Virginia Mabaso’s goal is to impact every province in South Africa as she continues to develop the base of rowing from grassroots and introduce the sport into new districts.
As Development Coordinator, Mabaso’s passion for rowing has grown tremendously over the past 13 years as she has played a vital role in encouraging South Africans from all walks of life to see rowing as a feasible career path.
Mabaso admits that before her appointment at Rowing SA in 2007, she had no knowledge about the sport as she had previously worked in the health sector for five years.
She felt that she needed a change of scenery and when she came across an advertisement for a position at Rowing SA, she did not hesitate applying and since then, she has bumped her head a few times along the way but has made a vital impact in the rowing community.
For her incredible efforts, she has received three nominations at the SA Sports Awards for Administrator of the Year, winning twice in 2015 and 2018. In 2017, she received the Ministerial Award at the gsport Awards.
She champions female participation in all sectors of sport and believes that she is setting an example for more young girls to not be afraid of fulfilling their dreams and having a voice within the sporting fraternity.
Apart from her career in sport, Mabaso is also a fashion designer and owns her own company, FuniM Designs, while also being a mom.
Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Mabaso chats about the projects that she has been involved in to develop rowing and she advises budding female sports administrators.
Virginia, it’s a pleasure speaking to you! What’s life like for you under COVID-19 lockdown?
Lockdown has had a great impact on us as a federation. The entire calendar for 2020, all the activities that we had lined up for the year and this means that we were, we are still not able to host any events or major events. We had to postpone everything, even cancelled some of the events that were supposed to be held in April. Now we’re going to be leading towards June, where we host our national championship. We also going to have to cancel everything up until the end of September because right now is a progression calendar that we run so everything is affected so far, but we keeping positive, the teams are engaged in all the provinces, no district. So, everybody is just staying put and making sure that we take precautions and follow the law, the lockdown regulation. So, we will see when everything goes back to the new normal when the economy is open and when we reach the level in which sports can be able to resume, to take place again.
“Now what we busy doing is to prepare for 2021 or when the lockdown has been lifted.” – Rowing South Africa Development Coordinator, Virginia Mabaso
We just basically doing statutory returns right now with government order reports that were supposed to do, re-planning for the forthcoming year. And, we were supposed to, it was supposed to be Olympics. Obviously, everything with regards to that has been postponed to 2021. So now what we busy doing is to prepare for 2021 or when the lockdown has been lifted. So, we just input doing what we can, working from home and a bit challenging for people like us who are used to be on the field. So, we kind of felt like we are being kept indoors for way too long, but we will stay put, take precautions and be safe.
How are you managing to keep yourself motivated?
With myself it’s staying in touch with my teams once a week and motivating them also keeps me going. You know, so that by the end of lockdown and when we go back to the new normal, we still have teams that are out there. We still have coaches that are still dedicated to continuing on the programme. However, we are actually still keeping our coaches everywhere well taken care of so for myself is to someone that runs this programme, I have to be kinda like stronger for the rest of the coaches across the country.
But it’s just been positive and knowing that this too shall pass, and we will go back to the field again and do what we love.
What is happening in the rowing community during this time?
So, everything at the moment is on hold. There is no training that is taking place. Those who have access to our machines at home, so they have virtual training happening, especially the national squad. So, the challenge is with our kids in all the rural areas, you know that most of them are the equipment are in cloud base or school based, and there is not access right now or movement at the moment. So, none of the kids own their own rowing machines, so they are not equipped to a level of the national squad where they would say that they will still continue to have virtual training or we could even plan a virtual competition for the national championship. So, so far, everything in the rowing community, everybody is staying put, doing what they can do, especially those who have access to the equipment and access to the internet. So that’s what is happening. But, beyond that the President keeps everybody informed and updated on plans going forward, or meetings. We still have virtual Zoom meetings as an executive to discuss person matters as we’re still under lockdown.
We have been boosted by the news of the World Rowing Masters Regatta coming to South Africa in 2023. What is the feeling around hosting this event for the first time on the African continent?
When rowing South Africa or South Africa was announced to host webmasters 2023, it’s the first of its kind. It’s the first time such an event is coming on to the African soil. Your question says, “What is feeling is around hosting such the event for the first time in Africa?” So, everybody in Africa is excited more especially us as the hosting country for Africa. So, this will boost rowing in the country and get all the mothers and fathers back in the water, that is the aim. All of us will be participating! We’re looking forward to that.
“It’s really exciting for us that the world actually trusts the work or believes in the models that we’ve applied to grow the sport in the country, and the support that we also offer the surrounding African countries.” – Mabaso speaks on the World Rowing Masters Regatta coming to South Africa in 2023.
It’s really exciting for us that the world actually trusts the work or believes in the models that we’ve applied to grow the sport in the country, and the support that we also offer the surrounding African countries. So that says a lot about South Africa in terms of growth in rowing and cementing our rowing concept in the country and being able to, to put a bid that is acceptable to the world. So, we really are happy and excited about that. And we want to see beyond 2023, what that would have, the impact of that event would have had on us but obviously we’re anticipating a positive outcome, more numbers or participants in the water, as well as on the, on the indoor rowing side, as well as growing power rowing as well. So, that event will encompass all the aspects of rowing.
How do you think this event will change the face of rowing as a sport in the country?
As I mentioned, we are hoping that it would grow or either make a greater impact than we have already had in most areas, and it would say to everybody that it’s a sport for everyone – no age limit whether you do it socially or competitively. So, we’re hoping that by the end of 2023 World Masters our numbers in terms of participation we would have grown.
Obviously, it’s an age group limit when we talk about masters, so minimum 27 outputs. So, we hoping to grow the master’s rowing.
What did you think of Ursula Grobler’s design that was chosen as the official logo for the event?
Ursula Grobler’s design is incredible! We’ve seen a whole lot of designs that came through. So, her one speaks so much to even the districts that we’ll be hosting which is Pretoria, Tshwane, and you know it’s very sunny, it’s very warm. So, we’re happy with the design, actually we, it was one of the best options compared to every design that was submitted, so it’s really suitable. It was suitable for apparel design in terms of posters and on internet, media campaign, so it was really great.
Where does your passion for rowing come from?
So, I came to Rowing South Africa in 2007. Rowing South Africa had advertised a position for administration/account officer, so I applied, and I got the job. I was coming from the health sector at the time, I just needed a change from where I was coming from – I was we in the health sector for five years. So, when Rowing South Africa advertised this, I was like, “Okay, here’s an opportunity,” but at the time, I, I didn’t know anything about rowing, per se, to even understand the rowing language.
“Everybody’s actually shouting heads, heads, heads, I didn’t even know what heads was all about, until a boat actually bumped me on my head! You know, that’s when everybody was like, “Oh, but Virginia you know, we were screaming heads because we wanted you to move out of the way.” So that motivated me to go and read the rules of racing, volunteer my time to officiate the sport, I fell in love with it and yeah, the rest is history.” – Mabaso reflects on her first experience at the SA Schools Champs.
I had to learn everything from scratch, the rules of racing, the rowing technical language, you know, so I remember the first time I went to SA Schools Champs, and it was my first regatta going there. One of the biggest regatta’s in the country, so I get there and I’m standing there obviously it’s a foreign space at that moment. You know, I remember my, my previous CEO Jacques Haremse was with me, so taking me through the ropes and introducing me to everybody. So, funny story is one of the crews there finished, they actually finished rowing, I’m standing down there, not even paying attention. Everybody’s actually shouting heads, heads, heads, I didn’t even know what heads was all about, until a boat actually bumped me on my head! You know, that’s when everybody was like, “Oh, but Virginia you know, we were screaming heads because we wanted you to move out of the way.” So that motivated me to go and read the rules of racing, volunteer my time to officiate the sport, I fell in love with it and yeah, the rest is history.
And you know, every day you put yourself out there, and you’re exposed to to different people, so passion grows is each time. We’ve kept it going thus far. So that’s how I got into the rowing community. And, I started cementing myself within the fraternity and I started to challenge myself to say what difference can I believe into into this space? How can we touch people’s lives through sports, you know, so I was fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to run the development programme for Rowing South Africa across the country. So that has exposed me so much to, to a whole lot of people in all the provinces and most in so many districts. We’ve met incredible kids, we’ve met incredible coaches, and educators as well that we work with, you know, stakeholders in all the provinces. So, that has been an awesome journey for me. And, I pray to God that He continues to give me strength and wisdom as to how do I carry this forward, but it’s been an incredible 13 years so far.
You are also a fashion designer! Tell us about that part of your life.
Yes, I am a fashion designer, that coexists in me with all my other passions, you know. So fashion design, I learned how to sow at my previous organisation in the health sector because in that organisation to just give a bit of background, they had an income generation project, which was aimed to provide some income for HIV and AIDS affected and infected members of the organisation. So, later in the in the year, then in 2003 I still remember, they had introduced sewing into the group, usually they would do bead work or the HIV and AIDS red ribbons and that so, then sewing was introduced. I was not even sitting in that session. It was my lunchtime, I sat in the corner and I was listening to the lady as she was giving basics. Techniques in terms of holding a scissor, how do you cut fabric, you know, you need to cut straight, how to sew straight and all that.
“I started making this and that and challenging myself cutting my own patterns and that by 2010, I decided to register a business which is FuniM Designs and since then, I have dressed incredible individuals in the music spaces, you know, in the art spaces, individual customers, you know, corporates, I’ve done some few corporate items as well.” – Mabaso speaks on owning her fashion design company.
So, I guess I got interested so much. At the end of that month, I went and bought my first sewing machine. I went and bought one of these heavy sewing machines, I get home with it, I couldn’t even thread the machine. It was so funny. I took back the machine to the shop and I went there like, “Guys, thank you so much, but your machine does not work.” So, those gentlemen laughed so hard, but you know, after laughing at me, they showed me this is how you thread the machine and this and that, and you know, just apply a bit of pressure, less pressure on your foot and that so the rest is history. I started making this and that and challenging myself cutting my own patterns and that by 2010, I decided to register a business which is FuniM Designs and since then, I have dressed incredible individuals in the music spaces, you know, in the art spaces, individual customers, you know, corporates, I’ve done some few corporate items as well. So, it’s been a great journey so far. Any time you see me anywhere on the red carpet, you know that that is the work from my own business in my own hands. It’s been quite a lovely journey.
How has it been managing both designing, investing in rowing and family?
Managing family rowing and fashion designing is quite challenging because you’re running a business that is seasonal and taking orders, you have to take it based on my rowing travelling schedule, because we travel quite a lot. And so, I would draft my rowing schedule for the whole year, which I know my year up until the end of November. So when I take orders during the year for my business, I know that I’m home here, I’m not home there, I’m away here and so my orders, I try not to take too long to deliver to my clients as well.
So I will take some of the stuff I take with me in hotels as we travel that needs hand beading, you know, some diamantes and everything things that I can still do when I’m on the road. It’s quite tough, but it’s doable. It’s just managing your time quite well. And every little time that I have when I’m home, I try to spend time with the kids and the family and the family and, and still be in touch with my family and be part of the family activities as they happen, you know. It’s very important to strike a balance in everything that we do. We will be driven by passion in our jobs, and in our gifts, but our families, our biggest supporters will support us when the chips are down or when things are going well. It’s really great I am still able to manage all three at the same time.
What is your current focus in terms of developing the sport among all South Africans? Are there any projects in place?
My current focus in terms of developing the sport in the country is to continue applying the same model that we have been applying, modify it here and there, but the biggest focus right now is to get every child on the indooring programme in the water. Give them the opportunity to race SA Nationals and to have an opportunity to get a national medal.
So, we’ve implemented that model with North West in 2019, we had a group of 27 kids that raced SA Nationals in the water for the first time. So, these kids have been participating and they have raced the National Indooring Championships, and they have been in the learn to row camps.
But, last year, we then started to do was that every year I need to introduce or add a province into this model so that every SA Nationals by the end of the next Olympics cycle, we’ve had all the provinces in the water. This will begin to transform the numbers in the water, people of colour in the water, as well as all age groups. So, that is the focus going forward. This year unfortunately due to Covid-19, we were supposed to raise North West again, Mpumalanga and Free State, so unfortunately they didn’t have that opportunity this year but we will definitely continue with that model in 2021 and going forward to make sure that all these kids have an opportunity because that is the only way to actually effect change if we create an opportunity.
What projects have you previously been involved in to develop the sport?
Obviously I came into Rowing South Africa without any written documents as to how to go about the development in the country, so I had to draft the current existing plan of the development for rowing in the country and implement the whole process, implement the progression plan for the sport as well.
So, we, that has been a great journey and I would say that being involved in various projects like your Gauteng Sports Confederation helps quite a lot, we learn quite a lot there, we share our expertise in developing sports in the province as well, so it’s learning in the progress and we go and implement in various spaces where we find ourselves in developing the sport in the country.
But, for rowing, it’s testing. Applying models that have never been tested by anyone, so that means trusting my thoughts and also making sure that I drive them to a point where I convince everybody to have a buy-in into the ideas and so far it has been working quite well.
What is being done to get the sport into communities that don’t necessarily view rowing as a career opportunity?
So each year, every time we continued to go into new areas, yes we introduce a club, we engage with the community, the municipalities, the district, the provincial department, so that we have a full buy-in into the concept and we have financial support to sustain the programme.
Opportunities that we get with media campaigns that we do, also helps to show that rowing is not just once off thing in terms of development, we just going to pop in today and tomorrow we are not there, so those media campaigns that we find ourselves in or the media exposure in general – be it radio, print or online – and people when they search about rowing, we’ve had such a huge interest in rowing recently, so that sort of convinced the communities to say that there is a career in rowing and as much as it cannot be compared with other, we say priority codes as they are regarded to be, so there is a career. We are trying our best to sustain the programmes that we start, so that our coaches are not vulnerable by failed projects.
What is it like being a female in the sporting space?
Being a female in the sporting space, I would say that continues to be a great or still is a concept or an idea that still needs to be adopted and embraced by everybody in the sports fraternity. You push harder, you work twice as hard. Your thoughts or your ideas need to be extra convincing for you to cement your place into the sporting fraternity. So, it’s been it’s been quite a journey in terms of finding our own feet or space or our voice to be heard within the sports fraternity.
But I am happy that things are starting to change, maybe the sports plan or gender equality also enforces that, and I am happy that the women that are within the sports spaces their voices are beginning to be heard.
“For us in rowing, we are fortunate that we’ve always, since my arrival in 2007, we’ve always had a women commission, we’ve always supported women participation in rowing in all our structures, you know.” – Mabaso speaks on female representation in sporting spaces.
For us in rowing, we are fortunate that we’ve always, since my arrival in 2007, we’ve always had a women commission, we’ve always supported women participation in rowing in all our structures, you know. Rowing being a small community itself, so we try to make sure that there are women representatives in all of our structures and also having an impact, a great impact, in what happens within various structures in rowing, but in general women still need to be taken highly seriously and also to be paid equally because women are also working, working twice as hard, are even reaching higher goals than their male counterpart, but we will get there. We’ll just have to continue to push while the playing field is being levelled up by government.
We are grateful of the plans and strategies that are being done by the government to ensure that women in any structure of sports are being noticed.
What have been your biggest achievements so far?
My biggest achievement is being able to see this programme actually working, being functional, sustainable as it has been for the past 13 years and that is the greatest achievement I could say. Also seeing the change this programme has brought into the communities that we are in, um, the growth this project has brought into my personal life because I can tell you that I am not the same person that I was when I started in 2007.
My thoughts process has grown, how I approach certain things have grown, so that on its own, there is self-growth and it’s the biggest achievement for myself. Other than that, the recognition by the Department of Sports and Recreation South Africa at the SA Sports Awards, I was nominated three times in 2015, 2016 and 2018, I won the award in 2015 and 2018.
Also, being recognised by gsport in 2017, receiving the Ministerial Award for my contribution, transformation and participation in the country, so I could say that these have been a great motivator for us as women to continue to do what we do and continue to give more of ourselves into the communities, for us to continue to impact lives through sports, so those I could say are the highlights .
What advice would you share with females who are looking to get into the administrative part of the sporting industry?
The advice I could share with females who are looking to get into that administrative part of sports is that administration was previously not seen as a great deal in terms of what happens in sports, it was always being regarded as a paper-pusher kind of position, but administration is huge, administration is where the impact is in terms of what happens on the field. If we get the administration, processes and the regulations right, so that by the time we get onto the field, that means there’s a group of people that are the brains behind the concept that gets to be implemented on the field.
“I would encourage females to not be phased out by the word sports administration and you feel that you do not add value, you are of no value in sports, you play a great deal; a great part into what happens on the field, so be encouraged, put yourself out there, put your thoughts to paper, try them, think them through, let’s have proper plans and fight to implement them.” – Mabaso shares her advice to females who are eager to get into sports administration.
So, I would encourage females to not be phased out by the word sports administration and you feel that you do not add value, you are of no value in sports, you play a great deal; a great part into what happens on the field, so be encouraged, put yourself out there, put your thoughts to paper, try them, think them through, let’s have proper plans and fight to implement them.
Generally, what are your thoughts on women’s sport in the country?
We still have a long way to go in terms of levelling the playing field, in terms of remunerating our female sports women equally, putting women into higher positions not mainly because of quotas and out of pity but mainly because we know that they can have a great impact in the sports industry and it’s just having that space where women can feel free to be themselves and also to be understood that women run families and running a family does not make you less of a leader and does not make you a weak person to say that I am not going to have a family because I don’t want to miss out on the sports space. We have to be allowed to take time to be mothers and nurture our families because that is how we are created.
So, the sports industry needs to not compare us with our male counterparts in terms of that because they have ample time, they don’t take time off work to go give birth, to nurture their family, you know, so things like that needs to be highly considered that we have a reproductive system and that on a month-to-month basis we have our menstrual cycles, so our body function does not compare with our male counterparts. So, we still need such to be taken into account to say women regardless of such, of how we are made and the fact that we will take time off, we are still strong leaders, we still can impact in any environment.
Also, from the women who are in sport, it is our duty to share ideas, to not bring each other down, to not compete with each other. I think the sports fraternity now has opened up, has grown so much for every woman in every different code. To have a place, to have a voice, to not want to compete with the other but stand together to lift each other so that we can all rise. If we are divided as women while we are still fighting for our space within the fraternity then we will not conquer.
How are you looking to continue paving the way for young girls to follow?
My concept has always been simple. Every time, everywhere I go there’s equality, we have female and male coaches when we are running a camp, we assign duties to all coaches. If we are running an SA National Championships, my committee, my LOC committee will have both representation of men and women and also not just playing in petty roles, they would be making decisions and managing certain aspects of those, so it is to share the load of work.
When I am out there I don’t stress about anything because I have planned everything and shared duties and it is for me to see and teach here and there of how we go about doing things and it has been working so far.
I would say that girls need to be confident, they need to rise up to the occasion and to know that they are stronger as well to make tough decisions, so you just have to roll with the punches as we go. That’s my encouragement to girls, to say you are enough to do a lot in the country and to contribute, especially in the space of rowing. There are a lot of young women that are inspired to follow in my footsteps and each time we meet, we do have girls’ sessions every women’s month. We would talk about our own environment and our views in sport and the girls would share the difficulties that they are facing and that also teaches them to speak openly, to speak their minds and to let their voices heard. That’s another leadership quality! That’s a bit of an impact that we have.
What are you still aiming to achieve?
We still have 20 more districts to go to have rowing in, some will be a tougher challenge to do mainly because of distance between districts or access to water as we plan to have water institutions where we will deliver starter packs of rowing equipment to ease the burden in communities instead of buying their own boards because we know that rowing equipment is very expensive, so we still need to reach 20 districts and we will do it, it is possible.
Last year, we did a rowing equipment drive where we collected equipment and by the beginning of this year we were supposed to start fixing the equipment but now everything is on hold, but once we are out of lockdown we will start the water institution in every province that will guarantee the accessibility to the sport in terms of every child will be able to have access to a boat instead of having to pay for one, which we know that our black communities will not be able to raise funds to pay such because priorities there are a bit different. So, we are hoping that by the end of the next Olympics cycle we would have launched water institutions into five provinces where we know that there is training sessions in the water that is happening alongside the indooring that we will also continue because that is easy to reach out to districts through the indooring concept.
All in all, I am still looking forward to seeing rowing grow in the country, I am still looking forward to seeing fair representation taking place in all the spaces, to seeing the executive being well represented in terms of gender, colour and demographic area. So, we will continue to play our part as long as we are still involved.
Thank you so much gsport for having a chat with me!
Photo 1 Caption: Virginia Mabaso’s goal is to impact every province in South Africa as she continues to develop the base of rowing from grassroots and introduce the sport into new districts. Photo: Supplied
Photo 2 Caption: As Development Coordinator, Mabaso’s passion for rowing has grown tremendously over the past 13 years as she has played a vital role in encouraging South Africans from all walks of life to see rowing as a feasible career path. Photo: Supplied
Photo 3 Caption: Mabaso admits that before her appointment at Rowing SA in 2007, she had no knowledge about the sport as she had previously worked in the health sector for five years. Photo: Supplied
Photo 4 Caption: She felt that she needed a change of scenery and when she came across an advertisement for a position at Rowing SA, she did not hesitate applying and since then, she has bumped her head a few times along the way but has made a vital impact in the rowing community. Photo: Supplied
Photo 5 Caption: Apart from her career in sport, Mabaso is also a fashion designer and owns her own company, FuniM Designs, while also being a mom. Photo: Supplied