In 2014, before the eyes of an awe-struck continent, Botswana organised a seamless Africa Youth Games, which brought together 54 nations. The feat was replicated three years, and notch higher, later when the blue black and white nation brought the world to Gaborone for the Netball World Youth Cup. But has the country reaped the benefits of becoming a hosting hub, asks Staff Writer, MQONDISI DUBE
Hundred of athletes and officials from across the continent, were welcomed by thumping sounds from local musicians during the official opening of the Africa Youth Games at the National Stadium.
Fireworks lit the Gaborone skies on May 22, as the country prepared to host its biggest sporting tournament.
Botswana passed with flying colours after 10 days of near flawless organisation of the games. The country’s leadership was satisfied, and so were sports authorities, that received the largest pat on the back. The floodgates were open as the insatiable hosting appetite grew.
The country narrowly missed out on hosting the 2015 COSAFA Castle Cup due to alcohol restrictions, but there have been several other regional competitions, which Botswana has organised.
This includes the 2019 Africa karate championships, the 2020 swimming competitions, and various others, which are being used as building blocks towards making the country a hosting hub.The 2017 Netball World Youth Cup undoubtedly remains high on major events the country hosted.
Botswana became the first African country to host a world netball competition.
It could have become even better had the country won the right to host the 2022 Youth Olympics, but was piped but Senegal, after local authorities baulked due to the hosting expense, which ran into billions.
Botswana would have been the first African country to host the Youth Olympics, but passed the opportunity to the West African country.
While Botswana has become a destination of choice for hosting events, the lingering question would be, has the country thus far reaped the full rewards? In the build-up to 2014, sports leaders emphasised the importance of hosting, particularly the footprints that it leaves behind. Infrastructure and talent development are some of the key reasons countries prefer to host sporting events.
There are economic spin-offs, and the tourism sector benefits from organising reputable competitions. A report on the immediate benefits of hosting, particularly the Youth Games and Netball World Youth Cup, has not been made public.
However, the country benefitted from facilities upgrade, with the swimming pool at the University of Botswana,
The indoor sports centre at the UB is also an elegant facility. But the country might have missed the boat in terms of leveraging on hosting to grow sports codes that lag behind.
The expectation was that the hosting of the Youth Games would introduce new, minority codes such as canoeing, rowing and while enhancing the reputations of little utilised disciplines like fencing and hockey.
However, post 2014, these codes are far worse off. The Gaborone dam waters, which were used for canoeing and rowing in 2014, are unusually calm. Fencing is still showing some life, but evidently struggling, and so is hockey. The 2017 netball competition was expected to send interest in netball, shooting through the roof, but there have been unintended consequences.
Netball has been in ICU, and soon after 2017 the league competition failed to take place in a classic case of a beggar on a beach of gold.
Former Botswana National Sport Commission (BNSC) chairperson, Solly Reikeletseng, who oversaw the hosting of the two big competitions in 2014 and 2017 said hosting has tangible benefits.
“The benefits of hosting are multifaced. From facility development, skills development, sport growth to athlete development. In Botswana, we create the opportunity for hosting, but we only treat hosting as ticking the box in terms of what we are expected to do. After the event, we start fighting for reports etc. and there is no follow up of the sport and the benefits,” Reikeletseng said.
He said the challenge is the will of the leadership.
“Netball for example hosted the world but after that it was treated the way it was treated before hosting the World Cup and doing well. The budget was the same as before and they continued fighting for the same resources.”
He however, warned that hosting must not be used for personal gains.
“We host to tick the calendar and also to get international positions but not take advantage for the benefit of our country,” Reikeletseng said.