Recent Chat with Gary Benham of UK High Commission


via Google Images

via Google Images

I recently had a great chat with Gary Benham, Head of Communications for the British High Commission in Pretoria (kind of like a U.S. embassy). I was put in touch with Gary by the wonderful guys at Kick4Change (thanks Simon and Jamie!).

We chatted on what role the UK High Commission in South Africa was playing in preparation for the World Cup.  He mentioned that they were supporting some local grass-roots sports initiatives and would be coordinating with folks back in the UK in order to ensure that UK visitors for the games would be  taken care of.

I was very pleased to discover that we shared many of the same views with regards to the long-term impact the games needed to have in South Africa.  He mentioned that long-term sustainability and impact were some of the attributes they looked for before deciding to support a grass-roots initiative.  They were supportive of high-quality pitches (fields) being produced around the country but were also very aware that those efforts needed to be supported by coach-training, physical education, etc. efforts in order to make sure those fields didn’t lie dormant in the future.  His thoughts were well summarized when he said that the games didn’t end when the last whistle was blown; the need for social, governmental, and economic impact and improvement would not end once the 2010 tourists left.  And we couldn’t let the momentum of the games stop once the world’s attention started moving to Brazil 2014.  These are views I’ve long espoused here but to hear it directly from someone with the UK High Commission was brilliant.

And a recent speech given by the  the British High Commissioner to South Africa, Dr. Nicola Brewer, herself,  confirmed that Gary’s views were shared by those even at the highest levels.

Dr. Nicola Brewer, was recently called on by South Africa President, Jacob Zuma to present her credentials and thus formally “arrive” in Pretoria.  The “credentials” consist of the formal letter appointing the Higher Commissioner to the country, signed by HM Queen Elizabeth II.

In her speech  (full text here) to President Zuma on 10/1/09 she stated:

The legacy of the World Cup will live on long after the final goal is scored. My own Prime Minister is helping the 1GOAL campaign to use 2010 as a platform for the Millennium Development Goal to get 75 million children into education by 2015.

I couldn’t have arrived at a more exciting time in your own struggle to make poverty history. I can see the energy, conviction and commitment your new government has for putting service delivery at the heart of your policy programme

This is a very exciting point-of-view from a government official in my eyes.  And I’m encouraged by Gary’s perspective on their role in contributing to the ultimate goal of ensuring that the games leave the country in a better place after they’re over.

I’m also very excited to meet up with Gary once we make our way to South Africa to get a first hand glimpse into what they’re doing in-country.  He was very encouraging of my project ideas in terms of documenting CSR initiatives around the World Cup and I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation during the months ahead (and after the games are over).

For Gary’s blog on the UK High Commission’s website go here: http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/roller/benham/

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this blog post do not represent the official views of the UK High Commission, only the personal views of Mr. Benham.  This blog is not endorsed in any way by the UK High Commission.

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