Soccer-goalpost tragedy far from over

  • HugoSelf3
When the father of Hugo Paluch – the Yeshiva College boy who died after soccer goalposts fell on him – heard that another boy had died in the same tragic way as his son, it “shook him to his core”.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Jan 17, 2019

Dov Paluch told the SA Jewish Report this week, “I could not comprehend that soccer goals had taken another precious child’s life in less than 18 months since I lost my boy.”

The devastating news changed something in him. The intensely private Paluch knew it was time to do something. After some agonising soul searching, he decided to go public in December in a bid to kickstart a nationwide conversation around safety at schools and sports grounds.

First, he tracked down the father of Kiyan Singh, the eight-year-old Durban boy who was struck by a goalpost during strong winds in late November.

“I had to find him and reach out,” Paluch said.

For Sahil Singh, it was the call he was waiting for. “Dov’s phone call came exactly when I was looking online to find someone out there who had been through this.”

The heartbroken fathers spoke for ages in what would become the first of many calls. Their shared grief and pain united them in an unimaginable way.

“That feeling of finding someone who understands exactly what you are going through is so rare. Dov understood immediately,” Singh told the SA Jewish Report.

His son’s accident happened at the Riverside sports grounds during a match between local club Riverside and Juventus football clubs’ junior teams. The soccer-crazy boy was a substitute goalkeeper for the local side Juventus.

At his memorial, his father told mourners, “My baby soccer player passed away in his goals in the end doing what he absolutely loved the most. It was a cruel and merciless ending for his beautiful life.”

After reaching out to Singh, Paluch then wrote an opinion piece which was published in News24 and IOL.

Just as the holiday spirit set in, the community was unsettled by media reports about Paluch’s intention of suing Yeshiva College. This close-knit community had been there right from the start when tragedy struck the Paluch family. Inevitably, legal proceedings shift perceptions and create controversy.

According to Paluch, the family had started legal proceedings soon after Hugo’s passing. “It was part of a process that had begun many months ago,” he said.

The turning point in going public about the importance of safety at schools followed Kiyan’s untimely passing, he insists.

In his article he said, “I was angry because no parent should have to bury a child. But mostly I was angry because after Hugo was taken from us, naively, I thought that it could not happen again.” His letter states that at the same time as there was a huge outpouring of love and support from the community, “there was inadequate response from administrators around meaningful efforts towards safety”.

Asked if a lawsuit could have been avoided, Hugo’s mother Nicole explained, “Everything we have done and continue to do is to ensure that in Hugo’s memory, nothing like this ever happens again. We need schools in South Africa to take accountability for the safety of our children. They are in the business of looking after children, and keeping them safe during the school day should be their first and foremost priority. If no one takes accountability, then change cannot happen.”

Their beloved first-born son, Hugo, 14, died in June 2017 after soccer goals fell on him during break at school. Described as a freak accident, it gripped the community locally and abroad as Hugo slipped away after fighting for his life for 11 days in hospital.

Those who knew him said he was no ordinary child. Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein – a friend of the family – described him as an “activist for good”, and as someone who wanted to make the world a better place. The tight-knit Yeshiva College community of which Hugo was a part cocooned the grieving Paluch family during their darkest hour of despair.

“The school and the community literally held us up when we were broken, and for this we will always be grateful,” said Paluch.

In a letter to the parents of Yeshiva College in December, the school’s management said it remained heartbroken by this tragedy.

However, the letter states, “The school believes that these press articles contain information that is misleading and inaccurate, and do not reflect the findings of the commission of inquiry conducted by the Honourable (retired) Justice Meyer Joffe.”

The school confirmed that a claim had been made by the Paluch family against the school for monetary damages.

Avrom Krengel, the Chairman of Yeshiva College, told the SA Jewish Report that it was “unfortunate and regrettable” that it had come to this. “The Paluch family instituted legal proceedings soon after Hugo’s passing. We were aware,” he said.

The school has revealed to the parents what it believes are the relevant findings of the report.

It said that Joffe was “not satisfied to ascribe any fault to Yeshiva College” with regards to the buying, installing, and maintenance of the goalposts.

The school told them it had hired a health and safety consultant in 2014. The consultant did not include an inspection of the sporting equipment in his site audit. According to the report, “Yeshiva College was remiss in not having its sporting equipment, including the goalposts, evaluated.”

While acknowledging that there are no specific regulations for private schools regarding high school break supervision, Joffe stated that Yeshiva College “did not provide sufficient [any] supervision during break”.

Krengel said that the process of the inquiry and the findings of the report had led to much introspection, and a review of safety policies and practices had been undertaken.

“The school is fully insured, and we are committed to providing a safe environment for all learners,” he said.

Paluch said his son would have started Grade 10 this week.

“There is nothing you can do for the pain,” he said, describing unwavering heartache.

“I’m hoping people do not see this as a malicious attempt to take down a school. It is not about this. We are not confrontational people, we are private people.

“I appreciate it is out there now, but we don’t want this to blow up. We are not taking legal action out of anger. Our goal is to create awareness of safety. The main concern is that this tragedy does not happen again, ever.

“Suing is part of a process to make sure schools start taking safety measures seriously, otherwise there will be consequences.

“Ultimately another child died, and that is why we feel we have to go through with this so that schools around the country start to take notice about the vital importance of safety at our schools.”

Said Singh, “This is a well-known risk to children around the world. People cannot dismiss them as freak accidents. Five children have died between 2017 and 2018. Countries have adopted safety precautions, policies, and measures, especially in places like the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. It is real, and it is happening. Ensuring safety is inexpensive and not time consuming. All it takes is some time, effort, and care.”

The two grieving fathers are due to meet early next month to brainstorm an awareness campaign.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Norma Judelman 17 Jan
    I would like to condole with the 2 families. I lost a daughter 25 years ago. It is heart breaking. Indescribably painful. A Rabbi told me that when your coping meets up with your pain you then have better days. You just have to be really strong and move on. It can take a long time. I wish the family health, strength ,a huge amount.G-D the entire family. Regards. Norma Judelman


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