General Manager of the Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players’ Fund, Gail Baerecke spoke to Elsje Beneke of Rolling Inspiration Magazine about the 35-year anniversary of the Fund and her role during this journey.

After a long career in private healthcare, Gail joined the Players’ Fund team in 2005. “These past 10 years have been a privilege for me and a time of enormous personal growth. Each day I am inspired by our heroes who manage to pick up the broken pieces and continue with their lives under often difficult and challenging circumstances.”

As General Manager of the Players’ Fund, Gail interacts regularly with members who form part of the Players’ Fund to ensure that most of their needs are met. “It’s important that they know we are just a phone call away,” says Gail. The Fund’s objective is to encourage their members to take responsibility for their own health and for their mobility equipment that is provided. “My responsibilities include arranging responsible repairs, maintenance and appropriate upgrading of mobility equipment. It is my job to ensure that the Fund is able to continue to provide support to members in the manner that they are accustomed.”

Gail says meticulous management of their financials with the framework of the Fund’s goals and objectives are a daily focus. “As a non-profit organisation, fundraising is what we do. This entails hosting events and activities, where income can be generated.”

The Players’ Fund receives an annual grant from SA rugby. Further funding comes from a sponsorship partner - the SA Rugby Legends. Gail explains that the balance of their funding comes from specific fundraising projects that the Players’ Fund plan and host each year, as well as from donations received from the generous support of many corporates and individuals in South Africa.

The Chris Burger Fund was formed in 1980 by current chairman, Morné du Plessis and his fellow Western Province rugby mates, after the devastating and fatal injury of fullback Chris Burger during a Currie Cup rugby match.

A similar fate bestowed another rugby player named Petro Jackson in 1987 and a second charitable organisation called the Petro Jackson Memorial Fund was formed that year. In 1992 the two organisations were amalgamated and called the Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players’ Fund as it is still known as today.

The Fund currently supports 107 fallen heroes of rugby, players who have sustained catastrophic head, neck or spinal cord injuries whilst on the rugby field. More than 400 rugby players have been assisted in some way by the Fund since it started in 1980.

To commemorate a 35-year poignant milestone, the Players’ Fund adapted a ‘catchy’ slogan to effectively describe the work of the Fund. With input from trustees, staff and friends of the fund, Rugby’s Caring Hands was put together using aspects of many of the inspirational suggestions received.

“Collectively we felt the use of the word caring was fitting and twofold. It firstly suggests that we are the ‘softer’ caring side of the rough and tough sport of rugby,” says Gail.

“Secondly, our rugby safety programme BokSmart promotes smart and safer rugby. This is important to us and will ensure continued growth in the game that we care about. The hands symbolise how we assist, partner and enable our members and by doing so encourage them to help themselves.”

Set goals that Gail and her compassionate team wants to achieve in the years to come include growing and developing all members to become contributing citizens within their communities. According to Gail succession of the Fund’s board members has and will be an ongoing focus. “We need to be guided by the expertise of the next generation of trustees to ensure we are around in another 35 years. The Players’ Fund wants to remain a brand that people want to support and partner with. Working to keep our brand identity alive and current is an important focus for the Fund.”

The long and proud history of the Fund shows that its commitment to all rugby players and their safety is sincere and ongoing.