Kim Pople is only the second woman President of Canoeing South Africa, and since 2017 has led the way for women leaders of the sport with a compassionate yet firm leadership style.
It has been a satisfying journey for Pople, who started off as the female representative on the Canoeing South Africa Board. Over time, she gained the trust of the members, starting in administration in 2013, rose up to Vice President and eventually elected President three years ago.
Sport is in Pople’s blood, having participated in hockey in her playing days and then actively supporting her paddling son’s dreams which led her into sports administration.
In Covid-19 times, she is keenly aware of the importance of supporting the community while ensuring that the sport is administered in a way that keeps it sustainable.
Canoeing South Africa has just concluded a fund raising effort to support members of their paddling community who have been severely affected in the lockdown.
Online meetings have replaced in-person interactions during the lockdown and Pople believes this new normal will continue post lockdown as the sport looks to save money where it can.
Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Pople reflects on about her journey in administration and how she plans to develop the sport post Covid-19 lockdown.
Kim, COVID-19 has negatively impacted the paddling community. What issues are you dealing with?
Yes, COVID-19 is challenging us all in so many ways, amongst others a large part of our community is battling with limited food with no income, clubs are being crippled financially, cancelled events contribute to no income and the long-term effects of these three major factors is going to take a long time to overcome.
What has Canoeing SA been doing to combat these issues?
CSA initiated a fund-raising drive challenging our community as a whole and our international friends to exercise for 30mins in their homes, gardens and donate a minimum of R10 to our Canoeing4Covid-19 drive.
The 24-hour Canoeing4Covid-19 fundraising event took place from midday Saturday (25 April 2020) to midday Sunday. There was incredible support from South Africa and the international community, we are waiting for further funds to be cleared and then we can announce our final tally, but right now the planning is being implemented and food parcels will start being delivered throughout the country to our communities in need.
“CSA is also conducting conference calls with unions and clubs to speak to everyone first hand to get a thorough understanding of everyone’s status as it is until at least the end of July, so we can ensure a comprehensive, collective strategy is in place for clubs to survive.” – Canoeing South Africa President, Kim Pople
We have national champions in these communities as well as beginners, so it is vitally important that we try and assist our own and their families. We have some incredibly creative videos submitted by our members showing their 30 mins of exercise and the water bottle challenge went viral which was exciting to see.
CSA is also conducting conference calls with unions and clubs to speak to everyone first hand to get a thorough understanding of everyone’s status as it is until at least the end of July, so we can ensure a comprehensive, collective strategy is in place for clubs to survive.
With regards to the calendar and cancelled events, at this stage we have a dynamic calendar, and as soon as public gatherings and sport events will be allowed to continue, we will do so under the guidance of government regulations. We have committed to holding our National Championships if at all possible and I am sure we will have some great events later in the year to at least give our members something exciting to look forward to.
Are paddlers receiving any financial assistance or is there a relief fund in place?
We had athletes apply for the Relief Grant put in place by our National Department of Sport, Arts and Culture and there are some provincial relief funds that are being announced shortly. One athlete at this stage has received funding through this mechanism and we are truly grateful for this. We are applying for relief funding throughout our structures to assist in keeping our sport afloat during this pandemic.
How has work changed for you during this time?
Funnily enough, my days have not seemed to be any less busy during lockdown. Being a volunteer, I am still trying to juggle my business, CSA business with our staff and board, as well as spending time with my family. Online conference calls are the norm and we have taken a decision as a federation to continue post lockdown with conference calls over face to face meetings – there is a large saving in travel and time. I have decreased the amount of time I spend travelling so that is one plus I have enjoyed, but I do miss seeing our paddlers out on the water!
You became the second female president of the sport’s national governing body. Please tell us about your journey in administration.
Having played sport and being in the sporting industry for over 20 years, it was by default that I entered the administration side. My son starting paddling, and I got to know many of the youngsters from Shongweni that trained at Umzinyathi Canoe Club and got involved with assisting them.
“An incredible moment to reflect and appreciate the privilege that I have to be part of so many athletes’ lives from grass roots through to the elite and all walks of our society.” – Canoeing South Africa President, Kim Pople
I moved formally into the club structure, eventually chairing the club, then a couple of years later the provincial body, which I do still serve. I started on the CSA Board as the female representative and also served as Vice-President and then moved into the President role in late 2017. An incredible moment to reflect and appreciate the privilege that I have to be part of so many athletes’ lives from grass roots through to the elite and all walks of our society.
Where does your passion for canoeing come from?
Hockey was my love when I was young, and I sometimes smile that I am not involved in administration in hockey, but my son’s passion for the sport closely coupled with the incredible community that I am part of, keeps the flame burning to make a difference. The long hours, often sleepless nights are because I truly care for so many. When we are out driving through our incredible country to river races, paddling at the most picturesque dams or incredible ocean views, it is easy to keep the flame burning. But if I had to choose two words to sum it up – it would be ‘The People’.
Currently, what is your focus in terms of developing the sport?
At grass roots level we are focused on bringing more young females to our sport as well as highlighting its accessibility for the disabled. We currently have a young group of women that have started surf skiing and the passion and talent that are displaying opens up a whole new world for them as well as us.
Fortunately, they come from a swimming background – so we are thankful for that. Renewed focus on our two Olympic Disciplines Sprinting and Slalom is in our current strategy as well. Being one of the top marathons, and surfski nations in the world it is easier for us to draw paddlers to these two disciplines.
What programmes do you have in place?
We currently have over twenty hubs around the country focusing on development. Being a water-based sport with safety as a priority, we start with a learn to swim programme and land-based exercise for paddling before our youngsters are allowed on the water. Our dedicated coaches then move them onto the water and once competent they start competing in the different disciplines.
“Many women have spent hours and hours driving (seconding) husbands and boyfriends at various races around the country, now it is time for the men to second the women!” – Canoeing South Africa President, Kim Pople
What programmes are in place to see more women taking up canoeing as a sport?
Women’s clinics led by women are one of the vehicles we use. Having double canoes, we also encourage competent paddlers (men or women) to introduce a novice and spark the interest to participate in our sport. Many women have spent hours and hours driving (seconding) husbands and boyfriends at various races around the country, now it is time for the men to second the women!
Are the playing fields level in terms of equality between male and female paddlers?
A couple of years ago a group of women paddlers with Hayley Nixon, elected as the voice, challenged a few of events that did not pay out equal prize money. Many discussions took place, and a positive outcome was that in fact races do offer equal prize money.
Due to the nature of our sport we have been able to introduce a handicap system as well, which also provides a race within a race scenario with bonus money being made available for an overall winner – so for example a male is leading the race, he cannot back off as he has no idea where the women leader is and that then becomes the race – a truly exciting concept.
What are you still looking to achieve in the future both personally and for Canoeing SA?
For CSA, my goal is to leave sound structures in place for my successor to build on going forward. Technology and its integration in our sport is key, as we can do administration, e-learning, club information and communication all through our own portal. Live streaming of all events and producing our own content direct to our membership and followers is an exciting journey we are on now.
Personally, as long as I feel I can still offer leadership to our members, but more importantly if I have the support of the members, then I will assist where I can – but I am also aware not to overstay ones time. If I walk away one day knowing that I made a difference I am happy, but when I see one of our youngsters that I watched learning to swim, then starting out in the boat, and then achieving their first medal at either provincial or national level – standing on the podium with the biggest smile on their face then my personal satisfaction is complete.
Photo 1 Caption: President of Canoeing South Africa, Kim Pople, has taken time to thank members of the paddling community for raising funds to assist those hit hardest by the national lockdown. Photo: Screenshot
Photo 2 Caption: Pople, who is the second ever female president of CSA, was once an avid hockey lover, having played sport and being in the sporting industry for over 20 years and it was by default that she entered the administration side. Photo: SchoolGirl Sport