As we continue to better understand the importance of grassroots sport in society, I have decided to profile young women from different sporting codes, at levels varying from amateur through to professional.

Deciding who to handpick for the pilot interview proved to be more difficult than I had imagined. In the vast community of women in sport with so much talent and so many inspirational stories to tell, who do I interview first? After finally overcoming the overthinking, I picked the first woman I encountered when I logged onto Instagram- @nthabiseng_ngutshane.

To understand women in sport, from successes to setbacks, to hindrances, one has to REALLY understand women in sport; the challenges, the extra hoops and definitely shine a deserved spotlight on achievements in order to inspire those that will come after.

COVID-19 has presented us with an opportunity to set a new standard as we aim to advance and better women’s sport. It has forced us to rethink how we go about the simple things of life, all the way to how we navigate our passions, like sport. But in this case, we need to highlight that this ‘new normal’ will present bigger challenges to an already under supported portion in sport.

When I first encountered Nthabi, I learned that she plays rugby and has a story that epitomizes the importance of grassroots sport in society.

Due to the lockdown and restrictions on social contact, our sit-down took place in the comfort of our respective bedrooms over a Zoom session. Nthabi is a student at the University of Johannesburg, a fitness fanatic, sports lover, dog owner, a vegetarian, foodie, and overall lover of life.

She is a 23-year-old touch rugby player and plays for Leadhome Pirates Women’s Rugby team which is located on the Greenside/Parkhurst border in the Northern suburbs of Johannesburg, which is quite a distance to travel from her home in the South. However, her passion for rugby supersedes the taxing commute to training.

Nthabi hasn’t always been contact-crazy; the young lioness built her athleticism on a foundation of diverse sporting codes including squash, tennis, athletics, to mention a few. I try to get to a better understanding of women’s rugby in South Africa through Nthabi’s story. From playing touch rugby as a summer sport in school to flying the South African flag in Dubai at the Rugby Seven’s International Invitational Women’s Tournament in December 2019.

When did you decide ‘rugby’ and what inspired the decision?

I began playing [full contact] rugby last year, after a teammate suggested that I start playing full contact rugby to boost my chances of playing competitively more often. The Pirates lady’s team was looking for wing players so the timing was perfect.

How would you describe the difference in rugby between school, club and provincial levels (touch and/or contact)? Structure, competitiveness, exposure. And which do you prefer?

To be honest I only ever played school level sports because it was compulsory, and I didn’t enjoy the other sporting codes much. I definitely preferred provincial level and club more because the game is faster and requires a more advanced level of skill, which meant year by year my skills would improve. Another point is, when I played club or provincial, I felt a greater dedication from my team members.

You have a very strong support system from your parents, friends and family. Unpack the significance of having a sound support structure for performing well and consistently as an athlete.

I remember one year I was playing touch rugby for Gauteng Ladies and during the match my boot tore, my mother didn’t even hesitate before getting me another pair. It was in that moment that I realized that my job is only to show up and perform to my best of my ability, and the rest my parents handled. I think the most significant support I have gotten from my parents is the financial support. I have chosen to play sports like touch rugby where there are no sponsors therefore seeing players cover their own costs. Without my parents I would have missed out on a lot of playing experience.

Sports unites across barriers that otherwise divide societies, i.e. race, gender, sexual orientation and creed. Throughout your experience, what value(s) has this diversity added to how you relate with people both on and off the rugby field?

I really love this point. I do agree that sport unites people because it allows us to share a common something. From my experience I have seen it create a very safe space for players from all backgrounds. As I mentioned in the beginning sports unites people because we are there for the same purpose despite race or gender. One experience I remember is supporting the Kenyan ladies in Dubai. When they took on other countries there was a rich sense of camaraderie which just reminded me that we are from the same Africa and it is through sport that I could stand that day and support them.

Where did you attend school?

St Martin’s School.

What was the transition like from high school to university?

In high school there was plus minus 250 students, which is tiny. When I got to varsity the amount of people was really overwhelming for me. I think the biggest transition was being able to interact with people from various walks of life, St Martin’s really sheltered me, whilst varsity and its diversity has taught me a lot about life.

What are some of the sacrifices you have made to get to the level of athleticism that you are at today?

I don’t think there have been any huge sacrifices. I might have missed out on an outing with my friends here and there. I think one thing that I have always balanced is my diet which sees me sacrificing certain foods.

Do you see yourself playing professional or national rugby in the future?

No I don’t. I think I’ll lean more to the coaching side or sport.

What, in your opinion, needs to be done to improve women’s rugby and sports in general to pave a better future for the next generation of ladies in rugby?

There is so much that can be done. I think the very first one is changing the narrative or stigma around rugby being a strictly male sport. Secondly, rugby for girls should be introduced in more schools to allow for skills development from an earlier stage than it currently is. Lastly ladies’ rugby should get the same attention from sponsors as men’s rugby does.

Lastly, how important is the role of youth in society and what are some of the steps it can take to secure even a semblance of a better future?

The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow. It is increasingly vital that we understand the society which we live in so that we can continue to uphold what past generations have worked for. From my perspective I think we have been given a platform by our parents that allows us to be eager and optimistic about social reform and the advancement of society. We the youth are the building block of our country.

 

Photo 1 Caption: Nthabiseng Ngutshane is a 23-year-old rugby player and plays for Leadhome Pirates Women’s Rugby team which is located on the Greenside/Parkhurst border in the Northern suburbs of Johannesburg, which is quite a distance to travel from her home in the South. However, her passion for rugby supersedes the taxing commute to training. Photo: Supplied