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Johannesburg – Nations opposing rugby have put their sporting rivalries aside to help disabled South African players during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Springboks and the British and Irish Lions have teamed up to create The Players’ Fund, an ongoing fundraising campaign that will officially end this weekend.
Through an online auction of rugby memorabilia, including a Springbok 2021 jersey signed by the entire team; balls signed respectively by the backs and forwards of the Springboks; and a 2009 British and Irish Lions jersey signed by captain Paul O’Connell and his entire team, they aim to raise at least Â£ 15,000 (R300 243).
The auction began on July 24 and will run for the duration of the Springboks-Lions Test series which ends this weekend.
Player’s Fund chief executive Gail Baerecke and chairman Jean de Villiers said they were determined to get involved as the global health crisis had taken its toll on sport.
âRugby has been restricted to almost every level of the game like most sports, both locally and internationally, and this has had an impact on livelihoods, career choices, missed sporting opportunities, meaning goal and fitness levels to name a few.
âThere is also the uncertainty of what the future holds has also created increased levels of anxiety among rugby players,â they said in a statement.
But injured players were particularly vulnerable and need all the help they can get, they explained.
âLiving with a disability during the pandemic distinguishes them as a ‘vulnerable group’, which makes visits to public transport, hospitals and clinics more risky for them. For this reason, an emergency lockdown fund, which provided the most needy beneficiaries with electronic sales vouchers and private transportation to and from medical appointments, was also established.
“We kept in close contact with as many people as we could by phone and electronically, and it was important for us to know each other’s needs and challenges and to step in and help where we could. “, they declared.
But then Baerecke and de Villiers were approached by British foundation Matt Hampson with the idea of ââthe online auction.
“Their message was clear, we are going through these difficult times together, so let’s help each other out so that we can both continue to do what we do best.”
The pair explained that it is also favorable to auction valuable and sought-after South African rugby memorabilia items in an international market when bidders do so in hard currency.
âWe collected some rugby memorabilia from our Springbok team that were so helpful and another item was also given to us by a former Springbok,â they said.
The Matt Hampson Foundation has also sourced articles from its large base of supporters, businesses, current and former Lions players.
In order to constitute The Players’ Fund, a team approach was needed from the like-minded charities of two highly competitive rugby nations, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
âWhen we put our heads together, amazing things happen,â the couple said.
They added that the two charities had worked together for many years, with Matt Hampson even visiting South Africa in 2019.
The response to the ongoing online auction has already received a positive response and Baerecke and de Villiers hope to achieve their goals as the campaign comes to an end this weekend.
Ultimately, the idea is to make The Players’ Fund sustainable even during unprecedented times.
âOur 102 beneficiaries who live with difficult disabilities every day need us and we are committed to helping them no matter what,â they said.
“We’ve been doing it for the past 41 years and we have to find ways to do it for the next 41.”
The Saturday Star