Ilhaam Groenewald Aims to Further Develop Women’s Sport

SASCOC board member, Ilhaam Groenewald, is on a mission to ensure South Africa has sustainable and professional leagues for women’s sport. Photo: gsport

SASCOC board member, Ilhaam Groenewald, is on a mission to ensure South Africa has sustainable and professional leagues for women’s sport.

The Chief Director of Maties Sport says her greatest ambition was to become the Minister of Sport, Arts & Culture in South Africa, however, she has now shifted her thoughts to a more senior leadership position in higher education.

In 2017, Groenewald was awarded the University Chancellor’s Award of Excellence by University of Western Cape and once again received the recognition from the University of Stellenbosch.

Drawing inspiration from gsport Founder, Kass Naidoo and the Williams sisters, Groenewald aims to lead a movement that will change university sport.

Speaking with Tlamelo Kganakga, Groenewald reveals the biggest challenge in South African sport and the highlights of her career.

Speaking with Tlamelo Kganakga,  chats about her role as a SASCOC board member.

Ilhaam, thank you for chatting to us. Please tell us more about yourself?

Thank you for the opportunity, gsport and Tlamelo.

My story is a very South African narrative of struggle and achievement reinforced by an uncompromising determination to take control of my own destiny and achieve my vision. Born in the small Northern Cape town of Keimoes, I witnessed first-hand the forced removals that defined apartheid’s cruelty and the experience shaped the course of my life and the rest is history since I moved to Cape Town.

I am married, have three children (now young adults) and live in Cape Town and have an extended family with our roots still strong in the Northern Cape and also Namibia.

When and where did you love for sport begin?

I was fortunate that I attended both primary and high schools that were committed to sport and my involvement was in Athletics (800m), long jump and Netball and must admit I enjoyed the running quite a bit then 😊 My first choice of sport is however Volleyball and was only exposed to it properly when I became a student in the late 80s.

What’s the one rule you would change in sport if you could?

The restrictions place on athlete affiliation / membership and their movement. This impacts on how we manage their training and competitions. This rule could at times be applied in a negative way, with specific reference to the red tape such as clearances; coaches not willing to release athletes and the expectations; where and how funding is allocated to support athletes, etc.

What is the greatest challenge we currently face with sport in South Africa?

Governance and Leadership noting that several cases have surfaced during the last 5 years to demonstrate the mess we are faced with. Unless our sport leaders and administrators are trained in the field of governance and leadership, this challenge will not disappear very soon. Coupled to this is the fact that we don’t have a proper succession planning model in place and more importantly, the boardrooms are not representative to allow us to deal with the global challenges faced by sport.

The challenges related to governance and leadership impacts on the fact that we don’t have a proper vision for Sport development, especially at schools and community clubs, supported by a sustainable funding model in our country.

You are a board member of SASCOC. Please tell us about your role.

I currently have the following responsibilities:

Chairperson: Education and Culture Commission

Chairperson: Coaching Commission

Member: Remunerations Committee

Apart from the above-mentioned portfolios I have been involved in matters related to human resources and governance matters.

The first year since our election in 2020 turned out to be both a challenging, yet exciting period, driving the board members to revisit our governance system; legal, financial, human resources portfolios, including understanding our roles and responsibilities that is to provide leadership to strengthen the organisation.  It has been a tough, but a good experience to date.

You were recently awarded University Chancellor’s Award of Excellence. Please tell about receiving the recognition.

What an honour to receive this award also from Stellenbosch University, noting that I received the University of the Western Cape Chancellor’s Award in 2017. Being a recipient of such a prestigious award comes with a huge responsibility to continue to provide a service of excellence.

I received the award for excellence demonstrated for my all-encompassing passion and vision to identify and grow talent among staff – especially through driving a culture of accountability, continuous learning and excellence.

In tandem with holding staff to the highest performance standards, the same principles were applied to athletes as “students first”. I also established the Maties Sport High Performance Unit with the responsibility to nurture our student-athletes into a world-class service to empower them to excel on the field, in the lecture rooms and in their personal lives as outstanding Stellenbosch University graduates. Across all of the 31 codes, our high performance athletes recorded academic results that showed an 89% pass rate of credits taken with about a 100 of our 300 high performance, representing 11 high performance teams, expected to complete their 2021 studies to graduate in 2021/22.

What has been some of your highlights in your career?

My career highlights are celebrated throughout the last three decades of involvement in administration, management and leadership of sport at various levels. What I enjoy most is strategic planning, thus setting a vision to ensure a sustainable performance model at all levels, whether at my then employer, University of the Western Cape (UWC), or my current employer, Stellenbosch University (SU).

There are so many, but here are a few of my career highlights:

  • My appointment as the youngest UWC Head of Sport in 2004 leading to the establishment of UWC, a historically disadvantaged university, as a leading force in high performance sport.
  • My career growth was further advanced when I was appointed as the only Chief Director of Sport in higher education sport in South Africa, I realised that there can be a different pathway for leadership in university sport.
  • My appointment, making history, as the first female to serve on the South African Rugby Union (SARU) board in 2016 and in 2019 receiving the Ministerial Award for breaking barriers in leadership.
  • A special sport performance achievement following my appointment at SU, is breaking the 7-year losing history of Maties Rugby with our team resuming its winning culture from 2018.
  • Being part of the establishment of the Varsity Shield rugby competition and Varsity Sports competitions.
  • Establishing new partnerships, with the historic hosting of the Professional Soccer League (PSL) with our partner Stellenbosch Football Club (SFC) in partnership with Stellenbosch Academy of Sport (SAS). The building of an Indoor Cricket Centre in partnership with Paul Roos Gymnasium (PRG) and SAS is ready to change the agenda of cricket. These are unique partnerships for a university, and we are setting the scene for more exciting initiatives.
  • Transforming Maties Sport at all levels, resulting in an increased number of high performance codes with a 45% BCIA representation as well as a 74% full-time Black staff workforce profile, that includes the representation of female coaching staff.
  • Leading innovation and change with the establishment of the first and only Recreation and Active Lifestyle Unit (RALU) in the higher education sport environment at Stellenbosch University, reaching more than 9000 students annually as well as the only Centre for Sport Leadership (CSL), currently focusing on sport for development, sport and development and data science.
  • Being awarded the Chancellor’s Award by two leading universities in South Africa.

Who are some of the sports women you admire?

The Williams sisters because so many of us can relate to their story, and most of all their story of resilience, success and embracing life in so many ways.

Banyana Banyana Head Coach, Desireé Ellis – she is also a good friend and her journey as one of the most decorated female football players of South Africa, employed at a very small company to support herself to becoming and internationally recognised coach is such an amazing story that continues to inspire.

Kass Naidoo, the best in the business of sport media and communication in South Africa and again, her journey and story of the first female to embrace our television screens as the first female commentator, gives me goosebumps and she needs to tell her story more often!

Our para sport athletes (Maties and South Africa), every single one of them, because when you get to know their stories, you will understand why they are so special to me.

What do you still want to achieve?

So many things, but important to prioritise and for now it is:

  • Support my kids to complete their qualifications, are settled in, so that I can continue to explore the globe.
  • Furthering my academic qualifications.
  • Be part of and lead a movement that will change school sport in South Africa.

What’s your greatest ambition?

A few years ago, my greatest ambition was to become the Minister of Sport, Arts & Culture in South Africa, however, I have now shifted by thoughts to a more senior leadership position in higher education.

Also for South Africa to have a sustainable professional leagues for women’s sport, supported by a solid development programme.

What do you look forward to in 2022?

Welcoming my Maties Sport, the #MaroonMachine family back to continue with the exciting changes we implemented towards the end of 2021 and to unpack how best we are going to support each for successful outcomes.  Watch the space for more news on this…

Start the very long journey of advancing my studies again.

To continue to invest in my responsibility as a board member of various structures, especially SASCOC, and with our newly appointed CEO, and a hardworking board, our commissions and committees, I am ready!

A few days ago, when I opened a new note book, I wrote the following:  ‘2022 is going to be an awesome year’ and added a heart😊


Photo 1 Caption: SASCOC board member, Ilhaam Groenewald, is on a mission to ensure South Africa has sustainable and professional leagues for women’s sport. Photo: gsport

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