|HSBC's Lions sponsorship is commendable
||[Jul. 2nd, 2009|11:02 am]
Banks, eh? Most of this nation and plenty of others around the world would like to see those who run them strung up from the nearest lamp post.
Politicians might be running them a close second in the ‘Most Loathed Section of the Community' stakes. But you'd hardly find anyone with a good word to say about the banks and what they've been up to.
Well, here is someone. You might need to read these words twice, just to be sure. But this is a story about a bank and the excellent, outstanding work it has quietly been doing for rugby and deprived communities in some of the most disadvantaged parts of South Africa.
Estimates suggest that HSBC Bank spent between £3 and £4 million sponsoring the 2009 Lions tour. But what isn't quite as well known is that an estimated £1 million more has been spent on things like associated activities surrounding the tour.
What HSBC has been doing in the poor regions of this country is commendable. In tough, still grievously deprived areas like Soweto and Alexandra townships, plus Rustenburg, HSBC ambassadors have been into the townships, spreading the rugby gospel, handing out kit, planting trees and enthusing the youngsters about a game virtually none of them knew a matter of weeks ago.
It's easy to be cynical in the modern world and suggest that rich banks only do this sort of thing to ‘buy' some free publicity. But let's look at the facts and you can judge for yourselves whether we ought to remain cynical or try being positive.
More than 4,000 kids have been ‘reached' in South Africa by HSBC's programme, 82% of whom had never played the game before. Five separate rugby festivals have been held, Gauteng, Simondium, Port Elizabeth, Durban and East London. The organisers have worked with ‘Tag Rugby' to create a safe, happy environment in which boys and girls from the ages of 6 to 14 have been able to run around, throw rugby balls about and generally put a smile on their faces. All of the youngsters have come from townships.
The scheme started three months before the Lions tour even began and will continue after its end, in Johannesburg this Saturday. Bank staff in centres like Johannesburg have given up many of their recent weekends to go into the townships to spread the rugby gospel. From each festival, a child has been chosen to be the official mascot at the Lions' non-Test games. None of them had ever been to a rugby match before; few had ever left their deprived home conditions. This is the reality of modern day South Africa.
About 1,000 tickets were given away to the children and local schools to see some of the Lions games, with transport there and back provided.
When officials went to Rustenburg, early in the tour, to an orphanage called the SOS Children's Village, they found children with nothing, wearing shabby, torn clothes trying to raise the enthusiasm to play in the street. No facilities existed for them.
The bank has a long standing relationship with Education Africa, a Johannesburg based charity, and they have built a sports pitch, at a cost of around £250,000, for youngsters from the Orange Farm community at Masibambane College near Johannesburg. Thousands of local youngsters will be able to use this much needed facility for years to come.
Springbok wing Bryan Habana, adored by millions of South African kids, turned up unannounced at the Port Elizabeth Festival, to join in. Habana refused any payment and demanded no PR or publicity prior to his visit. When he arrived, 1000 local kids went wild with joy. Habana coached for two hours and talked to the youngsters, telling them they could achieve things in life if they were dedicated.
And the Lions themselves? Well, they went to just one event, just the four of them. But to make it possible, the sponsors had to pay £1,000 to hire a helicopter and fly them there. But Brian O'Driscoll, Nathan Hines, Gethin Jenkins and Ugo Monye were in for a shock. As they coached and mingled with the kids, they began to understand that there are other things in life, other priorities apart from rugby tours and matches.
They were all deeply moved by the experience and O'Driscoll is said to be donating all his training kit from the tour to the Township. Since then, England centre Riki Flutey has asked whether there will be any other opportunities to experience such things. It looks doubtful.
For the most part, these Lions have just trained and prepared, played matches, travelled and trained again. They have attended far too few events of this kind in a country where such acts of kindness and generosity are so needed.
One senior photographer on the Lions tour who went to the pitch opening at Masibambane, called it "the best day of the whole tour". From such hard nosed media men, that said a lot about this particular bank's efforts to help the local communities.