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Ken Borland

Talent meeting opportunity at the root of development 0

Posted on May 10, 2017 by Ken


Gift Ngoepe has been making headlines this week, giving South African baseball a rare moment in the sun, and his incredible story just goes to prove that talent meeting opportunity should be at the root of all transformation or development efforts in this country.

Ngoepe became the first ever player born in Africa to play Major League Baseball when he turned out for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Chicago Cubs, the World Series champions, and made a single in his first at-bat, showing his ability as his hit registered the highest velocity off the bat in the whole game, and he then played a part in the double-play that ended the contest and sealed a thrilling 6-5 win for his team.

As is so often the case, nobody could have guessed what talent Ngoepe possessed for the quintessential American game. It was opportunity that unlocked the door and changed his life, leading to him becoming a tremendous role-model for all the less privileged people with sporting dreams in South Africa.

That opportunity came in the most extraordinary, and yet typical, South African way. His mother just happened to be employed as the cleaner at the national baseball headquarters in Randburg and Gift and his younger brother Victor, who plays in the Gulf Coast minor league, stayed with her in a little room on the premises.

Given the opportunity to have a go at this strange sport that is so foreign to most people on the continent, Ngoepe’s talent rapidly became obvious.

Of course there is a gap of several years between that and making history this week, filled with sacrifice, perseverance and a determination to fulfil his dreams. The joy of becoming the sixth South African and the first Black African to sign a professional baseball contract in 2008 gave way to the hard work of spending nine years in the minor leagues.

The magnitude of his achievement and the character of the man is shown by the reaction of both his team-mates and the Cubs to Ngoepe’s special day.

He was warmly greeted by his team-mates when he came on to field at second base and his single was wildly celebrated in the Pirates’ dugout, with chants of “For the Motherland!” and there were tears all round. The Cubs rolled the ball used for the single into the opposition dugout so Ngoepe could keep it as a memento.

The wonderful story of Ngoepe is in stark contrast to the other big sporting news item of the week, the almost certain demise of Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

Once the number one ranked bowler in international limited-overs cricket, Tsotsobe is the latest player to be charged in the corruption web that began with the machinations of Gulam Bodi.

The story of Tsotsobe features all the talent and even more opportunity than Ngoepe’s. The left-arm paceman comes from a well-off family in the Eastern Cape with strong sporting links, his sister Nomsebenzi being a former captain of the national women’s rugby team.

Tsotsobe had all the backing and opportunity in the world, but he lacked the work ethic and determination that so clearly drives Ngoepe. Conditioning, which is really just about hard work, was always a problem for Tsotsobe, and eventually the Proteas management lost patience with him.

Seduced by the bright lights and a glitzy lifestyle, it was perhaps inevitable that Tsotsobe would ultimately fall victim to the lure of easy money.

And yet there are current rising stars like Andile Phehlukwayo and Lungi Ngidi, who stand poised on the edge of stellar international careers having risen above similarly disadvantaged childhoods as Ngoepe, both being the sons of domestic workers.

Between AB & Atta, all we need is just a little patience 0

Posted on September 06, 2016 by Ken


Between them, Adriaan Strauss and AB de Villiers have generated numerous headlines and many words of copy over the last couple of days, but whatever one thinks of their sporting achievements, what is more important is that they are both fine men who enjoy enormous respect from everyone who works with them.
Unfortunately, South African sports fans being what they are, both have also had to face enormous vitriol and unfair denigration on social media, especially Strauss in the last couple of weeks.

Of course we are all disappointed with how the Springboks have been performing lately and Strauss’s own form has not exactly been inspirational, but so much of the criticism is uninformed and ignores the core roles he performs in the scrums and lineouts. As for his leadership, the players go out of their way to say what a good captain he is.

With so many veteran Springboks departing the scene in between the Heyneke Meyer and Allister Coetzee eras, this is a new-look team that is going to take time to settle, especially since they are trying to forge a new game plan. The side that started in Salta had only six players with more than 40 caps in the 23.

Even the Lions took three years to settle into their new style of play, so the most important thing the Springboks need right now is patience. They are in a transitional period, which is perhaps why Coetzee chose someone like Strauss to be the captain for the first year, seeing as though he knew at the time of the appointment that the hooker would be retiring from Test rugby at the end of 2016.

By the end of this year, Warren Whiteley could have made himself a definite starter at eighthman plus Pat Lambie could well have returned.

I know patience is not something South African sports fans are particularly known for, but there are very few successful teams who don’t go through bad patches. Before they won the 1995 World Cup, the Springboks were no great shakes either and Jake White nearly lost his job in 2006, a year before lifting the biggest prize in rugby.

Removing Coetzee from his post anytime soon will serve absolutely no purpose and should not even be considered.

Such bad patches also happen on an individual level as De Villiers, now considered by many to be the best batsman in the world, himself described at the launch of his autobiography this week. Between 2005 and 2008, he played 17 Tests without scoring a century and made just six half-centuries.

“I’m always very scared of failing before I go out to bat and there used to be ducks at international level and I’d be in tears in the shower. One of the low points came in 2006 at SuperSport Park, my home ground, when coach Mickey Arthur told me I was running out of chances after another soft dismissal, and in 2007 I was just surviving, I probably should have been dropped.

“I’d had a taste of the dream and I was going to throw it away. But then came a huge moment in 2007 when Jacques Kallis approached me and told me that to earn his respect I have to find some consistency. He was willing to work with me, especially on my defence,” De Villiers said.

Even the most naturally gifted, world-conquering sports stars have their dips in form. The Proteas have seen their patience with De Villiers rewarded many, many times over, never mind how many spectators he has thrilled beyond measure in that time.

Similarly, Allister Coetzee and the Springboks need to be allowed time to find their groove together. Hysteria and short-term thinking will do their cause no good at all.

Remembering the base of the triangle 0

Posted on November 19, 2014 by Ken

Currie Cup rugby players, franchise cricketers and Premiership footballers will dominate the sporting headlines this weekend, but some of them will take time to think back and remember the largely anonymous people operating at amateur level who made such a big difference to their careers.

Similarly, I will remember this last week for the two reminders it gave me of the many people toiling out of love for the game rather than money. In the sports journalists’ industry, we tend to focus on the small elite triangle at the top of the pyramid, while the thousands of amateur and social players and administrators that are the base – the very foundation – are largely ignored.

Take David Bagg, Gordon Brews and Mike Klatz.

At great personal expense and effort, they have restored Huddle Park, the famous Johannesburg municipal golf course, to its former glory; how successful they have been is borne out by the Sunshine Tour hosting their annual – and hugely popular – Media Challenge there this week.

In the last two years they have taken a derelict, overgrown property that had been abandoned by the City of Johannesburg and turned it into a friendly, first-class facility. They had to remove numerous squatters to do so, but they have employed over 80 people and are providing training in greenskeeping and hospitality, as well as once again providing a cheap pay-and-play option (R190pm membership, as little as R90 for a midweek round) for the public who want to get into golf but cannot afford the exorbitant membership fees of the established clubs.

Apart from restoring one of the most popular courses in Johannesburg – between 150 000 and 200 000 rounds of golf were played at Huddle Park annually in the 1970s – to its rightful place, the trio have also developed a mashie course, a floodlit driving range, a coaching academy, restaurant and sports bar, function venues, walking trails and even a trout-fishing dam as tie-ins.

Future plans include a mountain bike trail, cycle track, zip-lining facility, eco park, gym, beer and food festivals and arts and crafts expos as the Public Private Partnership provides a fun space for the community.

Many Johannesburg golfers learnt the game on the spacious fairways of Huddle Park and it is great news that the 75-year-old parkland green lung will continue for many more years.

Bad news I received this week was the passing on of Dave Edmondson, a legendary figure in KwaZulu-Natal sport who played an important part in setting me on my path to sports journalism as a career.

In 1992, when I was on the University of Natal Pietermaritzburg sports executive, I approached Dave, who was the head of sport, to find out what careers were available in sport (sadly, actually making it on the field wasn’t going to be an option!).

He suggested writing about sport and he approached another legend, John Bishop, at The Natal Witness and six months later my career was launched.

The University of Natal sports department did not have nearly as many resources as the likes of Tuks, Maties or UCT, but Dave gathered together some tremendous sportsmen and women during his time – Jonty Rhodes, Mark Andrews and Greg Nicol being amongst the most famous of them.

During his own playing days, Dave represented Natal and South African Universities as a hockey goalkeeper, played Natal U19 rugby and was a premier league cricketer. He went on to become a Natal cricket selector, the president of the Maritzburg Cricket Association and an honorary life president of KZN cricket.

But the mark of the man was the time he was willing to spend – for little material reward – enhancing the careers of others. A nicer man you couldn’t hope to meet and the encouragement and assistance he gave many future stars as a coach, schoolmaster and administrator is the point of sport, even if his name was not at the top of the triangle.

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