Riyaad Avontuur is a 39-year-old recovering drug addict who started an athletics club in hopes that it will help children in Bonteheuwel stay out of the streets and pave their way to a better future for themselves.
Riyaad started the Bonteheuwel Central Athletics Club (BCAC) in August 2018. After returning from rehab for a second time. Riyaad wanted to change his life and do something meaningful in his community but knew that he had to do right by his family first. He started running and training on the field with his 9-year-old daughter, Nishaad, she is an athlete with dreams of someday becoming the fastest runner in the world. A lot of the children in the community noticed them and asked if they could join in. Their numbers grew daily, giving Nishaad the idea that they should start a running club. The club began to grow tremendously and currently boasts an impressive number of over 100 children.
Riyaad is the founder, coach, and chairman of the BCAC and the club is his full-time, unpaid job. He charges a R50 coaching fee per month in order for the club to have money at their disposal if they need any equipment or transport. However, according to Riyaad, many children do not show up to practice on payment day as they are too ashamed to say that their parents couldn’t afford to pay the fee. Riyaad says: “I don’t get paid for coaching the kids…”, “We have a lot of cases in the club where kids come to run but they don’t really have the money. But I can’t chase them away because if I chase them away, something else can happen to them so now I have to make a plan to get money for the club”. Riyaad gets donations from his wife and his family and has to skarrel for money within the community. He also physically goes door-to-door, asking for donations as every attempt at getting sponsorships for the club has either failed or was only temporary. Seventy of the children took part in Little Athletics this year- a Western Province Athletics program for children between the ages of 8 and 13. Placing emphasis on fun, participation, performance and improving technical skills, the purpose of the program is to introduce young children to track and field activities. Participating in the program cost BCAC R10 000 for transport alone. Riyaad says that even though he always finds a way to get funding, it is a really challenging process and he is a bit anxious about the club’s funding for the year to come.
This year, 4 of the children from the club were picked by American Olympic Sprinter, Justin Gatlin, to be a part of his Born 2 Be Elite sports program. The program is aimed at identifying and mentoring athletes aged 12 to 17 and “will also help establish Africa as an athletic powerhouse by creating the next generation of athletes and coaches.” The children who were chosen to join the program, will go through training and be taught the basics that could potentially get them into the Olympics.
After turning his life around, Riyaad Avontuur hopes that the children he works with can use his story as motivation not to let their circumstances hold them back from achieving great things. In the coming years, Riyaad would like the club to expand to more poverty and drug-stricken communities such as Lavender Hill and Manenberg. He is hopeful that some of the children in the club will make it to the Olympics and also wishes to start an athletics team for disabled children as he believes that they have great potential but don’t necessarily have the platform in their community, to showcase it.