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Sport could be a vehicle for unity and social change in a country with a history of racial inequality
Chris Boushy, the National Lacrosse League’s first South African-born player, is giving back to his birth country.
From over 13,000 kilometres away, the Halifax Thunderbirds forward is working tirelessly to spearhead a sanctioned national lacrosse association in South Africa with the ultimate goal of having his home country play in a world championship in five years.
But first and foremost, the sport could be a vehicle for unity and social change in a country with a history of racial inequality.
“It doesn’t start without introducing the game. It doesn’t start without opening up for all people of all colour, all gender, all ages,” the 23-year-old Boushy said in a recent phone interview from his home in Oakville, Ont.
“Nelson Mandela used sport and the Rugby World Cup to help people unite and come together. I think there’s a huge call for why sports aren’t growing in certain areas in the country. Rugby, soccer and cricket covers the three main groups in South Africa. The black South Africans were told to stick to soccer. Cricket is more of the English side of South Africa. And rugby was the white Afrikaans side. Those three were very segregated up to the early 1990s.
“If I’m bringing in a whole new sport, I might as well bring a new mentality and a new foundation where we can include the most amount of people possible and make it known that this sport has no place for a systematic racial way of thinking. I’m a white lacrosse player. But I have seen how inclusion and diversity should have no bounds. This can be a new sport where people can gather together and play together.”
The Warm Up: Episode 1— NLL (@NLL) December 10, 2020
The National Lacrosse League's first South African born player @Boush_18 recently announced his plan to start the South African Lacrosse Association. Watch: pic.twitter.com/CQL2isW0Eh
Boushy has drawn inspiration from the South African Lacrosse Project, an initiative started in 2007 in the Limpopo province north of Johannesburg by two brothers from Maryland – Kip and Harrison Hart – and their mother Barb Cox. Within five years, the program had helped introduce the sport to more than 4,000 children in the country.
“There was no infrastructure and communities were ravaged by HIV/AIDS. So, they put on free lacrosse clinics for everybody,” Boushy said of the project. “Eventually it got bigger and bigger and ran up until 2017.
“That got people who volunteered for that project, excited about our project. My whole goal is to figure out a way to extend on what the South African lacrosse project did.
“There’s been some lacrosse enlightenment but never any lacrosse development programs put in. The disparity between the first world and third world in South Africa is real and my goal was to figure out that South African project model with charity work and inclusion and diversity and how to sustain it.”
I’m a white lacrosse player. But I have seen how inclusion and diversity should have no bounds. This can be a new sport where people can gather together and play together.
Boushy can draw inspiration from his father Andrew as to how to further grow a niche sport in the southernmost country in Africa.
While working in Johannesburg, Andrew Boushy – who hails from Brockville, Ont. – dressed for South Africa’s national hockey team at two IIHF world championships.
South Africa went winless at the 2004 Division 2 tournament in Lithuania and was relegated to the third division for the 2005 event. The next year, the elder Boushy helped lead South Africa to a silver medal at the Division 3 championship in Mexico City.
“Being a hockey guy from Canada, my dad helped a further a hockey community down there,” said the younger Boushy, who was born in Johannesburg and lived there with his family until he was four. “He gave it a bit of a Canadian flair and was able to share his knowledge of the game.
“There were maybe three or four ice rinks in the entire country. You know it’s not a popular sport when it’s referred to as ice hockey. But it was something he helped progressed down there.”
He also established a network of contacts which Chris Boushy has tapped into for his undertaking. It has allowed him to create what he calls “a diverse board of directors of forward-thinking people.”
“When my dad played for the world championship teams, he was immersed in the South African hockey community,” Boushy said. “He was able to connect with a few of his old buddies who still work on the board for the hockey federation. They all thought it was a great idea and a perfect time for this. A lot of them offered to help out.
“Once the ball got rolling, people began reaching out to me. I found my finance director that way. He’s from South Africa and played university lacrosse in the U.K. I found my development director through a Zoom call. He forwarded me someone who was passionate about sports and held a law degree. He’s now on the board as a legal director.
“I also reached out to those involved in the South African lacrosse project. They knew people who had community engagement skills. They had no ties to the game but were residents of Limpopo, black South Africans who understood the community and culture. They were very willing to help and are helping to open a gateway to more inclusion in the sport.
“They have all accepted these roles and now we’re off to the races.”
Introducing a new sport to a country, and then incorporating and administering it is challenging enough half a world away, let alone during a pandemic.
But the COVID-19 shutdown of sports, including the NLL, helped expedite the process.
“It has given me and the board members a little more time to get things situated, work on my applications and incorporate the association in South Africa,” Boushy said. “That takes more time on a bureaucratic level.”
Boushy, who has played two seasons in the NLL and was fifth among league rookies with 36 points during his freshman campaign in 2019, acknowledges the five-year plan of qualifying a national team for the world indoor lacrosse championship is "overly ambitious." But he has no qualms about setting such lofty goals.
“Even if we don’t meet that five-year vision, I will still look at it from the perspective of how far the whole process, the whole association will have come to that point,” Boushy said.
“I would like to see camps in different regions of South Africa and three or four major cities. Then we’ll be able to decipher if we can run house teams and leagues. If that happens, people will have played for three or four years and have gotten better and then maybe we can start looking at having a junior national team. Those kids will have grown up with the sport and when they reach senior age, they can support a national team at the senior level.
“I think five years is doable as long as we get our ducks in a row from the beginning. The five-year plan won’t cause us to rush the process. We’re in this to make the lacrosse a sustainable sport in South Africa.”