As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which merges the digital, physical and biological spheres, sport has an important role to play. While the sports technology industry has, to an extent, lagged behind, in some instances it has already transformed the way we consume the game.
These were the sentiments of Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg (UJ), when he addressed delegates at the University’s Sports Awards function on Thursday, 03 October 2019.
National representatives Amanda Mthandi and Taylor Dart received the Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year accolades, respectively, at the Awards function. The pair were honoured at a gala function at the Rand Park Golf Club in Johannesburg after playing significant roles for South Africa in their respective sports this year.
The Student-Athlete of the Year award, which covers academic achievement and sporting excellence, went to squash star Alexa Pienaar. The MTech Fine Arts student has averaged 77.90% in her five years at UJ and is the top South African player at university level.
Mthandi was part of the SA soccer squad which took part in the World Cup in July, while Dart represented the national hockey side in various tournaments during 2019. A third-year transportation management student, Mthandi has had a stellar year on the soccer field at various levels. She was part of the University Sport SA (USSA) team which competed in the World Student Games in Italy this year, finishing eighth.
Besides achieving her career highlight by playing for South Africa in the World Cup, the 23-year-old also turned out for the Banyana Banyana squad which won gold at the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) tournament.
Dart, who is doing an MTech in architecture, captained the UJ team this year and represented the national side which took gold at the African Cup of Nations in Stellenbosch. In June, the 27-year-old turned out for SA in the FIH Series Finals held in India, where they finished runners-up. He was included in the team that qualified for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Pienaar also collected the Sportswoman of the Year silver medal after having been at the forefront of UJ’s recent USSA success, a tournament they have won eight years in a row. Last year, she captained the USSA team at the World University Squash Championships in Birmingham, England, coming second overall.
The men’s silver medal went to hockey player Ernest Jacobs, who captained the Namibian national team at the interprovincial indoor tournament in February, where they finished second. He also represented Namibia at the African Cup of Nations.
The bronze medal in the Sportswoman of the Year category went to national hockey representative Kristen Paton, while athlete Henrico Bruintjies was the men’s bronze winner for his sprinting achievements at several international meetings this year.
Prof Marwala pointed out that this year (2019), technology played an extraordinary role through video-assistant referees (VAR) at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. “Against the banks of the river Sienne to the foot of the Alps, games were delayed for minutes as footage was replayed in real-time, sparking fierce debate around whether the last goal was offside or not, whether a subtle brush against a hand was a handball or not, whether a red card was warranted or not. The scrutiny and close attention to detail placed the stakes higher than ever,” he said.
Posing the question whether technology takes the human out of the game, Prof Marwala emphasised that sports will always be predicated on human skill, agility, flexibility, teamwork, finely finessed techniques, and, importantly, playing by the rules but with innovation. “It is these very characteristics of sportsmanship which are desirable for the era that we enter. According to the World Economic Forum, the most sought after skills in 4IR include people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgment and decision-making as well as cognitive flexibility.
“While many of these skills are difficult to embed into the curricula, sports can play a crucial role in growing these skills. For example, team sports require players to coordinate with others and manage people. The concept of winning and losing, which is a fundamental part of competitive sport, develops emotional intelligence. The change of a team strategy midway through a game develops cognitive flexibility as well as judgment and decision-making,” he said.