Sport has the power to change the world …. it has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to the youth in a language that they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

These profound words of our beloved late former President Nelson Mandela have been a constant inspiration and motivation for me in the development and community programmes that I run as the Youth Programme Manager for the Tag Rugby Association.

I was thus extremely honoured to be invited to attend and speak at a high level conference at the United Nations in New York on the 16th February 2016. The topic of discussion at the conference was “The value of hosting Mega Sports Events as a social, economic and environmental sustainable tool.”

As an alumnus of the United Nations Youth Leadership Camp, I had been selected to participate in a panel discussion at the conference and to provide a youth perspective on how major sports events create the potential to stimulate positive change and promote economic, environmental and social development, particularly at grass roots level.

It was therefore with eager anticipation and excitement that, together with Stuart McConnell, the Executive Director of the Association, I boarded the plane bound for New York.

As a young boy growing up in the dusty streets of Khayelitsha, I could never have dreamed that one day I would be winging my way across the ocean to New York to participate as a panelist at a conference at the United Nations. It was truly incredible for me just to be able to visit New York and to experience such a vibrant, dynamic city with its dazzling skyscrapers.

Despite the sub-zero temperatures, Stuart and I took the opportunity to see as much of the city and do as much as we could during the short time at our disposal.

The headquarters of the United Nations is housed in a magnificent building in New York City and upon our arrival at the conference, I just felt so proud to be there to represent my people and my country at such an awesome global event. We were warmly welcomed by our hosts, being the Permanent Missions of Germany, Qatar, the Republic of Korea, Russia and Tunisia.

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Before leaving the UN, Jongi managed to get a photo next to our very own flag

 I was very privileged to be a member of a panel of prominent sporting and other dignitaries who had been briefed to share and discuss their experiences, success stores, lessons learned, challenges and opportunities related to sustainable social and economic legacies through hosting Mega Sports Events in their particular countries.

12745612_10153903798804643_508488359826192435_nJongi spending time with Zandile Bhengu from
Permanent Mission of SA. 

As a young South African I was in the fortunate position of being able to talk with some knowledge and authority of the legacies of such events which had been held in my country.

The first such event was the Rugby World Cup which was held shortly after Independence in South Africa in 1995 and which culminated in that historic moment of President Mandela victoriously holding aloft the William Webb Ellis Trophy with the South African captain, Francois Pienaar. South Africa then went on to host the Cricket World Cup in 2003 and the African Cup of Nations in 2013.

However, the highlight for me and undoubtedly the greatest Mega Sports Event that South Africa has ever hosted was the FIFA World Cup 2010. It was also the first football World Cup to be hosted on African soil.

I was pleased to be able to report that World Cup 2010 aroused a sense of joy and harmony that drew the people of South Africa together in so many ways and the image of the country improved immensely thanks to the success of the event.

There is no question in my mind that South Africa benefited both socially and economically from the hosting of the World Cup in 2010. I am aware of the long term human and social development initiatives that were created through football in South Africa. These included programmes at grass roots level and within deserving communities.

Following the presentation and the discussions at the conference, the panelists and guests were invited to a sumptuous lunch in an adjoining dining hall. Stuart and I then had the chance to rub shoulders with, and to meet and interact with a number of top former sportsmen, leading world sports administrators, business leaders, government officials and other high profile individuals.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all the stakeholders and role players who made this “trip of a lifetime” become a reality for me and for allowing me to share my views on matters that are so close to my heart on the world stage.

On behalf of the Tag Rugby Association I would also like to extend my thanks to the Permanent Missions of Germany, Qatar, the Republic of Korea, Russia and Tunisia for all their kind hospitality and ensuring that our stay was such a wonderful experience. Stuart and I learnt so much at the conference about how sport can play such a huge role in promoting peace, social unity and cultural tolerance.

It was also a great opportunity to share with those whom we met, the work of the Tag Rugby Association in running youth and other programmes in so many communities throughout South Africa.

However, for me personally, the key message that I took from the conference was that sport is indeed a universal language and as President Mandela so clearly put it “Sport has the power to change the world.”

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