hexagrip sole that is specially designed for agile and stable footwork on the court, as it offers more gripping power and is 20% lighter than ordinary soles. The fact that it boasts a round sole means that the shoe provides all-round support for the forefoot and heel. This minimizes power loss and ensures smooth movement on the court.
The Super msLite construction in the shoe is due to a polymer-base midsole that is lighter and 20% more durable than ordinary EVA. The Yonex Tough Guard II leather is 3 times stronger than synthetic leather and is heat resistant to ensure long-wearing performance and comfort. The fine mesh in the shoe provides more air-exchange than ordinary mesh for maximum moisture release.
A power cushion absorbs more shock than the ordinary utherane power cushion. The Lateral Claw construction in the shoe ensures the stability for the sides of the feet and prevents lateral movement upon landing. The Ergoshape thechnology provides more comfort and stability in the forefoot and toe area of the shoe.
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