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Olopeng’s last answer as sports minister

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Before vacating his office at the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Culture Development, Minister Thapelo Olopeng was confronted with one last controversial question from MP for Francistown Buti Billy last week.

The MP asked about an update on the commercialisation of sport. The issue has been a hot potato since the Botswana National Sports Commission Act was amended in order to professionalise local sports. However, the process has proven to be an uphill battle. The following is an excerpt from the Parliament Hansard in which the former sports minister responded to the question.
Buti Billy (Francistown East): Asked the Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development to update this Honourable House on how he is commercialising sport and if there is any strategy in place to carry out that mandate.

Thapelo Olopeng: Thank you very much Mr Speaker. The transition from Botswana National Sport Council (BNSC) to the Commission in 2014 was the first step towards professionalisation of sport in terms of setting up structures. Sport is at different levels of commercialisation in the different sport codes depending on the level of professionalism. We have a number of teams or codes which are already at semi-professional.

In football, several clubs have their players contracted and remunerated as per signed contracts. Sport also sells broadcast rights to generate revenue. Merchandising is another way that sport has commercialised. There has been establishment of local companies that manufacture sport apparel, and these have grown in popularity over the years. We have also witnessed sport such as Boxing, Athletics, and Golf, to name but a few. We witnessed them professionalise their operations and more are expected to follow. In some of the sport codes, individual sportsmen and women play professional sport internationally.

Mr Speaker, the Botswana National Sport Commission Strategy 2028, which commenced in January 2013, is an overarching strategy towards professionalising of sport, and thus commercialisation. The strategy seeks to promote sport excellence and enhance the contribution of sport to the economy. Billy: Supplementary. Ke a leboga Tona. Fa re lebeletse sports in general; all sports codes, a Minister o itumelela gore he had created employment jaaka a bua gore other sports codes di setse di simolotse go dirwa commercial? (Looking at all sport codes in general, is the Minister of sports happy he has created employment as he says with other sport codes becoming commercial)?

Olopeng: Thank you very much Mr Speaker. Thank you very much Honourable Member. Mr Speaker, my answer to that is yes, because just as at Premier League in soccer, we have 16 teams and every player within these 16 teams is on a payroll; they are paid by those individual clubs, that is creation of employment. We have our international athletes, those who participate outside the country at different events; they are paid.

We have other players, our athletes in football, netball and those who are hired by teams outside Botswana, I can just give example of teams in South Africa which have hired our players right here from Botswana and those young boys are paid by these particular teams. We have not reached where we want to reach, that is the reason why we are still developing our strategy of 2028 with Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC) to make sure that we turn sports into an industry.

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Volleyball coach explains selection of national team

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Botswana Volleyball Federation (BVF) national team coach Kabo Ntshinogang says winning a league performance award does not guarantee national team call up.

Ntshinogang was responding to complaints made by some players recently that the national team squad is decided on favoritism and not merit. To their surprise, some players that were honored for exceptional play in the 2018 Mascom league were missing from the preliminary national team list that was released by the federation recently. The national team is preparing for the All Africa games qualifiers to be held in Mozambique later this month.

“Yes it is true, not all who were honored by Mascom last year made it into the team. Winning an award does not book a seat in the national team, a lot of things go into being selected as national team material,” Ntshinogang said this week.

The coach in charge of the ladies’ team explained that in some instances, a player can score many points in one particular game while a more talented player might have been absent on the day.
That, he said could make other talented players fail to collect points and catch up, as every game is different.

“We use the league to gauge performance however, we can never all agree on who is best suited a place in the national team. Difference in opinions will always come in and perhaps provide a healthy debate,” the coach said.

Ntshinogang added that if he indeed used favoritism to pick his team then his side of Mafolofolo Club would be dominating the list. Nevertheless, Kutlwano players are the ones with a large number of players at national team level. On the men side, assistant coach Kealeboga Mmekwane said that contrary to negative reports he came across, Kesaobaka Lenkopane of BDF XI, who was the 2018 league best setter has been invited to training but has not showed up yet.

“He was omitted from the list yes but we have since contacted his coach that the player should join the national team during training,” he said. Mmekwane continued to note that another omitted name was Meffery Chindumbo who is a foreigner and could not be called for national team duty. He revealed that they look into matters such as height, skill and the defence ability when they select their preferred team.

He explained that it was hard picking names and they were forced to rely on past experiences. “There is no league and we had to think hard to come up with a competitive team,” he said. For their first training, Mmekwane noted that the players are all a bit rusty as they are returning from a long break, saying some have even gained weight. He however expressed confidence that they will qualify for the games as they have over the years established themselves as a powerhouse in the region.

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Marape increases Botswana’s medal tally

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Women Fide Master (WFM) Naledi Marape dazzled at the just ended Zone 4.3 championships held in Madagascar. She brought home a bronze medal.

The 2019 edition was the young Marape’s second zonal competition having finished on 5th position in Mozambique last year. Nevertheless, she emerged all hell bent to leave an impressive mark in Madagascar as she defeated highly ranked players to increase Botswana ‘s medal tally.

Marape emulated winning ways of Women International Master (WIM) Onkemetse Francis who finished in second position, grabbing a silver medal. Francis returned to the Chessboard following a short break from the game, itching to defend her 2018 bronze medal. She would however go up the ranks and give way for the developing star that is Marape.

It seems Marape drew inspiration from the experienced side of Francis and rightly put her foot down. The Botswana Chess Federation (BCF) spokesperson Kutlwano Tatolo explained that Marape is actually chasing her first Olympiad appearance next year.

“She has been doing well and one of the best youth players, however, competition is very stiff and she will need to work extra hard to improve her game,” she said. Tatolo described Marape as a player still full of energy and thirsty for success saying her level of growth in the game was promising.

However, Marape began the year on a low note and actually lost out on forming part of the ten Metropolitan Championships ladies’ finalists, thus the urge to keep busy drove her to international excellence.

The BCF had sent only one female representative to Madagascar however, Marape and another youth side in Women Candidate Master (WCM) Natalie Banda sponsored themselves to attend the zonal competition. Banda, who was making a debut at the tournament, finished in an impressive 8th position and she was given a trophy for being the youngest participant at the tournament.

Meanwhile, Fide Master (FM) Phemelo Khetho who recently won the Metropolitan championship failed to defend his 2018 silver medal in the open section but instead dropped to position 13.
His counterpart International Master (IM) Providence Oatlhotse, finished on the 6th place.

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