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How sport can help keep children engaged during COVID-19: Innovations South Africa

23 Sep 2020
How sport can help keep children engaged during COVID-19: Innovations South Africa

By Chiara Pasquini, Artur Borkowski, Ayanda Ndlovu


This blog is part two of a series highlighting innovative responses to COVID-19 from S4D organizations. UNICEF Innocenti is conducting research on S4D in collaboration with the UNICEF- FCB and Barça Foundation partnership.  The first blog  in the series discussed innovative responses S4D organizations have taken  globally to adapt to the crisis. In this blog, we focus on one country, South Africa – which sets itself apart as a lower-middle income country with the highest number of S4D organizations. This blog explores the challenges faced in South Africa’s unique contexts and different responses to them.

South African Context

Sports for Development (S4D) is a key strategy for engaging children in South Africa.  A mapping exercise conducted as part of the Getting into the Game research programme initiated by Barça Foundation and UNICEF identified 265 S4D organisations operating in South Africa, many of which are implemented during or after school hours and use schools to reach young people.  

On March 5th 2020, the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 was registered in the country and on March 26th a national lockdown, including school closures affecting over 14 million children, was announced by the President of the Republic. The latest phase of the lockdown in South Africa began June 1st, allowing easing of restrictions on movement of people and the reopening of schools. Even with the phased incremental reopening of schools, S4D organisations implementing programmes in schools depend on the guidance of the government in order to resume or continue S4D programmes.  

This blog looks at eight organisations, five of which are implementing programmes supported by UNICEF South Africa and Barça Foundation as part of the UNICEF-FCB and Barça Foundation partnership. Each organization has responded to the crisis with some form of remote delivery. Table 1 reports basic information on the organizations and summarizes the responses. In addition to the remote delivery of S4D programming, some are also providing health information and support to other programs.  

Remote engagement

Organisations have found innovative ways to keep coaches and participants engaged through activities conducted on social media platforms and WhatsApp. Grootbos’ coaches have maintained contact with beneficiaries through WhatsApp and Grootbos, Altus and PeacePlayers South Africa (PPSA) continue to provide support to coaches through videos on Social Media platforms and Zoom. The Department of Basic Education has launched a Facebook Live and Zoom Webinar Series on dialogues with young people around Covid-19 and School Based Violence (SBV), it also has regular WhatsApp based Covid-19 related dialogues, and has conducted a #StayHealthy, #StayAtHome fitness series via WhatsApp and Facebook. MAVU asked staff, volunteers, and their ambassadors to create and submit videos of themselves doing an activity whilst at home using equipment at their disposal; the videos were then disseminated across multiple social media channels.  PPSA has also been conducting twice weekly Zoom sessions where participants engage in team building, leadership, and basketball activities. It has also been disseminating these activities through social media and  keeping in touch regularly with participants and parents via WhatsApp and other social media platforms.

“This experience participating in the Child Protection Week Webinar that dealt with Child Safety during Covid-19 was very informative and humbling as I got to understand that various children from various backgrounds have different struggles when it comes to the impact of the coronavirus and the lockdown.

- Participant of GBEM programme

 To maximize reach and ensure equity, these organisations have also been helping their beneficiaries to access this remote programming. Grootbos, not being able to reach all their normal programme beneficiaries, has set up a free WIFI hotspot in the centre of the Masakhane township community. Altus has purchased data so that their leaders could attend their Zoom training workshops, PPSA has fundraised to buy data and airtime for participants, and UTS has provided high school learners with internet and computer access through their office, two EdTech centres, and through the purchase of data and airtime.  

UNICEF leveraged its partnership with SuperSport broadcast platforms, the media and partners at its disposal to broadcast Covid-19 Public Service Announcements (PSAs) across the SuperSport Channels.  These PSAs are a means to support the amplification and reaching young people with critical of Covid-19 messaging premised on (1) children’s safety; (2) hygiene and social distancing practices; and (3) continuation of learning using different platforms and reach out to peers for support. United Through Sport created resource packs that go out with their food parcels and an interactive television show that is aired every afternoon on a local free to air television station which they will continue after the lockdowns ends.

Most organisations highlighted that the lack of access to data and devices restricts participation of learners and sometimes coaches, especially the most vulnerable. This makes remote programming a challenge and raises equity concerns.

“I have been able to send them pictures of some topics that we did in our Mbewu Life Skills books and videos of what they can do at their homes with family members and I really helped them a lot in a way that they will call maybe after two days saying they want another chapter their done with the one I gave them (…)

- Fulltime volunteer coach at Mavu Sports

  Furthermore, for many organisations the lack of prior emergency experience, coupled with capacity limitations has made adaptation a difficult process. This, together with the uncertainty around the duration of school closures and lockdowns, has encouraged many organisations to invest in digital training and speed up the regular processes of innovation and adaptation. As the recovery from this health and economic crisis is likely to last long after the re-opening of activities in the country, it will be crucial for S4D organisation to adapt programming and its delivery to the “new normal” and investing now in innovating and adapting programmes can help build resilience for this and future crisis.

Are you part of an S4D organization? How has COVID-19 affected you? How have you responded and what have you learned? Please email us at cpasquini@unicef.org and tell us more about it.

Chiara Pasquini is a consultant at the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti currently conducting research on the effectiveness of Sport for Development for Children globally.

Ayanda Ndlovu is an Education Officer specializing in Sport-for-Development and Youth Engagement at UNICEF South Africa.

Artur Borkowski is a consultant at the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti currently conducting research on the effectiveness of Sport for Development for Children globally.