Legendary Springbok Sevens player Cecil Afrika has announced his retirement from Sevens Rugby, ending a distinguished 12 year career. Afrika retires as South Africa’s highest points scorer, playing in 345 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series matches and notching up a massive points tally of 1462.
The 2011 World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year will be out of contract at the end of July, and with no matches scheduled before that date Afrika has now played his last game for his country.
The 32-year-old will not don the Blitzbok colours again after a mutual agreement between the player and Springbok Sevens management, but has not ruled out the possibility of making a comeback for the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics.
Afrika made his debut in Dubai in 2009, and played in his final and 66th tournament for his country in Vancouver in March this year.
He was part of two World Series-winning Blitzbok squads (2017 and 2018), as well as the South African team that won Commonwealth Games gold (2014) and Olympic bronze (2016) medals.
Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell confirmed the departure of Afrika.
“It is one of those inevitable things in professional sport, but even so, it remains a sad day to say goodbye to Cecil when his contract expires,” said Powell.
“He has been a great in the game, his achievements speak for itself and he inspired many to enjoy the game of sevens.
“I played with Cecil when he made his debut in 2009 and in the last couple of years, had the privilege of coaching him as well. He was a truly gifted player who came back from some serious injuries more than once to achieve amazing feats as a player and squad member.
“We will say goodbye to him in a more formal way later in the year, but for now the Springbok Sevens management would like to thank him for his contributions over the many years he has been with the Blitzboks.
“Cecil has set very high standards for those to follow and there is no doubt that he will leave the jersey in a better place, something every international rugby player strives for.”
Powell said that they agreed a year ago already that Afrika will make his swansong in 2020: “We extended his contract last year in order for him to have a shot at making the Olympic squad, but with that being postponed to next year, that option cruelly fell away and is not available anymore.
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“We have proper post career guidance in place for all in the squad and I know Cecil is already dipping into the business world, where he will be successful, no doubt.”
Afrika said he understands that retirement is part of professional sport, but he will be available if the team needs him.
‘’Beyond contractual agreements, as a professional athlete, one is always aware of the fact that the time will come that you either stop playing for a team or when retire, and in this instance it only means that I will not be with the Blitzboks,” Afrika said.
“Being part of the Springbok Sevens has been a truly and incredible time of my career and the Blitzboks will forever be family and home.
“I cannot go without saying a massive thank you to the supporters. I always appreciate their unrelenting and continued support, encouragement and the part they play in making this sport as spectacular as it is. Hopefully they will continue to support me wherever I go.”
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Afrika is not quite letting go of his dream to make it to next year’s Olympics though, and is still keen to lace up his rugby boots.
“The COVID-19 pandemic we are currently facing is definitely not something anyone wished for and was certainly not expected, and as much as it has re-arranged and possibly unsettled my Olympic 2020 chances, it is a dream deferred and not cancelled,” he said.
“As management has mentioned, the possibility remains should the opportunity to play in the 2021 Olympics present itself. I am always ready to play should the Blitzboks need me.
“Aside from keeping-up my professional fitness to stay prepared for opportunities that may avail themselves, I also plan to be more involved in skills training within rugby and overall sports development initiatives.
“I believe I can definitely add value from my experience and I would love to be a part of that, not only as a player on the field, but also on the other side of the white lines, as I have rather a great passion for contributing to the components related to the game in other forms such as analysis and coaching.
“Presently, I am also using some time to partake in relief projects for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as I believe that this is one of the most important aspects in our lives at the moment and requires all hands-on deck, the government cannot do it alone.
“As a professional athlete my value doesn’t and shouldn’t only come from what I am able to do on the field, but as a person too.”
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