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USSA President looking to future of university sport

Looking to change from a history of racial segregation and inequity in sports, fostered by the apartheid government, leaders and activists in sports as well as athletes from different institutions of higher learning came together to fight for a peaceful, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, and unified sports community for students. In 1991, the first ever conference aiming to amalgamate sports at South African institutions of higher learning was organised and hosted at the University of Cape Town. Mr Louis Nel, who is currently the Secretary General of USSA, was one of the key people who took part in the negotiations process at that time.

After a long period of discussions, in 1994 the South African Students Sports Union (SASSU) came into existence. The establishment of this union was a new dawn of hope, growth, and success for athletes in institutions of higher learning in South Africa. The student sports structures that were involved in founding SASSU were:

  1. South African Tertiary Institutions Sports Union - SATISU
  2. South African Universities Sports Council - SAUSC
  3. South African Technikons Sports Council - SATSC
  4. South African Colleges Sports Association - SACSA

SASSU became part of international sports competition by affiliating with the International University Sports Federation (FISU), the Confederation of University and College Sports Associations (CUCSA), and the Africa University Sports Federation (FASU) respectively on 7 July 1993, 17 September 1996, and 19 May 2002. Due to the participation in FISU, SASSU was then reconstituted as USSA on 19 April 2008.

Ms Nomsa Mahlangu, the President of USSA, began her journey of participating in the university sports movement when she was in her second year at Vista University and she got involved in SASSU football in Gauteng. The sky did not become the limit for her, as she continued to climb the leadership ladder to serve in different sport structures. She became the first woman to ever be elected to the South African Football Association Executive in 2009.

"For me, more than anything, I look at university sports as a springboard that gives one an opportunity to understand sports better, to also contribute in the development and emancipation of students through sports," Ms Mahlangu said.

The journey to gender parity still has a long way to go, as history and experience reveal that men have and are still dominating the leadership space in sports. Over the years, a few women were raising their hands to be involved in leadership roles. USSA saw this gap and realised there was a need to amend the constitution to ensure that there is gender equality and parity representation, most importantly from students. During the "SASSU football" period, Ms Mahlangu was the only woman active at that point, however, she made it her business that when she left the structure there included more representation by women. The President of USSA emphasised that young and older women need to surround themselves with women who will empower, challenge, and continually nudge them in the right direction.

South Africa University Sport historyMs Mahlangu shared with us her dreams and goals for South African sports in universities, with promoting dual careers being one close to her heart. In promoting dual careers, she would love to see athletes acquiring formal qualifications whilst competing professionally. This speaks directly to institutions of higher learning supporting students through the provision of resources and conducive platforms for athletes to leverage while equally encouraging academic success. "I’d like to see more universities getting more involved in community sports and school sports. Moreover, to see African university sports growing as a collective," Ms Mahlangu said.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has distracted a lot of plans in the sports landscape, however, preparations are underway for the Chengdu 2021 FISU World University Games. At the last FISU Games, University Sport South Africa performed quite well, and the President is confident that if they reflect on the previous performance and improve where necessary, Chengdu will be even better. Ms Mahlangu acknowledged the importance of working together with the national federation in preparation for these games. Furthermore, she emphasised that universities need to ensure that they assist in planning and supporting athletes irrespective of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"My dream as President of the Federation of Africa University Sports (FASU), is to see all members competing at the [FISU] World University Games, as it is a great platform," Ms Mahlangu said.

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