Despite the words of former president Nelson Mandela: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children” – The sad reality is that South Africa’s children remain victims, facing constant threats at home, in schools, on sports fields, and on the playground. In an effort to turn the tide on abuse, The Guardian is protecting the country’s most vulnerable through training and the implementation of safeguarding structures. This message is now being amplified by the organisation’s new ambassador, Gary Kirsten.
“We are so proud to announce Gary Kirsten as our ambassador for The Guardian,” commented Managing Director of The Guardian Group, Marc Hardwick. “To have someone of Gary’s calibre aligned with our organisation will ensure the work being done is getting the recognition and reach needed to protect vulnerable groups. Beyond this, Gary is such a strong proponent of getting things done right, of putting the necessary structures in place to mitigate potential problems, and ensuring there is adequate recourse if things go wrong. We believe he will bring a lot to this role.”
Hardwick comes from a background in child protection having been assigned as a Detective Sergeant to the former Child Protection Unit under the South African Police Force. He identified a need for training and support structures in South African schools, clubs, and anywhere else safeguarding is needed. He established The Guardian in 2009, the country’s only complete safeguarding company providing proactive and reactive structures to protect individuals. This includes police clearances, education and training, implementing safeguarding policies, anonymous reporting, and investigations.
This is important in a global context because South Africa is one of the 116 signatories of the Kazan Action Plan. Adopted in 2017 by UNESCO’s Sixth International Conference of Ministers and Senior Officials Responsible for Physical Education and Sport (MINEPS VI), the plan is a commitment to link sports policymaking with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations. This recognises the need for a positive impact of investments in sports – safeguarding among them.
“There are safety structures in place to prevent and attend to injuries, but safeguarding is often overlooked, with sports success first, safety second, and safeguarding last – if at all. We need to flip this. In light of these global goals of safeguarding within the sports environment, having the positive influence of an international icon like Gary Kirsten will go a long way in helping us achieve these at a local and national level,” said Hardwick.
Considered one of the greatest cricketers of all time, Kirsten represented South Africa on the field more than 200 times before taking on the role of coach, and leading the World Cup-winning Indian side to victory. Kirsten’s passion for elevating coaching standards worldwide saw him launch the successful online education platform, CoachED, which provides cricket coaching certifications aligned with international standards.
His desire for a more structured approach to coaching, reliant on consistent metrics and oversight, extends to the safeguarding of children under a coach’s care. It’s these values, and his experience as a sportsman, coach, and parent, that have positioned Kirsten as the ideal ambassador for The Guardian.
Commenting on his new role, Kirsten said: “I’m proud to be associated with The Guardian; the work and training that they do in safeguarding, in creating safer environments for everyone is important. I advocate for all coaches and teachers, and anyone involved in sports coaching and education, to have more awareness around safeguarding and to get their safeguarding certificates.”
He recalled his first encounter with safeguarding two years ago as part of a job requirement: “I’d been a coach for a while so didn’t think it was needed, but I was honestly blown away by how little I knew around the mechanisms in place for recourse. There is a massive responsibility attached to coaching and there should be structures around what you say and do. When parents are putting their kids in these spaces, they need to know they’re in good hands.”
He said his journey from aspiring sportsman to a professional environment showed him how performance is prioritised, often to the detriment of the athlete. In a school or club setting, the damage can be long-lasting for children emotionally incapable of dealing with coaching criticism that sometimes borders on abuse.
“What happens is that as long as the player can deliver results, they remain a performance tool. When I started coaching, I realised it’s all about how you can build a relationship in such a way that you can get the best out of someone. As a parent, I started to realise how emotional the space actually is. It’s important to know that adults coming into the lives of these children are giving them the best opportunity to thrive. Safeguarding covers a lot of that because parents know the people working with their children have the qualifications and skills to make sure the child leaves their environment a better person with strong self-identity.”
Kirsten said that often parents don’t ask the necessary questions because they’re concerned they might compromise the sports or educational journey of the child. However, in many elite schools, where the professionalisation of sports is commonplace, safeguarding is becoming even more necessary.
“Teenagers are often treated like performance tools and simply aren’t emotionally mature enough to handle the way coaches address them. They’re being used to get results, when our primary role as teachers and coaches should be developing the child. The Guardian provides an important way to regulate this environment.”
To find out more about The Guardian and the work being done, visit www.theguardian.co.za. To find out more about CoachEd online cricket coaching certifications endorsed by Gary Kirsten, visit www.coachedcricket.com. Listen to Gary Kirsten talk to Marc Hardwick from The Guardian about his role as ambassador here.