– Above: Stellenbosch’s currently quite empty Coetzenburg. Photo: Francois Lombard.

The Covid-19 pandemic and all that it involves has forced Maties Sport chief director Ilhaam Groenewald to embrace some big changes.

According to Groenewald the current situation has forced her to make changes and adapt. She admits freely that it is by far the biggest challenge of her career so far.

“It’s definitely the biggest one I have had to face up to this point. One of my immediate focus areas was to remind myself about my own leadership style; I started to read more about different leadership styles and even ventured into some online tools and previous reports to begin to understand what lies ahead,” said Groenewald.

“The most difficult challenge has been the ‘no human contact’ and realising how important we are as a team together versus apart. This is applicable both at Stellenbosch University and the rest of the sporting world that connects us.”

Ilhaam Groenewald, chief director of Maties Sport.

Ilhaam Groenewald, chief director of Maties Sport.

With no university sport for the rest of 2020 and the last university action early in March – a Maties Varsity Cup rugby match against Ikeys – every sport loving South African is finding it difficult to stay positive.

Groenewald says that lockdown has added a “new dimension” to her learning, writing and reading.

“I have been joining and presenting several webinars, doing research to understand the global developments in sport, etc. I also try to be disciplined and I identified at least three areas to focus on: identifying possible topics for my PhD, including reading widely of course, leadership focusing on leading and managing during tough times and women in sport.”

For many the mental challenge has been just as big as the physical with lockdown. Just like Groenewald and her team make sure that all Maties Sport student-athletes get all the support on a mental health level possible, she takes care of her own wellbeing.

“I try and connect with colleagues and friends because a little love and caring during tough times goes a long way – and that means taking care of yourself too. These learning initiatives keep me busy and focused and allow me to reach beyond just the now.”

One of the many – but probably most pressing – questions asked at present is what must we never go back to once we can operate “normally” again.

“Recently there has been unprecedented growth in remote work with the technology landscape undergoing a massive transformation. It was inevitable that we had to switch to remote work. This change allows us to have huge budget savings and my hope is that instead of flights, hotels, meals, etc., that we as sport administrators and leaders will use the funds to improve our sport in general.”