Tennis South Africa’s Head of Commercial, Communications and Stakeholder Management, Anthony Moruthane’s greatest ambition is to be able to bring sponsors on board to support the resuscitation of wheelchair tennis in rural and township communities.
In 2014, the qualified Metallurgical Engineer left the engineering industry to fulfil his passion to uplift the lives of athletes and was fortunate to join BLD Group as a Media Liaison Officer.
It was during this time where Moruthane was exposed to wheelchair tennis which inspired him to work closely to help create awareness for the sport in South Africa.
Coming from a rural community where disabled people are denied opportunities to be active and participate in sport, Moruthane set out to change the narrative through TSA.
The award-winner has gone on to help wheelchair tennis receive recognition from the International Tennis Federation (ITF) as having the second best programme in the world behind Japan.
Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Moruthane gives insight into the state of disability sports and reveals upcoming wheelchair tennis stars.
Anthony, thank you for taking time out to chat! As the Head of Commercial, Communications and Stakeholder Management at Tennis South Africa, what does your daily routine on the job entail?
My daily job entails planning, coordination and management of the association’s marketing, PR, social media, and communication strategy. It also includes regular engagements with our stakeholders – provincial and district associations, government structures and as well as our sponsors.
Where did your career in communications begin?
“I come from an engineering background and after a few years in the mining industry as a qualified Metallurgical Engineer, I realized that my passion was elsewhere.” – Head of Commercial, Communications and Stakeholder Management at Tennis South Africa, Anthony Moruthane
I then left the industry in 2014 and was lucky to be offered an opportunity at the BLD Group as a Media Liaison Officer, and my career in Communications started off then.
How did you get involved with TSA?
My journey with tennis started with Wheelchair tennis – when I was exposed to the sport the first time, I was inspired by the athletes and I knew then that I wanted to work closely with them and help create awareness of the sport in South Africa.
I come from a rural community where many disabled people are denied an opportunity to be active and participate in a sport, and my involvement at first was really about helping create awareness of the sport, and to take the sport to as many communities as possible, especially in rural and township areas.
So that’s how I got involved with tennis.
Growing up were you active in sports?
Hahaha, absolutely not! Growing up I wanted to be an actor, and I was lucky to have spent a few years in theatre during my university days. When I started my career in communications, tennis was my first account and I fell in love with sport from then.
How would you best describe yourself?
Uhm, I am diligent, self-motivated and a big risk-taker. I like to see good in people and get great satisfaction in helping people grow and become better versions of themselves.
Please tell us more about what fuels your passion regarding disability sports.
“Through my involvement with wheelchair tennis I learnt that sport can change a person with disability in an equally profound way by empowering them with disabilities to realize their full potential and advocate for changes in society.” – Moruthane speaks on his passion for disability sports.
As I mentioned, I grew up in a community where persons with disabilities faced societal barriers and in some societies persons with disabilities are considered dependent and seen as incapable, thus fostering inactivity which often causes individuals with physical disabilities to experience restricted mobility beyond the cause of their disability.
Through my involvement with wheelchair tennis I learnt that sport can change a person with disability in an equally profound way by empowering them with disabilities to realize their full potential and advocate for changes in society. Wheelchair tennis is very close to my heart and I have seen the difference it has made in many people – young and old.
What are your views on the state of disability sports in South Africa as compared to the rest of the world?
I think disability sport has grown faster than many of the able-bodied sporting codes in South Africa and some parts of the world and, in some cases, even surpassing it in popularity.
Despite lack of resources, South Africa has produced renowned sporting icons like Lucas Sithole, Kgothatso Montjane, Natalie du Toit, Ernst van Dyk, Hilton Langenhoven and many others who have contributed to making disability sport trendy and contributed to uniting a sports-mad society, and made all of us appreciate disability sport on par with other sporting codes.
South Africa has been recognized by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) as having the best wheelchair tennis programme in the world behind Japan and that already tells you that we are heading in the right direction.
How can it be improved?
There’s a rich talent in South Africa and lots of promising players coming up in different codes, however there’s a huge need for financial support. We need more sponsors to come on board and support these athletes.
What is the state of the development structures, especially with wheelchair tennis and female tennis players?
Wheelchair tennis grassroots programmes have not only reached a significant number of athletes across the country but have also developed athletes like Lucas Sithole, Evans Maripa and Kgothatso Montjane and many more into elite levels and today South Africa boosts over 500 active players from 30 development Centres across the country.
“There’s lot of promising players in the system that are coming up, but the challenge is that we currently do not have a sponsor for wheelchair tennis.” – Moruthane reveals the challenges wheelchair tennis is currently experiencing in South Africa.
So, there’s lot of promising players in the system that are coming up, but the challenge is that we currently do not have a sponsor for wheelchair tennis, so we are unable to provide them the necessary support to participate in international tournaments to be able to move up the ranks.
Which upcoming female wheelchair tennis players should we be keeping an eye out for?
We have youngsters like Lerato Mathonsi, Ntsuku Ndlovu, Livhuani Limela, Nokwanda Hlongwane, Asive Gilifile and Emihle Mbotho who are playing amazing tennis and have promising careers in the sport.
How has Covid-19 impacted your role at TSA? What have you had to do differently to ensure that the federation keeps afloat?
COVID-19 and the resulting of lockdown has been challenging for everyone, but I like to see positives even in challenging times. So, to me the lockdown period has given us time as an association to reflect and identify challenges and opportunities to help grow and develop the sport in all communities.
What does the ‘new normal’ look like at TSA and what events can we expect during this festive period?
We are all slowly becoming expects in virtual meetings, hahaha, and we are getting used to hosting tournaments in empty stadium, that’s our ‘new normal’.
We have two ITF Junior tournaments at Wanderers in Johannesburg and Stellenbosch coming up. There is also several local junior tournaments in different parts of the country.
What are some of your career highlights?
Contributing to Wheelchair Tennis South Africa in a form of Social Media & PR to win the award for the best Super Series international wheelchair tennis tournament globally, beating Australia, France, Japan, Britain and the United States in 2016. The award was presented by the International Tennis Federation.
Covering the Davis Cup ties in Portugal in 2018 and Bosnia and Hertzegovina in 2020.
What is your greatest ambition?
My greatest ambition is to be able to bring sponsors on board to support the resuscitation of tennis in rural and township communities. I would like to see many kids play tennis in the deepest rural communities in Limpopo, Eastern Cape, KZN, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and North West.