The Botswana Hockey Association president, Itumeleng Francis, says his sport is slowly growing and will soon become one of the country’s favourite codes despite challenges. The sport was introduced in 1991 and has struggled since, managing only three teams in the league.
The clubs are Jwaneng, Gaborone and UB hockey clubs. Another, the Francistown based Crows, withdrew its membership from the league due to financial constraints and had existed without proper registration.
“The major challenges that hinder growth seem to be lack of facilities and the teams have been forced to play under unconducive surfaces. We mostly play our games on slabs and for international games sometimes we use the Lekidi football pitch. We are also short of equipment as a single hockey stick costs P250 and lasts for only three months. Its durability is further affected by the fact that it is used on the wrong surfaces,” he said.
Francis decried especially the lack of Personnel as central to their hurdles. He said they will use the BNSC initiative, Sports Volunteerism, to lure former hockey players and administrators back into the running of the Association. The Association itself, as overseeing an Olympic Sport, is largely under the wings of the Botswana National Olympic Committee who are also their major financier.
However, the association has intensified development programs so as to expedite the growth of the sport. Last year, they hosted a tri nations tourney in which their junior teams, under 13, 15 and 18 performed considerably well. Francis spoke highly of the current under 18 whom he said have the potential to fly high the country’s flag. He revealed that the under 18 are the first batch to have gone through all the development structures.
Francis said that they have so far engaged private schools, which are currently doing well. He also said that though government schools have not yet come on board they will soon. Jwaneng and enclave villages, however, are an exception, most primary and secondary schools there play hockey. The students who eventually get admitted at Goodhope Senior Secondary School have a chance of continuation with the sport as it is played at the school.
“We are also in the process of engaging Botswana Primary Schools Sports Association, BOPSSA and BISA in an effort to have them integrated in our sport into the Schools extra curricular activities,” said Francis.
The Sport has also been attracting lucrative sponsorship deals. The most notable one is the P50 000, equipment sponsorship they received from Debswana and which was targeted at development. It is also reported that companies that the association approaches are usually impressed by its organisation.
The hockey president said that his committee would also try hard to bring back the fallen Francistown side, Crows. He said that though the league might only have three teams, the public should not think they do not have enough activities.
“Our league has under 13, 15, 18 and senior teams, boys and girls, men and women.”
Francis, who is also a member and a player with the University of Botswana Hockey Club, said he believes that hockey has a great potential to eclipse other codes and becoming the country’s second sport after football. He said that for the fact that, just like in football, they field same number of players, more or less same pitch size the soccer fanatics might relate easily with the sport.
The league will start on the 14th of March.