Escaping a life of violence through sport

Louise-Hazel-pic-01“It’s heartbreaking that they’ve been burgled when they don’t have anything to steal,” says former heptathlete Louise Hazel on seeing for herself the plight of an unemployed mother, Funeka, and her two daughters who live in poverty in Cape Town.

“They live in a shack with seven other people, with no locks, have been burgled countless times but they don’t have anything.”

The frustration felt by the 2010 Commonwealth Games heptathlon champion is clear as she chats to Sports Liberated having just returned from South Africa where she features in a BT Sport Supporters Club documentary.

Louise met some of those benefitting from Fight for Peace, a charity that provides a safe haven through sport for youth communities in gang areas, including Funeka’s daughters Bongiwe and Snazo.

Louise-Hazel-pic-09Heading to the Golden Stars boxing gym with the sisters, the importance of the charity in these young girls’ lives is clear. A place of respite away from the problems of their mother’s unemployment, the theft of their minimal possessions, and the violence of neighbours, it is only here the girls feel liberated, safe for at least a short while but vitally gain confidence by taking up sport.

Louise also follows the stories of two guys she met in Nyanga, the so-called murder capital of Cape Town. Gang member Zukile was approached by Blaze who wanted ammunition – “You can only imagine what for,” says Louise – but Zukile took him to the gym instead. Blaze returned and again Zukile took him to the gym.

“By distracting him and working with each other and realising that they were the kids getting killed and causing most of the trouble,” Louise explains, “they realised the impact was on their own generation of youngsters and recognised their impact on the wider community.”

Having retired from athletics at the end of 2013, I ask Louise if the sometimes difficult transition from athlete to ‘real life’ is somewhat put in perspective by such a trip.

“Yes 100%. Sport is a luxury. To compete for your country and get paid as a professional athlete, it’s very fortunate as a career. Retiring from sport, or however you want to call it, is as hard or as easy as you want to make it. Sometimes we don’t know we’re born.”

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