Disabled former rugby players from across South Africa, with the help of the United Kingdom and Ireland are set to benefit later this month when two of the official charities of the Springboks and British & Irish Lions team up for a unique fundraising drive.
South Africa’s Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players’ Fund were extended a helping hand during these difficult times by UK-based Matt Hampson Foundation who offered to help them to raise at least £15 000 during an online auction that will begin on 24 July and run for the duration of the upcoming Springboks-Lions Test series.
“This is the first time ever that opposing rugby nations are joining forces to raise money for the same worthy cause,” said Players’ Fund chairman and former Springbok captain, Jean de Villiers. “What makes it even more unique is that our fundraising initiative will take place at exactly the same time as South Africa and the Lions do battle on the field.”
De Villiers said the aim of the collaboration was to raise awareness of the daily challenges for catastrophically-injured players across the world.
“We’ve been in lockdown for only 16 months. But for those players confined to a wheelchair, they have been living this way since the day they were injured on the field,” said De Villiers, who also represented Matt Hampson’s former English Premiership club, Leicester Tigers.
“South African teams will be playing their rugby in Europe from now on and so from a Fund point of view, it makes sense that north and south join forces off the field for our fallen heroes.”
The online auction can be found at http://hambosauction.com/ andwill be live from 24 July – the day of the first Test – until the final whistle blows in the third Test on 7 August. The lots include a 2021 Springbok jersey signed by the entire team; balls signed by the Springbok backs and forwards respectively; and a 2009 British & Irish Lions jersey signed by captain Paul O’Connell and his entire team.
De Villiers encouraged rugby fans in both hemispheres to get behind the initiative.
“When a player gets seriously injured, the costs associated with such a life-changing event are huge,” he said. “An average lightweight manual wheelchair for self-propelling use can cost anything upwards of R60,000 (approximately GBP £3,000 or 3,500 euro) and ideally each recipient needs a back-up wheelchair as well. Specialised motorised wheelchairs cost more than double that.
“Unlike many developed countries, South African public transport is not yet fully wheelchair-friendly and special transport is needed to get around. And the small things we take for granted, such as getting into a building, going to the bathroom, or visiting a restaurant – are a major challenge for someone with impaired mobility.”
One such Fund recipient is Amos Mzimeli, who broke his neck in 1990 at the age of 18.
“I thought it was the end of my life,” said Mzimeli. “The doctors told me that I would never walk again or use my hands. However, the Players’ Fund helped me to find purpose again by helping me complete my school and thereafter obtain a diploma in computer studies.
“Without the Fund, I would not be the person I am today: a husband, father, businessman and a contributing member of my community.”
De Villiers, a Rugby World Cup winner in 2007 who earned 109 Test caps, said the initiative was the beginning of a long-term partnership between the Players’ Fund and the Hampson Foundation.
“The global pandemic has had a major impact on our sport and we continue to see this in the way the current Lions tour continues to face unprecedented challenges,” he said. “Off the field, Funds such as ours are struggling and that goes for others around the world.
“It’s likely that Covid-19 is going to be around for a long time to come and so I believe it’s more important than ever that rugby nations work together, particularly in the field of player welfare and safety.”
About the Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players’ Fund:
The Fund was established in 1980 after Western Province fullback Chris Burger broke his neck in a Currie Cup match and later died. Burger’s skipper that day, Springbok captain Morné du Plessis, was the founding chairman of the Fund, which provides physical, psychological and emotional assistance to rugby players in South Africa who have sustained serious, life-altering head, neck and spine injuries. Over the past 41 years, the Fund has acted as Rugby’s Caring Hands for over 500 seriously injured players. It currently actively supports 105 recipients. The Fund currently boasts four former Springbok captains on their board: Morne Du Plessis, Tiaan Strauss, current chairman Jean de Villiers, and 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning captain, John Smit.
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About the Matt Hampson Foundation:
Matt Hampson, 36, was paralysed from the neck down in 2005 after a scrum collapsed during an England Under-21 practice session. ‘Hambo’, as he is affectionately known, is the driving force behind the Matt Hampson Foundation, which lives by the ethos ‘Get Busy Living’. Hampson was awarded an OBE in 2021 for his outstanding contribution to helping injured players. The Foundation assists players from across the United Kingdom and Ireland who have suffered serious injury or disability, by offering direct grants or by paying into existing and future funds to assist with equipment, technology or just everyday expenses. They also assist organisations and institutions with similar aims.