At the beginning of 2017, Toby Sutcliffe took over the reins at TuksSport from long-serving director Kobus van der Walt, who has now retired. Perdeby spoke with Sutcliffe to gain some perspective on how he has settled into the position and his vision for TuksSport.
How have you settled in thus far?
It’s been interesting […] when you’re in your little bubble…like I was as the CEO of the High Performance Centre, you are in your bubble over there and you tend to worry about what’s happening in your bubble. You don’t look outside of the bubble, [and] now that we’ve been exposed to outside of the bubble, we’re seeing how professional sport is run by the Sports department, and Mr Kobus van der Walt did an unbelievable job. The legacy that he has left behind is something […] that we have to build on. We cannot digress and we cannot go backwards. We can only go forward because he has done a phenomenal job.
What does the stripe generation and the stripe brand of UP mean to you?
Well I think to me, it was made distinct last year when I was inducted into the Stripe Generation…The pride, I think let’s call it ‘the Stripe’ is […] something that I now understand why people are so crazy about it, [people] like Roland Schoeman.When Roland Schoeman comes back to South Africa, the first place he goes to is…Tuks. He comes here because of the stripe. He loves the stripe and he is the stripe…he talks about the stripe all around the world and for me it is guys like him that epitomise what we’re trying to do. [People] identify with a brand, so our brand for us is very important, and I think the stripe is the… sports brand of the university.
What do you envision for TuksSport?
I think we’ve got to be smarter [regarding] the #FeesMustFall campaign. There has been a complete rethink on finances, and the finances are limited, so we are able to do less. But I’m saying to everybody, with every problem comes an opportunity, and we have to find these opportunities. We have formed a division which is currently going to commercialise sports on this campus. We have to support the clubs and the clubs have to support themselves…In the past, they’ve just relied on the University to give them funding. Now they have to go out and do clinics and more outreach programmes. They have to get more involved with communities and they have to do more events to raise funds.
Is there a certain type of culture you want to instil within TuksSport?
I think there [are] two cultures; there’s a winning culture where you play to win. It’s all about winning, we want to be winners, and I think Tuks has proved over the last few years that we have [a winning culture]. So we want to continue building a brand of winners, but at the same time, we need to create an environment where we address the issues of student involvement in recreational sport. [The Department of] Sports and Recreation had a slogan called an active and winning nation. I think we have to get our students active […] we want to win with the elite [athletes] and we also want to look after the students that just want to have fun [and] the res leagues are important for us.
Considering all that’s happened with performances by UP athletes and teams, how bright does the future look for TuksSport?
It’s amazing. I think that’s one of the positives about the University of Pretoria, and we do understand that the level of entry to the University of Pretoria, academically, is a lot higher than other universities, so it does exclude some of the good sportsmen. We understand that, but…we [are] still managing to bring people in that have potential and it’s our job to turn that potential into a winning formula. I think that’s where we’ve been successful at the moment. The TuksSport High School plays a massive role, [we’ve] got 246 students there at the moment, if you go and ask Rocco Meiring from swimming, he’ll tell you he’s got six swimmers at the moment in the school that he’s excited about. [It is] really pleasing to see through the athletics academy…the girls that are coming through, [as] there’s been a steep decline in women in sports, and if we can just get winners again, people [will] start coming back to the sport. That’s what we want to try and do, which is to get more winners on a more consistent basis, so we can pull more people through the system.