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Gary Boshoff

This past weekend I had the privilege of visiting Laingsburg, the small Karoo town on the N1, just over 100km north of Worcester, on the occasion of the 38th Karoo Ultra-Marathon.

What a fantastic experience of typical small town hospitality, genuine passion for sport and goodwill towards visitors – this I guarantee, you will find nowhere else. Whilst the Ultra-Marathon has been running for 38 years the event has of late been struggling since the local running club folded and the erstwhile organisers of the event threw in the towel.

However, thanks to the town's dynamic Municipal Manager, Pietie Williams, who assumed the role of Race Director, the race was saved. Athletes travelled from all across South Africa – Gauteng, KZN, Northwest, Northern Cape, Boland and Western Cape to participate in this 80km test of human endurance.

The importance of sport to small communities like this was once again underlined by the way the local community rallied around the event.

The town also boasts a very competitive rugby club and a few soccer clubs. In the nearby Matjiesfontein, Williams has also ensured the provision of quality sports facilities for Soccer and Rugby and is working closely with the provincial administration to ensure the sustainability of these projects by involving the communities directly through maintenance and empowerment projects. It is here, on the dusty road next to the Laingsburg Sports field where I met Flip Van der Westhuizen, erstwhile local running legend and rugby star.

What drew me to Van der Westhuizen was the Blue Bulls cap he was wearing and his proclamation that he is the biggest Blue Bull fan in town and wears his Blue Bulls cap every day! He immediately gave me a run-down of his knowledge of Blue Bulls rugby and how he became a supporter of the "Magtige Blou Bulle" as early as the 1960s! He spoke with admiration of Mof Myburgh, Frik Du Preez and a few others whose names have never appeared on my radar screen before, but who he assured me were indeed former Northern Transvaal greats – clearly a devoted fan if ever there was one.

Later that night four other Blue Bulls fans (all of them wearing some sort of Blue Bull paraphernalia) joined in a discussion on possible outcomes for the 2008 Currie Cup competition – as was to be expected everyone present agreed that the Blue Bulls will win the Currie Cup by beating the Sharks at the ABSA Stadium in a repeat of the 2007 Super 14 final.

Later in the day we drove to Matjiesfontein where we encountered more rugby enthusiasts clustered around the TV for the WP/Boland match. It turns out that once again there were more Blue Bulls than WP fans in the room, a very odd thing for this part of the world.

This prompted me to pose the question: why Blue Bulls and not WP? There was no clear answer to this question, but one old gentleman stated that he and his friends have always supported the Bulls and will continue to do so.

For some strange reason the Blue Bulls have struck a chord with the rugby people of this small Karoo town – a chord that, in the case of Flip Van der Westhuizen, has lasted for close to forty years and which make him to wear his Blue Bulls cap day in and day out.

Having grown up in the platteland myself, I understand the importance of social institutions like sport, schools and the church in binding the community together around a common cause, and in Laingsburg it is no different.

Pietie Williams recognize this and with the help of his municipal council he is making a special effort to support and enable his community to take advantage of the opportunities that sport offers them. During a time when local government is battling under the yoke of mismanagement, corruption and non-delivery I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged to find an exception in Laingsburg.

It is clear that the only way sport can stay sustainable and continue to grow in poverty-stricken communities and towns like Laingsburg and Matjiesfontein is through an integrated development approach involving active community structures, responsible governance and a socially responsible business community that ploughs back into the communities that make their businesses succeed.

It is around these three pillars that the future of Rugby and sport in general, can be secured on the platteland as well.

Gary Boshoff is currently the CEO of the Comrades Marathon Association. He was the CEO of the Blue Bulls Rugby Union from September 1999 till the end of 2005 and prior to his time at Loftus he worked at the University of the Western Cape's Sport Bureau. He was a formidable lock on his day and represented the SARU Springbok team on numerous occasions.

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