Rugby champions draw endurance battle lines in Northern Cape desert

Team Rugby kicks off the BrightRock Battle of the Sports — and you too can help raise funds

08 September 2020 - 16:54
Team Rugby sets off on the 200km BrightRock Battle of the Sports endurance race at Verneukpan on Sunday.
Team Rugby sets off on the 200km BrightRock Battle of the Sports endurance race at Verneukpan on Sunday.
Image: Supplied

Three of SA’s rugby heroes, John Smit, Schalk Brits and Hanyani Shimange, are competing in the BrightRock Battle of the Sports, an all-out, 200km endurance race against time staged at Verneukpan, the dry salt pan in the Northern Cape.  

They are competing not only to defend their sport’s honour and to prove which sport produces the toughest athletes, but also to raise money to help fight the Covid-19 pandemic in SA.

The rugby players are led by the fourth member of their team, adventure athlete Erik Vermeulen, and team manager Butch James.

There are four teams are competing in the event:

  • Cricket: Lance Klusener, Makhaya Ntini, Monde Zondeki; managed by Jonty Rhodes.
  • Rugby: Hanyani Shimange, John Smit, Schalk Brits; managed by Butch James.
  • Running: Bongmusa Mthembu, David Gatebe, Jenna Challenor; managed by Bruce Fordyce.
  • Soccer: Matthew Booth, Siyabonga Nomvethe, Teko Modise; managed by Neil Tovey.

Over the next five weeks, these teams will take to Verneukpan on foot, one team at a time, to travel 200km in only four days — all while pulling along their provisions on a light cart fitted with mountain-bike tyres.

TimesLIVE and the Sunday Times are publishing regular updates on how the teams are progressing at Verneukpan.

Clive Grinaker, founder of Events to Aid and sports marketing company Grinsport, said the goal of the challenge was to raise R50m to help protect vulnerable populations in SA from Covid-19 and to provide personal protective equipment and oxygen to patients and healthcare workers in critical-care facilities.

An advisory panel that comprises Prof Ian Sanne, co-founder of Right to Care and a specialist in infectious diseases; Prof Glenda Gray, president and CEO of the SA Medical Research Council; and Prof Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand will help Events to Aid channel the funds that are raised to the areas identified for Covid-19 relief.

How you can do your part

“While our sports heroes are battling it out on the pan,” said Grinaker, “we are encouraging ordinary citizens from all walks of life, sports fans, corporates and schools — whether in SA or across the globe — to do the 200km.

“This can be done alone in one go or over the five weeks of the event, in teams of 10, with each person doing 20km, or 100 people doing 2km each — the distances are optional. As long as our participants have registered and the ‘challenge’ adds up to 200km, then the objective has been achieved.”

Each entrant will make a donation, said Grinaker.