Sport is as much about providing entertainment as being cheered and applauded. It’s about athletes and supporters being in unison. It’s but one of the many losses that Covid-19 has caused.

The NWU prides itself on its sporting heritage and achievements. This is why many students and staff choose to further their studies at the NWU and why national and international teams use the university’s renowned facilities as training venues and bases of operation.


The NWU’s sporting expertise is admired and its dedication to excellence revered. But the worldwide epidemic has taken a heavy toll on all this.


As Sean McCallaghan, manager for sport at the Vanderbijlpark Campus explains, sport at the NWU has been hit and hit hard.


“We are very anxious to get going again as we have been inactive for almost 12 months. We have a return-to-play strategy but don’t yet know when we will get back into the swing of things,” he says.


Lost opportunities


“The epidemic has also had a massive impact on student recruitment. Our staff members weren’t able to go out and watch potential students participate in sport, as schools weren’t hosting any events. Just think of all the opportunities lost. Kids dream of playing in prestigious events like the Craven Week, but now some have lost that chance.”


The most frustrating part for Sean is that getting sport going again is a stop-start situation. “We started with a little bit of netball in December, but that is it. We will never get 2020 back. Hopefully 2021 is a little better,” he says.


Another obstacle has been to keep staff motivated; a challenge best approached by employing some creativity. “A lot of us have become a lot more tech savvy; we have gotten out of our comfort zones which I suppose is never a bad thing. I’ve become very fluent in WhatsApp-speak,” he adds with a chuckle.


Playing it by ear


Rick van Rooyen, director for sport on the Mahikeng Campus, echoes Sean’ comments. “The effect of the pandemic was devastating as we didn’t have any sport. Towards the end of the year, we allowed some athletes on campus to train, but that didn’t help a lot as the federations themselves couldn’t start with their programmes,” says Rick.


As much as the campus was hoping for USSA and Varsity Sport competitions to commence, it was not to be.


The way things stand at the moment, it seems unlikely there will be any sporting activities until June 2021. “If we can get half a year of sport in, that would be helpful,” Rick says.


The best way to deal with the delay is to ride it out, he adds. “There will always be a need for sport. Once the pandemic has passed and the virus is under control, I’m sure that sport will continue. But until that time and until everyone has received the correct vaccination, we’ll have to play it by ear and see what happens.”


In the meantime, with the support of the University Management Committee at the NWU, a strategy has been prepared to enable sport to resume safely.


Keeping them on their toes


Sheldon Rostron, manager for sport at the Potchefstroom Campus, says the campus has succeeded in bringing back a large number of high-performance students for 2021. “The aim is to ensure there is a sustainable programme not only for sport, but also to help the students manage their academics.”


Sheldon warns, however, that there might be more pitfalls than meet the eye. “Something we often forget is the psychological aspect, especially for some of our top athletes who perform on the world stage.”


For these athletes, timing is of the essence so that they can leap into action as soon as dates and events are finalised. Training programmes are in place to ensure athletes are ready when they need to be and everyone is on standby for the first events.


“We will be ready to take medals and trophies as we move forward,” says Sheldon, adding that the NWU’s sports staff deserve a pat on the back. “They’ve worked extremely hard in 2020 and 2021. Although working from home, they’ve kept in contact with students and have been repurposed throughout the university to provide support where necessary.”


There may be a few more hurdles to come but there’s no holding sport at the NWU back.


On 18 October 2020 the Potchefstroom Campus hosted one of three simultaneous legs of the Sanlam Cape Town Virtual Marathon – Elite Invitational, with the men’s overall winner, Edward Mothibi, running on the Potchefstroom Campus. (Photographs: Wouter Pienaar, Media24)

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