As the world observes International Day of Sport for Development and Peace on 6 April, the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA) and the University of Cape Town (UCT) lend a contribution through their relationship of research, education, clinical work, and sporting excellence, according to the institute’s chief executive officer (CEO), Dr Mandla Moyo.
Dr Moyo, who joined SSISA in 2018 as head of finance, took the reins as chief executive in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown and his immediate task was to ensure they survive a difficult period and respond to the national emergency.
“A lot of focus was also on balancing our finances,” he said.
“Although COVID-19 was a huge setback, it gave us a chance to go back to the drawing board to figure out what we stand for and what is important to our consumers in terms of the services we provide.
“When we were set up, our biggest focus was to translate and disseminate science and to advance sporting performance and health of all South Africans. We went back to that original mission.”
SSISA does most of its work with the Faculty of Health Sciences, particularly the UCT Research Centre for Health through Physical Activity, Lifestyle and Sport.
“The main areas we emphasised was that funnel between UCT and SSISA, because the way it is meant to work is UCT does research through students that are hosted in the university’s portion of SSISA, and elements of that research are translated into products and services which serve the community.”
The research is divided into academic and commercial research. The academic flows from students who generate new ways of doing things such as exercising, training, or eating. On the other hand, the commercial research is “when a corporate comes with a problem or opportunity and they ask us, together with UCT to develop a solution”.
“UCT and SSISA have been joined at the hip in that they set up the building [in Newlands] together in 1994. Students – from honours to PhD level – that need a practical area to do their work can do so in this space.”
Moyo explained that once the student finishes their honours, they are welcome to do their internship at SSISA. “That model evolves into work-integrated learning, which brings us to the second pillar of education.”
“That relationship allows us to see new and existing problems with patients and we integrate that into research and learning.”
The third pillar – clinical work – involves sports medicine doctors who practice at the building and actively see patients. They are also professors or associate professors at UCT. Clinical is not limited to sports medicine but extends to 18 disciplines, which include physiotherapy, dietitians, podiatry and psychology.
“Ideally, that relationship allows us to see new and existing problems with patients and we will increasingly integrate that into research and learning to provide better clinical services.”
Another area of expertise is sporting excellence.
“We strive to be a centre of excellence in various sporting disciplines. The founders of the institute saw a gap because there were no high-performance centres in the country at a time when we were re-entering the world sport market after years of isolation,” Moyo said.
“The rationale was to rebuild our sporting excellence as a country. At the same time, UCT was interested in creating an academic centre where sporting performance and wellness and health research could be housed in one area.”
The sustainability footprint
SSISA also has a strong corporate social responsibility drive in its DNA. With 25 years of running community programmes, Moyo said that he was satisfied with the efforts of members involved in such initiatives in low-income communities.
Through the HealthNutz drive, the institute assists primary school children in physical activity exercises. The OptiFit Outreach focuses on young adults and adults in communities.
“We focus on empowerment; we do not seek to do the work ourselves. We seek to empower a teacher or someone willing to assist people who want to live healthier. We teach them and monitor them as they roll out programmes,” said Moyo.
“Our mission is to benefit all South Africans and not just in Newlands where we are based.
“The programmes have continued for so long because the feedback we have received has been positive.”
HealthNutz is an official beneficiary of the MySchool programme. If you wish to assist their work by adding them to your MySchool card, please email the programme co-ordinator, Ruben Coetzee.
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