Awu Blazing a Trail Through Sport and Education

University of Cape Town’s Sport Co-ordinator, Mel Awu is determined to change lives through sport as she continues to blaze a trail in the industry.

Awu has worked in sports administration at five different tertiary institutions across the country while serving on the national committees of USSA Squash, USSA Chess, USSA Athletics and USSA Rugby.

She also donned the coveted green and gold blazer when she managed Team South Africa at the 2018 FISU World University Rugby 7s Championships in Swakopmund, Namibia.

Awu reveals apart from her job as a sports administrator, she is a life-long student and has continued with her studies – currently embarking on a BTh – Theology Degree – to add to her growing list of qualifications.

As an advocate for equality in sports, Awu believes women need to stand together and work as a community in order to make a change and uplift one another.

Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Awu reveals what keeps her motivated to stay on top of her game and lists women in sport who inspire her.

Mel, it is great to chat to you! The last time you blogged on gsport, you took us through your background and revealed a number of qualifications that you obtained apart from your Sports Management degree. Have you added another feather to your cap since then?

I am about to embark on a BTh – Theology Degree. I am a big advocate of Sport Ministry – this brings together two things that I call – my Call – Sport and Ministry. I have also completed training in Sports Chaplaincy – from Sports Chaplaincy SA, this is very important part for me in my journey in Sport Ministry. The beauty about Sports Ministry is that you can Minister neutrally – i.e to all religions, it’s not just Christianity.

I am also an active Toastmasters, leading The Breakfast Club Toastmasters, as the Club President – I work through various Modules in Public Speaking – under my belt I have Visionary Communication, Innovative Planning, and I am now on Presentation Mastery. These stretch me, as I need to be an excellent communicator as a leader, and this allows me to train in Public Speaking. Toastmasters is an International organisation.

Why has it been so important for you to continue studying?

“I believe I am a life-long student, and as long as I have breath, I can learn, especially working in the university space.” – University of Cape Sport Co-ordinator, Mel Awu

I believe I am a life-long student, and as long as I have breath, I can learn, especially working in the university space. I would also love to study photography. I have this special relationship with a DSL camera – it was love at first flash! Capturing sporting moments is just something beyond words – respect to all sport photographers 👏

Please tell us about your current role in sports and what the journey has been like to be where you are today.

I am a Sport Co-ordinator at University of Cape Town, and I love it! I have always loved CT, and when the opportunity came, I jumped! I look after 10 Sports Club – Athletics, Canoe, Hockey, Golf Mountain & Ski, Rowing, Sailing, Swimming Underwater and Waterpolo. This is so exciting, as I have never played some of these sports, so it forces me to learn them, as I am responsible for their well-being.

It involves organizing tournaments, student recruitment, club outreach programs, budgeting, meetings and so much more. What I love is that, how students are happy to try new sports at Varsity, and we have to make sure we provide a safe space for e.g a Novice in Rowing, Golf and Mountain & Ski. University is about trying new things, making sure students leave Varsity with great memories – I still don’t feel like I have a job, I feel like I do what I love, and happen to get a cheque at the end of the month!

Every career comes with ups and downs. What have been some of your low moments?

Funding constraints – being limited by a budget, not be able to offer a student a bursary is the hardest thing ever. They have the talent, but maybe their family can’t afford – fortunately sometimes student loans help.

How have you been able to find ways to generate other means of funding apart from student loans?

Rentals of equipment, hosting events, partnerships etc, so we as a team with the students explore these other possibilities.

To date, what are some of your biggest highlights?

Convincing a potential sponsor to partner with us on an event – the company was not convinced, so I asked for a face-to-face meeting. After the meeting I left there smiling, with a partnership that we are growing – that was a small pat on my back. I have always heard of people doing this, so for me, to finally have done it, I sat in my office smiling for days, it wasn’t much, but it’s the relationship, and the growth that was born. Another one was hosting a Western Province League Race (UCT 10km Memorial Race) and getting a rating of 7.3 (out of 10) – my first time ever. I had never managed athletics, so I was extremely proud!

Which women in sport inspire you and why?

Ms Nomsa Mahlangu, Ms Yoliswa Lumka and Ms Ilhaam Groenewald – these are the three of the women Heads of Sport in university in SA currently. Outside of university sport, it has to be Kass Naidoo. I don’t think she realizes what an impact she has on us as women. I grew listening to her commentate cricket, and to have her give women a platform as this – nationally and internationally – is amazing! She has had many challenges, but she is still standing, still smiling, and still making waves!

“All these women still have battles to fight but have paved the way and we benefit from their success.” – Awu speaks on women in sport who inspire her.

Lastly, Ms Ntambi Ravele (SA Women in Sport Foundation) – that one is a warrior! All these women still have battles to fight but have paved the way and we benefit from their success. We are honoured to join the struggle, but we shouldn’t still be fighting, but it’s okay…

What keeps you motivated to stay on top of your game?

My promise to my late mother. When I told her I wanted to study Sport Management, she asked if there were jobs for Sport Management. I said yes, then she told me to be the best Sport Manager I can be. Every day I try to live up to that promise.

Also, seeing an athlete achieve their dreams because of a small effort from me will always be priceless. Sport has the power to really change lives and communities and we can all help in doing that.

What is your view on the state of women in sports leadership positions and what needs to be done in order for us to see more women given leadership opportunities in the industry?

We need to realise that if things are going to change, we need to stand together as women. We need to empower ourselves, we need to realise that there are men who support us and who will fight with us for equality. We need to pick our fights carefully. It is sad that it has to be a ‘fight’ – we need to stand together as women, and be strategic, and know it’s not about an individual, there is a bigger cause, so we cannot be selfish, we have to work as a community.

What is your greatest ambition?

To provide opportunities in sport, to change lives through sport – just to do my bit and walk away onto the next challenge.

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