Athletics' off the track challenges

Dominant: Athletics has been the best performing code in recent years PIC: PHATSIMO KAPENG
Dominant: Athletics has been the best performing code in recent years PIC: PHATSIMO KAPENG

Botswana Athletics Association (BAA) is one of the best performing codes in the country but has struggled to build its own facilities, as Staff Writer, CALISTUS KOLANTSHO observes in this second installment of Wither Botswana Sport

Athletics depends on Botswana National Sport Commission (BNSC) for facilities, particularly stadia where in some instances they are not allowed access. Sometimes the stadium is reserved for football or other celebrations like the Botswana Defence Force Day. BAA has struggled to see a high number of athletes qualify due to some low standard track. The only track with better quality is at the Obed Itani Chilume Stadium in Francistown.

Despite maintenance during the 2018 Gaborone Region 5 Games, the National Stadium track remains in deplorable condition and it is a risk to the athletes. The track was not replaced and it is now thinner. Some elite athletes have struggled to qualify at the National Stadium because starting blocks at times slip and spikes are unable to get the necessary grip on the track. The track rubber has thinned down. In one incident, Karabo Sibanda was injured after the blocks slipped. Regarding athletics development programmes, things have not been going in the right direction but it seems like the current BAA board is shifting the pieces around. BAA vice president, sport development, Tshepo Kelaotswe said they have resuscitated athletics programmes for children and other categories being youth, juniors and high performance.

World Athletics has stopped supporting children's athletics as it was inactive. Over the years, the focus has always been on 400m and 800m or probably it was because of the positive results. It seemed like the then committees focused on where the results were. Kelaotswe said BAA does not exist for results, but it was a secondary assignment.

The primary mission is development by providing a platform for athletes to excel. The focus was also on the long jump because there was Gable Garenamotse and the high jump where Kabelo Mmono and Kabelo Kgosiemang excelled. There are Youth Olympics but Botswana has never featured at the competition. “I will be having Under-18 trials this month in Francistown followed by the next instalment in Gaborone. It is a build-up to the AUSC Region 5 Games. I do not want lights off and people to start wondering what happened to athletics. I have started laying the foundation. When you do something, there should be a transition. You should be able to measure development,” he said. Over the years, junior teams were not featuring in international competitions, until this year when a team was sent to Kenya and brought a gold medal in 100m accompanied by silver in 200m. “With time I think we could do well in field events. I am motivated by India winning a javelin gold medal in Tokyo. There is something that we could do hurdles,” he added. Kelaotswe said finance is not necessary for development.

Athletics has Centres of Sport Excellence in Goodhope and Mogoditshane Senior Secondary Schools. Some of the successful athletes from the programme are Baboloki Thebe and Sibanda who emerged from Goodhope. The two centres do not have coaches, however, BNSC was once said to be conducting interviews. Goodhope was dealt a blow when renowned coach, Mogomotsi Otsetswe left. The procedure is for students with potential at junior secondary schools to complete their senior secondary at these centres. Rising sprinter, Bernard Olesitse is a student at Goodhope but in 2019 and 2020 he has not produced any good results. Mogoditshane has never been active in athletics. Initially, there was a teacher who was coaching high jump at the school, probably that is why BNSC opened the centre but it has now collapsed. Many people are passionate about athletics but they do not have the credentials to coach.

Due to limited funding, BAA is not able to train coaches and technical officials. The other challenge is also progress for coaches hence the country has one elite coach. “To try and combat that, I have suggested to the board that we need to develop a local certification system. We then evaluate and measure it with certain levels, such that when they are invited at the coaching training centre, they just sail through,” Kelaotswe said. He added that most coaches who are active do not have certificates while those with certificates are inactive. Kelaotswe added some of the coaches are teachers who were brought for training by associate members, Botswana Tertiary School Sport Association, Botswana Integrated School Association and Botswana Primary Schools Sports Association. He said that means BAA has no control over them. Kelaotswe said he is developing a national athletics strategic plan that is facilitated by World Athletics. He said the inclusion of World Athletics is necessary for support. “I have participated in the development of the same strategy in Zambia. It brought together all government ministries and the same concept would be followed here. It means everybody would learn and understand athletics,” he said.

The future looks bright for athletics but the code has been through trying times. In 2016, the affiliates decided to pass a motion of no confidence against the secretary-general, Legojane Kebaitse. His sin was that he was not communicating with affiliates. President Moses Bantsi, his vice president Roland Masalila and Charles Keikotlhae resigned following the motion. There was a lot of internal bickering during Bantsi's era. At one point, his executive committee was accused of misusing funds. Thari Mooketsi was brought in as acting president, deputised by Kenneth Kikwe. The main task of the interim committee was to prepare for elections. The other issue that was of concern by then was the Constitution. The affiliates complained that they did not endorse the constitution that was submitted to the Registrar of Societies and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), now World Athletics.

They believed that the Constitution could have been endorsed before it was submitted to other organisations. Upon assuming office, the new committee then under Mooketsi, was expected to probe allegations of misappropriation of funds but nothing materialised. Bantsi was now president of Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) - Southern Region. Botswana did not host any regional championships or training for technical officials for quite some time. Some accused Bantsi of sabotage. BAA failed to take advantage of Bantsi's continental position to host World Athletics administration and coaching courses. That created a gap, which is still being felt today. The Mooketsi administration saw some gaffes, including the relay team failing to travel to the World Relays that were held in Yokohama, Japan in 2019. Mooketsi had a face-off with the then Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development (MYSC), Tshekedi Khama. World Athletics fined BAA for missing the competition. The situation was so tense that BAA and BNSC were not on speaking terms. Audited reports were a challenge for the Association.

For his part, Bantsi argues that BAA does not have resources, even when they organised an event, funding was from BNSC. As such, accounting is done by BNSC. “All the accusations that were made against me and my executive were politically motivated. Imagine a motion of no confidence against the secretary-general because he was not communicating,” he said. Bantsi denied sabotaging BAA at the CAA-Southern Region. He said the association has never shown interest in hosting regional competitions. “Even now, I requested them to host regional championships but they have not responded,” Bantsi said. When asked about the financial audit that has been pending for many years, vice president, Oabona Theetso explained that the audit was done from 2012. He said the report could have been presented to the affiliates unfortunately COVID-19 restrictions disallowed physical meetings. “We saw the letters from Southern Region about hosting. We are still engaging with the government,” Theetso said.

Editor's Comment
More resources needed to fight crime

The Fight Crime Gaborone Facebook page is always filled with sad complaints of hard working Batswana who were robbed at knife point at some traffic lights or at their home gates when trying to get inside.These thugs have no mercy; they do not just threaten victims, they are always ready to use knives, and sadly, they damage car windows. While this happens at different traffic lights, there are those where such incidents happen more frequently...

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