Ryk Neethling on the Misconceptions of Masculinity

Ryk Neethling

We chat to the Olympic swimmer-turned businessman about the role of men in South Africa.

South African swimming icon and Legacy Lifestyle ambassador, Ryk Neethling, is a great sporting role model for the youth of South Africa, but the Olympic gold medal winner doesn’t only want to be defined by his sporting achievements. The 39-year-old believes the key to success is the way you treat others.

“I was brought up to be a gentleman,” explains the Olympian. “My father was always, and is, an incredible example of how to conduct yourself and I try my best to follow the standards he sets”.

While Ryk believes in following the example set by powerful male role models, he explains that doing so doesn’t mean you have to conform to the norms of what modern society believes masculinity should be.

“For me personally, I don’t think men have to be macho to be a man or show masculinity. I actually think it’s the opposite – if you can show a bit of vulnerability and empathy, it shows you have what it takes to let your guard down.”

Neethling, who, following his swimming career, has taken up the position of marketing director at Val De Vie wine estate in Paarl, says that the most important thing for people to concentrate on is their ability to affect others.

“Everybody has a responsibility to act respectfully and carefully, and to not make decisions for other people. Leaders, whatever sphere they’re in, need to acknowledge their influence and make sure they’re responsible in the things that they say and do to others.”

The Bloemfontein-born swimmer also emphasises that men have a duty to set the example for their male peers.

“Just be a gentleman. Treat people with respect. South Africa is such a diverse country and people have different family dynamics to adhere to, but if youngsters can focus on being good people and doing the right thing, then we’re on the right track already.”

Ryk-Neethling 2

In terms of goals for 2017, Neethling says that his move from the pool to the boardroom has been a tricky one, but one which has come with great benefits – including the ability to still help others.

“We want to expand what we’re doing at Val De Vie. And me personally, I want to continue growing from being a swimmer to being seen as a businessman, which has been an interesting transition. As well as dedicating a lot more time to my charity work and putting emphasis on the things that really matter.”

Neethling, who has been part of Legacy Lifestyle‘s Blow the Whistle campaign since 2009, says that the crime rate against women is concerning, and the solution to the problem starts at home.

“The statistics behind rape and abuse of women and children is alarming to say the least. But the good thing to remember is that everybody can make a difference – you don’t have to be famous or a public figure, and the Blow the Whistle campaign is a great initiative to highlight that. Just by volunteering or spreading the message of respect and safety can help. Mentoring is also very important, and a lot of youth in South Africa don’t have great examples, so if you can help guide and teach people how to be the best example they can be, then it can set the standard for future generations.”

Blow the Whistle aims to give women and children the platforms they need to feel safe in South Africa. Starting with fashionable, physical whistles and a state-of-the-art mobile app, the initiative is making sure that women never have to feel alone. The campaign not only seeks to give women a voice against crime, but also encourages men and other citizens to react to the call of need, activating the community to work together against crime. You can find out more about Blow the Whistle here.

Blow the Whistle

Blow the Whistle is an initiative of Legacy Lifestyle. Check out more on Legacy Lifestyle’s Rewards Programme here.

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