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Nike Shapa Soweto
Courtesy of Nike

Inside Nike Shapa Soweto, the SA centre incubating the next champions

The Johannesburg training facility offers sports programmes led by Olympic medalists and award-winning athletes – here, the clubs and communities explain why it’s such a vital space for Soweto youth

It’s rare you hear about a training facility where youth can practice alongside an Olympic medalist and award-winning athletes free of charge. It’s even less common to hear about an institution built with the purpose of providing equal access to sports to kids living in disenfranchised communities, where leisure activities are often disrupted by the quest to fulfil basic needs. Enter: Nike Shapa Soweto, a centre on a mission to turn things around for underprivileged youth.

Built to supply locals with an opportunity to experience sports in a safe environment and incubate new talent, it won’t take long for the facility, located in Johannesburg’s township of Soweto, to become a successful example of community building and resilience for athletes worldwide.

Offering a wide array of activities such as running, skateboarding, and dance classes led by some of the most groundbreaking names on the South African scene, Shapa Soweto’s foundation is built on unshakable values.

It was established on the ethos that sport has the power to change the world, and thrives off connecting and uniting people. There is nothing more inspirational than having the chance to learn a new skill under the guidance of odds-defeating professionals like gold-medalist Caster Semenya, dancer Tarryn Alberts, or Girls Skate founder Sharne Jacobs. 

Tarryn Alberts is living proof of the allure of quitting your nine-to-five to pursue your dreams. Born and raised in Soweto, she was able to turn her passion for dancing into a fruitful career, which has seen her stomping the stage alongside Kendrick Lamar.

As her dance academy, So Dope, finds a new home within the facilities of Shapa, she is committed to supporting and empowering any child who dreams of making it into her industry. “It is very important to feel safe in the environment where you work, live, or train as a performer,” she says. “Your focus is to become excellent at what you do and without any distraction, it can be achieved”.

Accessing a safe space is critical for the youth in Johannesburg, as it’s a metropolis that can sometimes be daunting. Moreover, the pandemic has made it difficult for people of all ages to find a community that can motivate them and push them to break barriers.

Glass ceilings are not a concern for Girls Skate founder Sharne Jacobs – an organisation born to incentivise young South African girls to pick up a skateboard. Her goal by making Shapa Soweto the home of her project is to help others learn something by pushing them out of their comfort zone. “We would like to grow some competitive skaters as well as skaters that want to just have fun and learn about the culture,” she says. 

Aside from group activities, Shapa provides children with the fundamental conditioning needed to excel at their chosen sport. Running, for example, is one of the centre’s core disciplines. Providing local running club The Pack with access to secure facilities, Shapa will remove a barrier to entry for people trying to get active.

In the words of The Pack’s founders, the sporting centre will offer an opportunity to capture a larger part of the running community, from sprinters to middle distance to long distance runners. “It definitely broadens the appeal!,” they say. “We are a running nation, and we feel Shapa Soweto may provide an introduction to running that will inspire people to find spaces and communities to run in their respective areas”. 

As well as gaining professional advice on how to master their craft, children will have the chance to ask questions and learn about the process behind becoming an awarded athlete. They will be given the tools – including access to professional tracks and motivation from established masters – to excel at life and be motivated to try something different. 

“If you have a body, you are an athlete” – Zaakirah Khalek, Nike trainer

Zaakirah Khalek, a Nike trainer involved in the project, believes sport helps children develop confidence and overcome hardships. In her words, “if you have a body, you are an athlete”, and that “exercise has incredible physical benefits. Movement has shown to greatly improve mental health.” 

Shapa Soweto will not only become a place of experimentation and talent brewing, but also a point of meeting like-minded people, wellness, and mindfulness. Its community of extraordinary people will inspire the surrounding residents – and who knows, maybe birthing the next gold medalist.

Find out more about Shapa Soweto on Nike News