Ilhaam Groenewald has been Chief Director of Maties Sport since 2014 and is a former Independent Executive Council Member of SA Rugby and President of University Sport South Africa. She was recently elected to the new SASCOC board.
Q: As Chief Director: Maties Sport, describe your job and what your primary focus and areas of responsibility are?
A: The Maties Sport business covers 30 sports codes, with thousands of students participating at various levels, such as residence leagues, provincial, national and international competitions. My primary focus areas include:
- Developing strategy
- Growing participation at high performance, competitive and recreational levels
- Providing strategic direction and support for our operational units
- Developing and implementing business plans to ensure sustainability for sport at the university
- Generating third stream funding and fundraising
- Establishing, developing and maintaining strategic partnerships
- Developing, aligning and ensuring compliance to legislation and policies
I also form part of the senior management team and this includes representation on a number of committee structures.
Q: Your recent appointment to the SASCOC board was met with disapproval from University Sport SA (USSA), due to its claim that it nominated another candidate. Has this issue been resolved and what was your initial response to the USSA claim?
A: I am not aware of any reason(s) why the matter has not reached its conclusion and feel it is best that this question be directed to USSA. SASCOC also provided nomination procedures to be followed in the event of any concerns and USSA has the opportunity to follow the procedures.
Q: SASCOC has been beset with in-fighting for a while now, but it hasn’t been alone, with other South African sports bodies, such as Cricket SA and SAFA, experiencing their own governance issues. Does South African sports administration have a problem?
A: Governance challenges have been lingering for too long and this means that we do have a problem. Having said that, I don’t believe that these challenges cannot be resolved. I think these governance challenges can be resolved by leadership, strategy, policies, resources, monitoring, evaluation & reporting, and accountability.
The latter remains our biggest challenge and with the current systems, we will not make a turnaround on this quick enough, unless we access longstanding resources, namely The King Report in its various versions. We also have the Institute of Directors, a structure that can play a major role in educating our various sports federations and perhaps this should become a priority as part of equipping our sports leadership serving on various committee structures. We need to understand the business case necessary to redesign our entire sports governance system.
Q: What would you like to achieve in your position on the SASCOC board?
A: I intend to work towards reverting to our main business of supporting our members to ensure support to advance the performance of Team South Africa, advance investment, and provide various opportunities in the fields of training and development.
Q: What did you learn from your previous roles as President of University Sport SA and Independent Executive Council Member at SA Rugby?
A: Firstly, there are major differences with both business models. USSA is a NPO, thus highly dependent on the fees paid by member universities, Lotto and government funding. SARU’s business is big and I grew in leaps and bounds during my four-year term, and used this new knowledge in trying to advance the business of USSA in a few areas, such as strategy, governance and functioning of the executive committee.
Q: What do you regard as your ‘big break’ in the sports industry?
A: My 2014 appointment at Stellenbosch University and understanding the massive responsibility to transform Maties Sport.
Q: There do not appear to be many black women with senior roles in South African sport. Would you agree with this suggestion and do you believe the industry is sufficiently transformed?
A: There have been some positive moves in this space during the past five years, with more women assuming the roles of heads and directors of sport. But, USSA’s membership consists of 27 members with less than 30% women representation and this means that we are not sufficiently transformed. While we have a few women responsible for management and administration of sport, our trajectory demonstrates that the advancement of women into senior leadership positions has been very slow.
Q: What do you think the biggest sports ‘learning’ from the COVID-19 pandemic has been?
A: That change can happen unexpectedly and when it does, it is then when your space will be tested to demonstrate its sustainability or not. My biggest lesson relates to leadership and how well prepared and equipped we are for massive and unexpected changes, such as COVID-19, and this relates directly to the need for transformational leadership that requires a shared model of leadership.
Q: Once sport in general is back up and running fully, post-COVID-19, do you anticipate change, in terms of how it is run, consumed, commercialised etc?
A: Absolutely, and a recent Nielsen Sports SA report showed the sharp decline in sponsorship, for example, that is directly linked to the commercialisation of sport. Most sports federations use their commercial success to support the development of sport at various levels and this negative impact means that sport – especially at youth levels – are already and will continue to suffer until such time that our sport becomes strong again. Our country’s sports investment is extremely skewed and does not support the dire socio-economic challenges, with too much expectation on sports federations and other structures to carry this responsibility. This means that government has a responsibility to invest more in sport, because the impact of this pandemic is unimaginable and sport has a major role to play in reviving the mental wellness of our citizens.
Q: Which sports organisations – either local or international – do you believe are getting it right, in terms of marketing and commercialising their product, and why?
A: Asia, the USA and Europe are getting it right, firstly because of their history versus that of Africa, and secondly because they ensure that they stay abreast and embrace new developments – especially in the spaces of revisiting their governance and leadership systems, which ensures commercialisation is informed, challenged and changed to be relevant. I specifically want to identify university sport in the fields of research, science, technology and innovation, rugby, cricket, netball, women’s basketball, golf and football, which have all made major strides.
Q: Where would you like to be, career-wise, in 10 years’ time?
A: I hope to be in a leadership space where I can contribute to sports development, especially school sport. My reasons being that federation and university sport participation will fade drastically unless we start turning around our school sports system as a matter of urgency. My vision is that my years of sports involvement could help shape the sports development space for a more sustainable future.