International Olympic Committee Young Leader, Mathatho Manaka’s greatest ambition is to become an international advocate and to deliver change in sport on the African continent.
In 2018, Manaka joined the IOC for the then Young Changemaker’s programme where she was tasked to promote the Youth Olympic Games and part of a group of 92 change makers globally.
Her first project saw her lead 75 athletes in Buenos Aires for the Youth Olympic Games which she admits was a challenging time as her duty was to make the competition fun but also ensure that athletes remain competitive.
Currently heading up the Young Leader programme, Manaka’s role is to promote social development through sport where she, together with her team, execute projects in the country and in communities.
The current Commonwealth Youth Forum Ambassador is pursuing her Master’s Degree in Sports Management, focusing on the sustainability of sports organisations at University of Johannesburg.
Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Manaka chats about developing a passion for sports from the age of seven and views on females in leadership roles.
Mathatho, it’s a pleasure speaking to you! Please introduce yourself and tell us about your involvement in sport.
Hi, I’m Mathatho Manaka and currently my involvement in sports is based on being an IOC young leader which is a programme under the International Olympic Committee, being a young sports maker under the Global Sports Week Paris 2020 organisation and currently Commonwealth Youth Forum Ambassador.
Where does your love for sport come from?
My love for sports sprung from a very, very young age from primary school, actually since grade one when I was seven. I participated in athletics, hockey, netball, basically any sports. PE was honestly my favourite activity at school. So, from there on, I started playing provincial from grade five until I got to high school, matric, then I became hockey Captain when I got to high school. And after high school, I decided to actually pursue sport further into an actual career wanting to actually study into sports, which is where I am at the moment currently pursuing my Master’s Degree in Sports Management focusing on the sustainability of sports organisations.
What is it about sports that intrigues you?
“What really intrigues me about sport, I would say is the freedom of it. I get to…It’s basically like arts, if I were to explain sport, I would call it an art, it’s a performance. You get to express yourself as an individual in what you really love.” – International Olympic Committee Young Leader, Mathatho Manaka
What really intrigues me about sport, I would say is the freedom of it. I get to…It’s basically like arts, if I were to explain sport, I would call it an art, it’s a performance. You get to express yourself as an individual in what you really love. And obviously, you get to excel at it, at your potential, at your greatest potential, in fact! So, that’s what really intrigues me mostly. Every time I used to play sport; it was just a great escape. I always felt like I was in my own world, I always felt like there was just nobody else around me. It was just me and the game.
Tell us about your journey and where it all started for you.
My journey of sports basically started when I was seven, in primary school, and from then on it just grew, and I just started taking on more sporting codes and just always had a sporting activity to do after school, which was obviously an extramural activity at that time. So that’s where it definitely started also for us, from being a young child playing in the neighbourhood always being the fastest child when we’re all playing. Definitely always wanting to be the one that’s chasing everyone because nobody else could catch me! So, definitely from a very young age.
What did you study at University of Johannesburg?
I studied at the University of Johannesburg, where I started off with a BA degree in BA Sports Psychology. And later on, furthered my studies in an Honours Degree in Sports Management and currently now pursuing my Master’s Degree in Sports Management, but the thesis focusing on the sustainability of sports organisations.
How did you get involved with the International Olympic Committee?
I got involved with the International Olympic Committee as a Young Changemaker, this was in 2018 when my application got accepted in January. There was an application out by our South African NOC, and I applied, and luckily enough, I got accepted for the programme. And basically, what we had to do, we got given monthly tasks to execute certain things to promote the Youth Olympic Games, which is what we are. It’s like promoters, ambassadors of Youth Olympic Games.
I got involved, and from there on, it started… at that time, it was the Young Changemakers. And it was a very exciting programme there were round about like 92 of us globally, where we all gathered in Buenos Aires, at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires. And then I further applied for the Young Changemaker plus programme, which is now what we call the IOC Young Leaders, and which is basically promoting social development through sport where we execute projects in our country, in our communities, where we actually are promoting sports on a very amazing social platform.
What are your views on youth sports and the direction that is being taken to give our up and coming athletes a platform to show their talents?
“And honestly, you can apply sports in so many, many spheres. It’s just how you actually do it also and obviously approach in the right platforms. But as for the athletes, there’s so much ahead of you don’t give up!” – Manaka speaks on the direction that youth sports is taking.
My views based on the youth…Those are the upcoming when it comes to athletes. There’s so much to be explored in sports. There are so many things going on around us not just addressing athletes, but I think just also addressing professionals in the sports management sector or sports administration sector, there’s so much to be done. And there’s so many doors that are actually opening. And honestly, you can apply sports in so many, many spheres. It’s just how you actually do it also and obviously approach in the right platforms. But as for the athletes, there’s so much ahead of you don’t give up! South Africa is really performing extremely well when it comes to international platforms of sports.
What are some of the challenges that you face when you are leading a group of young athletes?
So some of the challenges that I have faced when leading a young group of athletes…I remember in Buenos Aires, I had just met the athletes the day we were actually departing and I think it was a group of 75 athletes at that time. It was very challenging, because everybody obviously comes in with the mindset of competition. And my role as a Young Changemaker at that time was to make competition fun, to release the stress because Youth Olympics is really about obviously it is about competing, but it’s also about having fun because these were athletes from the age of 15 to 18 years old. So, our main focus was to also show them that this is a lot of fun, sports is supposed to be fun as much as it also competitive. So, it was quite challenging just getting everybody to actually have fun and still focus on the reason why they were actually there.
What message would you share with the youth who are looking to make a successful career out of sport?
My advice to the youth that are looking to have a successful career in the sports sector, uhm, there’s so much to be done in sports, there’s still so much that we have to explore in South Africa. I’ve been privileged to be exposed to other platforms internationally and I can see there’s so much room for growth. It’s just we just need to step forward and actually make it happen as the youth. So, there’s so much to be done; don’t be narrow minded! It’s not just the administration of sport, there’s so much more, there’s sports sciences, sports psychology, and there’s still so much more South Africa that we are willing to tap into. So just be aware and be willing to actually tap into all of these sectors.
What is your current focus at the IOC to change the future of sport, especially women’s sport?
My current focus at the IOC is promoting sports to young women, where our focus on SDG four and five, promoting quality education to young women from our high school age to lead them into university. So therefore, I work with universities and creating a recruitment programme for those that are unable to afford the tuition fees. So, my project is currently called Rough Diamond. I’m hoping for it to be launched soon, but currently because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been stalled. So, the project is focused on young women and recruitment programmes at universities and promoting young women to actually make it into universities, institutes and play sports.
Personally, what has it been like being a female in the sport industry and trying to have your voice and opinions heard?
My experience as a young woman in the sports sector is I believe that the current leaders that we have that are women have actually paved a good way for us there’s still so much more work to be done, but so far we have started off on a good link. So, to get my voice heard, it is a bit challenging. Sometimes I think it’s also not just a gender thing, but it’s also a bit of an age thing.
So, it’s just a matter of sometimes trying to project yourself in a different manner. In other words, you could actually just put presentations together. Or if you’re going to put a presentation, make sure that you have an evaluation and monitoring sector available to actually show the results. So unfortunately, I feel that I have to go to such an extent, whereas maybe my male counterpart just has to raise the voice in order to be heard. But so far, I would say there’s great progress for young women in sports.
Do you think that there are enough females in leadership roles in sport?
In terms of leadership roles, uhm, and sports for women, I would say that we have great leaders so far, they have paved a long way for us. They have really assisted us in terms of actually getting our voices heard and actually creating more room for women. But we need to get to a point where women also end up helping women. There’s…I used to attend conferences and they would speak about the “pull her down syndrome,” which is something that is very common that I have seen in the industry. So, it’s fantastic that we have leadership, women that are leaders in the leadership roles, but we need women that are actually going to be uplifting other women.
What would you say to encourage more women to get into this space?
I would definitely encourage more women to get into this space because there’s still so much as I’ve said, there’s so much to be discovered in sport. So, it’s not just the administration of sport, that there is this data of sports, there is sport science, there is sport psychology. So, sports is not just the management behind it, but there’s a whole technical team behind it. And maybe that’s where we can start tapping into as women in sports.
What is your greatest ambition?
My greatest, greatest ambition when it comes to the sports sector, is to become an international advocate, to always support South Africa when it comes to international platforms, not just South Africa, but Africa on an entire continent. There’s so much that we still need to discover as opposed to your first world countries, there’s still so much that we still have to go through. And I wish to be that individual that actually has the opportunity to deliver that fantastic change on an African platform.
Photo 1 Caption: International Olympic Committee Young Leader, Mathatho Manaka’s greatest ambition is to become an international advocate and to deliver change in sport on the African continent. Photo: Supplied
Photo 2 Caption: In 2018, Manaka joined the IOC for the then Young Changemaker’s programme where she was tasked to promote the Youth Olympic Games and part of a group of 92 changermakers globally. Photo: Supplied
Photo 3 Caption: Her first project saw her lead 75 athletes in Buenos Aires for the Youth Olympic Games which she admits was a challenging time as her duty was to make the competition fun but also ensure that athletes remain competitive. Photo: Supplied
Photo 4 Caption: Currently heading up the Young Leader programme, Manaka’s role is to promote social development through sport where she together with her team execute projects in the country and in communities. Photo: Supplied