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#ExtraTime: Why gymnastics is at the heart of every sport

In #ExtraTime this week we focus on gymnastics – a sport that has been a part of our communities for decades and is the foundation of every movement.

Gymnastics is the heart of every movement. It’s the foundation of every sport, says SAGF CEO Anne Vermaak.

CEO of the South African Gymnastics Federation (SAGF) Anne Vermaak spoke to EWN Sport about what gymnastics means to communities and how the nationwide lockdown is impacting the sport.

Gymnastics clubs rely on memberships to stay afloat and gymnasts need to practice daily to remain focused and fit. The lockdown has prevented clubs from opening, meaning smaller clubs are at risk if they don’t operate soon. Some clubs have resorted to online training, but this isn’t a solution for clubs in communities with little access to the internet.

“Gymnastics has changed a lot in the last six weeks. We are very reliant on our sporting apparatus. I think that our community has done amazingly in the last six weeks in adapting what they can do for those who do have access to the digital platform, but a lot of our communities don’t have access. For them this is disastrous,” explained Vermaak. “For those who do have access, they’re doing the best that they can but they’re nearing the end of their tether of the time that we really need to get back in the clubs on apparatus, and we’re not expecting an old normal. We are certainly expecting a new normal, and we're happy to oblige and adapt.”

Their inability to be at the gym has forced some club members to get creative. The SAGF has helped clubs connect and assist them in keeping their businesses alive, at least until the lockdown eases.

“We’ve become very innovative. We’ve set up our home gym challenge so we can play our part in the public in keeping during this time. We’ve also established our Club Connect for us to be able to talk to our clubs to have first-hand communication,” Vermaak said. “All the resources are pushed onto that platform, and we also added a business accelerator course – so an online business course that they can do, to really help them change their businesses as well, because the survival is about how we’re going to adapt and how will businesses change, so really giving them support on that side.”

The future of sport all over the world is uncertain at this time. Many sports have accepted that their future will almost certainly include a digital world until it is safe to hold mass participation events. This may be many months away still and many sports need to find ways of surviving until then.

“If we don’t get back on the apparatus soon, we’re going to have technical problems because we do need time on the apparatus. We already have a task team looking at protocols for online competitions,” Vermaak said. “We know that life is not normal, but we are prepared to change and adapt and work with the government to ensure safe play and safe fitness for our population.”

Gymnastics has been a part of communities all over South Africa for decades, hasn’t grabbed the attention on an elite level for some until. That was until 17-year-old Caitlin Rooskrantz qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games by winning gold at the FIG Challenge Cup in Szombathely, Hungary last year. Her achievements and promise have turned the spotlight on gymnastics in a big way, with much expected of Rooskrantz and some of her compatriots at the postponed Olympics next year.

Vermaak explained why gymnastics is special, even to sports like rugby. “Gymnastics is the heart of every movement. It’s the foundation of every sport. To run, jump, skip, the fundamental movements are learnt from gymnastics. If you go to any top sportsman or woman and ask them ‘did you ever do gymnastics when you started off?’ most of them would say ‘yes’,” Vermaak said.

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