Gary Kirsten knows all about winning. For years, the former Protea was one of the nation’s favourite opening batsmen. In 2011, he coached India to Cricket World Cup victory, shooting his status as a cricketing icon out of the park. But Kirsten’s most recent win has been the hearts of Khayelitsha. There, he realised that real talent can come from any background, but not everyone gets the same opportunities in life. The local hero turned his attention to youth who have no access to professional sports training. “Cricket has done so much for me,” Kirsten says. “I want to pass on my skills to the future of South African cricket.”
While visiting Khayelitsha, Kirsten noted that children’s access to a healthy outlet beyond academics was scarce. “Sport plays an important role in the development of every child,” he says. “Many of these kids are being deprived of that opportunity.” In a nation bound by sporting culture, thousands still have no formal exposure to cricket. Without dedicated training in schools, potential players go unacknowledged, never given a chance to hone their skills. Recognising the need to provide support, Kirsten acted on the responsibility to uplift lives and created the Gary Kirsten Foundation.
To date, Kirsten has built cricket ‘ecosystems’ for five schools in Khayelitsha. For the first time, schools are able to offer it as an extracurricular activity. “There are now 450 kids that are playing cricket that hadn’t before,” Kirsten says. Each division receives a coach, a pitch, training nets, and kits for the teams. Players are individually monitored, sharing bonds with the coaches and Kirsten himself. “I’m really excited by the programme,” he says. “My dream is to build a cricket school of excellence in the township.” Kirsten’s vision has turned ground that was once used for playtime conversation into a space where future stars will hit their first six. By reaching out, he ensures the next generation of sportspeople will be a diverse representation of our national talent.