The Coca-Cola under-13 Craven Week, under way in Bela-Bela this week is a celebration of rugby’s potential, with the best of the players who are only just finding their feet in game showing their skills in front of an enthusiastic audience.
The fact that these are players at a crucial and vulnerable stage of their physical development is not lost on SA Rugby and the organisers of the week, and their well-being is at the center of everything that happens.
Thys Bezhuidenhout, chairperson of SA Schools Rugby, explains that the medical requirements in staging an event like this are very stringent, and meeting these requirements was the biggest challenge in hosting the event in Bela-Bela.
“One of the biggest changes in this year’s tournament was a medical challenge,” he said. “Both the Limpopo Blue Bulls and the Blue Bulls management team worked hard to make sure that the medical facilities are up to scratch to host a large event like this and to make sure that the kids are safe and get the best medical treatment. There are 2 helicopters, 2 hospitals close by (government and private) a hospital in Pretoria on standby, 7 ambulances and a lot of medical staff. SARU will not compromise on the safety of our children,” he said.
The particular concern for the welfare of players at this age extends to the selection of the referees who officiate at the tournament.
“All the referees in this tournament are fulltime teachers and that is very important at this age group,” Bezhuidenhout explained. “Teachers have an in-depth knowledge of the requirements of children at this age. Teachers know when to let play run and when play has become dangerous and it is time to stop the game.
Referees at older age groups are used to well-trained and well-conditioned players who have the muscular structure to handle certain match situations.”
So, different from the other Coca-Cola Youth Weeks, these referees are not only the top upcoming young officials, identified by SARU, they are also all primary schools teachers, nominated by their provinces.
Bezhuidenhout has been to this week for 34 years now, and for him, what stands out is the increase in the number of players of colour appearing, and the excellent standards they achieve.
“In the early days the tournament only had 4 teams that were chosen from previous disadvantaged areas. Now over 50% of the players are non-white. The biggest challenge is to keep these players playing rugby once they leave school. The structures in the rural areas are difficult to find so we lose a lot of very good players,” he said.