It’s likely the smallest Ikey Tigers 1st XV rugby blazer ever presented at the University of Cape Town (UCT). But Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng filled it with the large presence she is known for on the side lines of the annual, inter-university Varsity Cup.
And that presence is 100% commitment and enthusiasm, said the president of the UCT Rugby Football Club (UCTRFC), Neville Isdell, when he presented the blazer. The presentation was made at a dinner Professor Phakeng hosted for the UCT rugby management team, members of UCT sports management, the 1st XV coach, captain and vice-captain, at Glenara on 18 February.
Included in the presentation was a hoodie from the UCT women’s rugby team, the UCT Swifts.
Speaking at the dinner, Isdell thanked Phakeng for her leadership and involvement with Ikey rugby, “because it all comes from the top”, he said. The blazer makes her one of the team, on the stands, when she attends matches, he added.
“In my recollection, there’s no VC in the university who has been more supportive of Ikey rugby. And it shows; it shows in your energy and enthusiasm.”
The 13th president of the 140-year-old club, Isdell is an alumnus, former Coca-Cola chief executive and a long-time supporter and patron of the UCTRFC. Isdell began his undergraduate studies at UCT in 1961 (he qualified as a social worker) and later played lock for the 1st XV. In 2014, his US$1-million donation funded the Neville Isdell Rugby Centre, when the club and its facilities at the Sports Centre on upper campus were overhauled.
Isdell shared one of his first encounters with the VC two years ago at a Varsity Cup game, won by the Ikey Tigers. Afterwards, Phakeng asked if she could visit the players in their dressing room and Isdell agreed, quickly rallying the players – some in the showers, others in various post-match dress – to a level of respectability.
“And in she comes, and you know what changing rooms are like, all steam and sweat and smells, and she’s probably a little smaller than the average guy in the changing room. And she makes an impassioned speech about how rugby brings people together in so many dimensions … And our young black captain started speaking with tears in his eyes and said it was the most meaningful thing that had ever happened [to the group].
“It ended with all of them with their arms around each other and they said to the VC, ‘We are a band of brothers’. That’s what we try to provide and create [at the UCTRFC].”
Addressing the VC, Isdell said, “I believe it is an aspirational thing, which I hope helps with what you are trying to do in the university. So once again, thanks for really honouring us here. But from all of us, thank you for your support. It’s very, very meaningful.”
In response, Phakeng said it had taken some guidance to get the rugby lexicon down pat.
“I love it,” she said, referring to the energy and camaraderie in the team and the role sport plays in building those.
Belonging, shared culture and identity
In his address, 1st XV head coach, Tom Dawson-Squibb, spoke about mental health issues and rugby players. He emphasised the importance of belonging, as illustrated in Owen Eastwood’s book, Belonging: The ancient code of togetherness.
Owen is of Māori and Irish descent and uses the Māori idea Whakapapa or “You belong here” to describe the universal human need for belonging, through a shared culture and identity, as reflected in teams.
To illustrate the importance of this, Dawson-Squibb also referred to a memorable must-win league game when the team talk revolved around honouring a debutant player and making him feel not only part of, but important to the group.
To end, he thanked the VC for honouring the management and team members at her home after what had been an arduous week, centred on resolving on-campus student protests.
“I really appreciate your time and your time away from your family, but you help us feel like we belong and at our 07:30 practice tomorrow we’ll make sure we relay the good vibes and good energy.”
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