How to unlock SA’s enormous sporting talent pool: South Africa should be a “top sporting nation” in the World – Brad Bing

How can South Africa unlock the potential of its incredible sporting talent pool? According to Brad Bing – founder and managing director of Sporting Chance, an NGO focused on youth sports development and health education in South Africa – “South Africa keeps underselling itself as a top, top sporting nation.” Speaking to BizNews, Bing discusses the country’s pool of “incredible natural talent and flair” and the steps that SA’s sporting structures need to take to get the most out of it. Bing calls for more private sector and government investment in youth sports development at grassroots level, arguing that the return on this investment would be hugely beneficial to the economy. Beyond the benefit to the economy, Bing cites the impact of sport on national morale, “If our teams are doing well and the national psyche is at a huge high… The more people feel good about themselves, the more successful they’re going to be.” And on the work of Sporting Chance and the need for kids to lead an active lifestyle, “it’s absolutely vital that South African children understand the importance of learning how to be healthy and active.” – Patrick Kidd

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:00 – Introductions
  • 00:29 – Brad Bing gives some background on Sporting Chance
  • 01:36 – Bing on how investment into sports development can benefit the economy
  • 04:00 – On where government have gone wrong with sports investment in the past and where they should focus their investment
  • 06:46 – On the importance of sport for children
  • 09:19 – Bing provides a basic plan to optimise South Africa’s enormous talent pool
  • 12:29 – On the social impact of national sport on South Africa
  • 14:41 – On transformation in sport
  • 16:09 – Concludes

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Edited transcript of the interview between BizNews’ Patrick Kidd and Brad Bing, founder and managing director of Sporting Chance

Patrick Kidd: How can private sector and government investment in youth sports development benefit South Africa’s economy? Today, we hear from Brad Bing, founder and managing director of Sporting Chance, an NGO focused on youth sports development and health education in South Africa. Brad, thanks for joining us. Could you start off by telling us a little bit about Sporting Chance and what you do?

Brad Bing: No, certainly. Well, first of all, thank you very much for extending the invite to BizNews. I appreciate it. Sporting Chance started 33 years ago in 1990 as a means to offer children throughout South Africa the opportunity to play sport in a structured and professional environment. And subsequently, 33 years later, we worked with tens of thousands of children throughout South Africa. And with the idea, subsequently now, to not only do sport coaching and development, but to also bring through the health education sector. So we’ve obviously evolved over the years and sport is just, it’s in my blood and it’s one of those programs or organisations that I just love being involved with, even if I did start it myself.

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Patrick Kidd: So you wrote an article (republished below) about the need for more corporate and government investment in youth sports development and how that investment can benefit the economy. When I think of bettering the economy, sports development isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to my mind, but how could this investment help SA’s economy?

Brad Bing: You know, one of the things I keep talking to South Africa sport about is the fact that the greater and more successful our sporting codes are, the more people want to play against them. And the more people that want to play against the sporting codes, and I’m not just talking about rugby or cricket or possibly soccer or hockey or whatever the case is, or netball. I’m talking about the Olympic sports of athletics and swimming and water polo and everything else that goes with it. And the more successful we are as South Africans on the sports field, the more teams want to play against South Africa. And the more teams that want to play against South Africa mean that more tours will take place to South Africa. And with tours comes investment, and investment into infrastructure. Not only that, you’ve got people flying to this country. They need to be accommodated. There needs to be security. You need somebody who’s going to be serving at the front desk of a hotel, somebody who’s doing the businesses in the hotel, the Uber drivers, the taxi drivers.

So not only are we going to benefit on the sports field, but [our] whole society benefits because of that. Just imagine if we could hold an Olympic Games in South Africa, how our structure and our infrastructure of our roads, as we saw in the 2010 World Cup, how that would improve. So that is why I talk about how the better our sporting teams are, the greater our economy will be. And I think the quicker we can move away from South African sport relying on – especially [at] grassroots level – relying on CSI (Corporate Social Investment) money which is a compelled money to spend in South Africa on whatever you choose. Marketing money has got to go into it because if we can get our youth coming through at such an incredible amount and we know how much raw and natural talent we’ve got in this country.

If we can get our teams coming through and participating on a greater scale and more competitively, more tours will come to South Africa, the greater economy and more job creation will be created. So to me, I see it as a no-brainer. I just see it as simply government have got to invest into grassroots to make sure that our national teams perform and in order for them to perform greater income into the country.

Patrick Kidd: And so government have engaged with youth sports development to a certain extent previously, but where do you think those investments have gone wrong and where should they be targeting their investments?

Brad Bing: Yeah, I think what happened in 1990 when we all unified in South Africa and the big emphasis was on running programs to showcase what could happen in South Africa. For example, we would run a cricket coaching program and we’d bring out the likes of the Brian Laras of the world, etc.

And we’d create such enormous interest in sport, and especially in those days in cricket because we had Ali Bacher running the programs, and Khaya Majola. And you had a situation where all the kids would come down, all the coaches would be trained up, and then they leave.

And then what you do in actual fact, what I used to find was that PR opportunity was lost because there was nothing sustainable going forward. So the way we’ve got to do it, Patrick, is very simple, is we’ve got to invest into facilities within our communities. The only hiccup comes in is if you invest into facilities, you’ve got to make sure that there’s security at that facility to make sure that facility is maintained. Because once you put the facility in, if you do not have security, that facility will be cleaned out within a week. And that is the concern we’ve got.

But again, getting back to my point about grassroots. It is vital that our structures are put in place at grassroots level. And I’m not talking about your affluent schools because they’ve got an incredible infrastructure within the school system. And that is why we are so lucky in South Africa that we have got such a brilliant school system. And that is what keeps us competitive on a global stage. But we’ve got to make sure that our infrastructure is right within our communities.

Our coaching is diabolical within those communities. And unfortunately, has become too expensive. So if you’re a young child who can, or a parent who can’t afford to pay school fees or struggling to pay school fees, you’re not going to go and spend ten thousand rand on a hockey stick or a cricket bat. So we’ve got to make sure that when we run our programs in South Africa, we target the right communities that are going to give us a return on our money in order to make sure that we produce the best sportspeople [who] eventually make us world champions and everyone wants to tour our country – which improves our economy and creates more jobs. I see it as a very simple process.

Patrick Kidd: And beyond just those children that go on to be the sports people and go on to compete at the Olympics or play for the Proteas or the Springboks, just generally you’ve worked in youth sports development for 30 years. How important is exercise and sports [for kids]? How important is it for kids to have that?

Brad Bing: It’s absolutely vital. I mean, one of the saddest things for me was I did a radio interview in 1999 as government was just investing into what we call non-exam subjects in the curriculum. And one of those non-exam subjects was LO, well, Phys Ed, [which] was what I grew up with. Phys Ed was, we did it twice a week, even if you didn’t like it, you had no option but to do it. And we’ve taken that out and we’ve replaced it with a part of the curriculum in LO, which is more of a theoretical side to leading a healthy and active lifestyle than actually learning how to actually be practical in doing it. And that is my concern.

So to me, we’ve got to get Phys Ed back into the schools. And the reason why you’ll see all our, [or] most of our top sports people coming out of the former Model C and private education in our country is because they’ve got access to the facilities, they’ve got access to equipment, and they’ve got access to professional and structured coaching. Now, if those three components aren’t aligned, you will never produce a sporting personality out of any community in the world.

And that doesn’t come from me just saying, we’ve done our research on it. And that came from when we did the Health of the Nation research throughout South Africa. We tested 10 and a half thousand subjects – a subject being a child – on upper body strength, on explosive power, on agility, on everything, weight, height, etcetera. And we have got incredible natural talent and flair in this country to take forward.

But to answer your question with regards to health and hygiene, it’s absolutely vital that South African children understand the importance of learning how to be healthy and active. And that is why we’ve created a program that has been sponsored by Disney International, where we go into schools and we educate them along the lifestyle patterns of what to eat, what not to eat, your proteins, your fats, etc. So we’ll be working with around about 35-40,000 children this year, in schools alone, subsidising the curriculum that those children are already doing.

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Patrick Kidd: So if you were to just provide maybe a 10 step plan to optimise this enormous talent pool that we have in South Africa? What would those [first steps] be and what steps would you take after that?

Brad Bing: The first steps I would take is to find the right people in the right communities who are actually passionate about sport. That’s the first step I’d take. I’d set up a task team to say, right, we’ve got to find the right people, the right coaches and what structure are we going to have? So what are we going to do at grassroots level at Sporting South Africa? How do we take the children from grassroots level to the next level? Is it through the school system? Is it through the club system? If it’s through the school system and our schools are already working, keep maintaining and making sure that they don’t collapse. If it’s through the club system and our club system is weak, how do we manage the club system to make sure that the club system actually caters for those people coming through?

Then the next tier you’ve got to make sure that is successful is your provincial setup. Our provincial setup, unfortunately, is politically motivated in this country. There are too many people involved at administrative level that are administrating for their own good rather than the good of the sport. [And] when the children or when the participants get to an international level, we’ve got to have the most incredible systems in place that can cater for them.

And we’ve got those people in this country. I mean, [if] you just go to seminars and listen to people talking about how we produced a sporting personality out of nothing. I mean, Josiah Thugwani won the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. He won it from nowhere. And in the last 27 years, we haven’t had one South African athlete in a marathon coming out of the Olympic Games, or in the top 10. And yet we’ve got the Comrades [marathon] and we’ve got the Two Oceans [marathon] and we’ve got the Cape Town marathons and marathons all over South Africa. How can we not be competing in the top five with the top athletes in the world at the Olympic Games? It’s just absurd to think [about] that’s just one example of where I think that we’ve fallen behind.

I look at our swimmers, they don’t have money, but wow, are they dedicated and have they put South Africa on the map from a swimming point of view? I look at our rugby team, I mean what they’ve achieved and how they’ve transformed themselves and how we’ve taken rugby forward in this country is fantastic. But that again comes from leadership and the leadership there is Russia Erasmus. You don’t have to be a wizard to work out that there was great concern amongst Australians and the All Blacks at one stage and the rest of the world that our rugby team wasn’t going to be good enough to compete on an international stage. But we had one individual who took the bull by the horns and said, we’re going to turn South African rugby around. And that’s the type of thing we need.

The right personnel to put the right strategy in place. And once you’ve got the right strategy, a structure is vital and we’ve got the people to do it. It’s just a matter of do we actually want to do it and who’s gonna actually run that.

Patrick Kidd: Beyond the benefits for the sports people themselves [and] for the economy. You look at the Rugby World Cup going on at the moment, the Cricket World Cup, how that unifies South Africa when South African teams do well. Could you comment on that sort of social impact of sports on the country?

Brad Bing: Man, it goes back to the first situation or the first point I made is the greater, the more successful our teams are, the more people want to tour South Africa. The more tourists come to South Africa, the more people spend money. So if our teams are doing well and the national psyche is at a huge high, the more people go out and have dinners, the more they socialise, the more they go and buy a few beers and refreshments, the more that they feel good about themselves. The more people feel good about themselves, the more successful they’re going to be. So the national psyche, and this is where the rugby players have got it right, and is absolutely brilliant is they realise the importance of being successful on the rugby field because they’re representing 62 million people now back in South Africa. It is vital that our teams do well.

And we’ve got, by the way, we’ve got so much talent in this country and natural talent, Patrick. You’ve got to understand that everyone complains about us exporting cricketers to New Zealand or the rugby players to Australia, and cricketers too, and hockey players and swimmers and whoever throughout the world. And check how well we still perform at an international level. We’ve got an abundance of talent. It’s how do we take that talent, how do we nurture it and take it forward? That’s so important. And we’ve got the scientific knowledge, we’ve got the intellectual capabilities, we’ve got the people to run it.

I just feel that South Africa keeps underselling itself as a top, top sporting nation. And we’re not just talking about rugby cricket. We’re talking about hockey. We’re talking about netball. We’re talking about soccer. I mean, there’s no way Bafana should be lying closer to 100 than they are to zero in the world. We should be in the top five in Africa, if not the top 10 in the world with the amount of talent we’ve got and the infrastructure we’ve got in this country.

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Patrick Kidd: You concluded your piece with a comment on this idea of transformation and the lack of swift progress made in this regard. Could you explain this concept of transformation in sports and how we can achieve it in the country?

Brad Bing: Well, first of all, I don’t subscribe to the quota system, Patrick. I think it’s an absolute embarrassment to – if I can throw out names – your Brian Habanas, your Herschelle Gibbs, your Hashim Amlas and your players in the netball teams, your Phumza Mawenis, for them to be regarded still 33 years later as being quota players. I think it’s absolutely absurd with regards to transformation, [which] is huge in this country.

You don’t have to be a wizard to work out [and] we’ve just had the stats released for the amount of people in South Africa and the amount of people that are on a greater scale from a black African point of view. We’ve got to make sure that those individuals are given access to sporting facilities and equipment and the right coaching. Could you imagine if only six or seven percent of our population, let’s call it 10 percent as a round number, have got access to [those facilities], and we still produce like you can’t believe. Just imagine if we could get the other 90% of South Africa participating in organised sport, how fantastic we would be. In actual fact, we’d end up like the Americans competing against ourselves for the World Cup. And that’s my logic. Wow, we’ve just got to keep making sure that transformation happens without compromising the professional standards that is expected on a global stage.

Patrick Kidd: Brad Bing is the founder and managing director of Sporting Chance. And I’m Patrick Kidd for

Investing in sport must be more than CSI spend.

By Brad Bing, Managing Director of non-profit Sporting Chance Development Foundation

Sport is a powerful tool used by many nations to unite and empower its citizens and as a result they are reaping major economic benefits. Africa as a continent has immense sporting talent just waiting to be discovered. But a lack of financial capital, inadequate sports facilities, equipment and coaches, mean it often never realises its potential. Research shows that investment in sport in developing countries is much less than in developed nations as the long term value is not recognised as a crucial issue in the national budgets.

As South Africa struggles to find its way despite our many social and economic challenges research suggests, sports as an economic subsector, can help promote economic growth and development and reduce the unemployment rate among the youth when adequately harnessed. Other benefits that make one wonder why not more investment is being made into the sector, range from job creation; income for clubs, sports personnel, and ancillary workers; tax revenue for governments; infrastructural development; promotion of political and social cohesion; enhancement of the images of countries; healthier citizens for higher productivity and reduced future burden on the health sector; and foreign exchange.

Using sport to transform and unite people

While economists focus on ways to encourage investment into sectors like mining, agriculture, manufacturing and technology, sport is a sector I believe must be included in the plan. In 1994, Nelson Mandela used sport to unify and rebuild South Africa and as a result, our country experienced massive Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) with the economy growing on average by 2.5% (quarter on quarter) and inflation at 8% per year. He believed that sport had the power to transform the world and not only to unite people but to also drive economic growth and development. Creating a winning nation begins with having a powerful strategy to ensure our young sporting talent rises to the top. To create more opportunities for them to thrive will, however, require real investment from both government and the private sector – not just corporate social investment responsibility.

A culture of being physically active must be cultivated early

Norms for physical activity and lifestyle patterns are established early in life. I believe one of the biggest mistakes our government made was to replace stand-alone Physical Education (PE) lessons, where children could learn to love an active lifestyle, with the general subject of Life Orientation. Removing this had a massive impact in reducing the number of children who play sport or even engage in any form of physical activity. With no or very limited Physical Education or sports after school hours at under resourced schools, it means that kids are more susceptible to social evils, such as joining a gang or experimenting with drugs and alcohol. And notably, this type of behaviour only perpetuates their cycle of poverty and unemployment having a negative impact on the economy.

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Sport prepares children for life

Beyond the actual athletic benefits, the world of sports holds valuable lessons for leadership. Just like sports teams set ambitious goals and work toward a shared vision, so must influential leaders clearly explain what they wish to achieve: what it does, how it serves stakeholders and where it’s headed, and set challenging yet attainable goals for their teams. By examining the dynamics of teamwork, strategy, perseverance and personal growth inherent in sports, we can unlock powerful metaphors that shed light on practical leadership principles. Over the past 33 years I’ve made it my mission to give as many South African children a “sporting chance” regardless of their race, gender, or social class through the Sporting Chance Development Foundation. We run structured sports and health education programmes in under-resourced communities around South Africa.

We don’t only teach kids how to play a sport like cricket, soccer or netball, we also focus very much on the holistic development of the child, harnessing life skills like discipline, teamwork, conflict management, respect, health, future planning, hygiene and fitness. These skills set them up for life giving them the necessary skills to not only play a sport but also run a business or pursue any career of their choosing.

Sport has the power to transform mindsets and reports we receive from various schools we work with are testament to this. Before our involvement, schools in under resourced communities struggled with poor attendance and low pass rates as well as their students engaging in drugs, alcohol and gangsterism. After enrolling in our sports programmes kids improved academically and caregivers noticed positive changes occurring at home too. Some children as a result have gone on to receive bursaries to secondary and tertiary institutions.

Private Sector and Government Funding

For me, the challenge in the private sector is getting them to see the bigger picture and to not only financially back those already at the top – where they benefit from media and marketing exposure, but rather invest in early childhood development. This is where the foundation for sports participation is laid.

Government funding needs to also take a long-term approach with a structure that supports employment of coaches and creation of coaching programmes after a facility has been built. We have too many facilities that have become “white elephants” in South Africa. Any money available is spent on cleaning and maintenance and not used to implement programmes at these facilities. We need to avoid mistakes made in the past where in order to encourage mass participation in sport, we built hundreds of facilities and rolled out once-off coaching clinics. We saw how this strategy failed because it lacked follow up of professional training and ongoing structured coaching, making it unsustainable in the long-term.

Transformation needs mass participation

Considering the current picture in South Africa, transformation has not happened at the pace and scale demanded by society and that is due to lack of early development. To adequately produce South Africa’s next sporting generation requires more people to play organised sport and so the focus must be on mass participation. With South Africa being the most unequal country in the world according to the World Bank’s study, ‘Inequalities in Southern Africa’, with racial disparities accounting for 41% of income inequality and 30% of educational disparities, we need every government official, the Minister of Finance, our President and CEOs of all JSE-listed companies to recognise the potential sport has to change our current trajectory. If I could, I’d also show them the smiles, determination and talent we see on a daily basis – then they’d realise where South Africa’s future investment truly lies.

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