BY BOTLHALE KOOTHUPILE
For a sport that is founded on the long held traditions of honour and integrity, Botswana Karate Association (BOKA) may soon find itself losing talented athletes.
At the heart of the matter is the athletes’ lack of confidence in the association’s national teams’ selection processes.
Already one athlete, Imanuel Bulayani has quit the sport, and if the rumours doing rounds are anything to go by, others may soon follow.
A member of the national team for six years, Bulayani quit the sport he loves in 2017 after he was snubbed for the national team despite coming second in Kata, a position which was always a guarantee for national team spot.
In his stead, the national team selectors opted for an athlete who had finished lower than him.
As if not enough, in that same year, he alleges that his team was deliberately dropped from the national team for the Zonal championships.
“Every year, there are national team selections for BOKA. Winners on each category are then selected to represent the country in international competitions for that particular year,” Bulayani narrated.
“During the selections, our team Kata which was made of Vincent Magalie, Quinton Mosupiemang and I emerged winners and were rightfully called in the provisional national team.
When we were in camp, we were informed that the team would be trimmed. When that eventually happened, it was only the team Kata which was dropped,” he explained.
Bulayani said thereafter, the team called for an explanation on the criteria used but they never got answers as the BOKA executive sent them from pillar to post.
“We then wrote to the BNSC complaining about the problem. They also did not address the matter. We then escalated the matter but by then, it was too little too late. It was then that we realised that the BOKA executive had sent us in circles so that by the time our complaints were addressed, it would be too late for us to be included in the team,” he said.
Bualyani said when the team finally competed at the regional championships, the national team selectors had conveniently made a Kata national team to compete.
“Needless to say, the team did not do as well as the previous ones as it came second to South Africa. It was then taken to the Africa Karate Championships where it came out 5th and failed to bring home a medal,” he said.
After all these, Bulayani said he lost interest in the sport as the hypocrisy was too much to bear.
“It was then that I realised that there was no justice or integrity within the sport and I quit. I felt that as national team coach, Christopher Ponatshego was deliberately pushing me out as I had quit from his Kofukan style where I grew up. As of now, I cannot even encourage kids to play the sport with hopes of representing the country as it can only crush their spirits,” he said.
Fast forward to 2019 and Bulayani, in a back seat away from the sport, is watching in bemusement as the 2017 saga replays itself all over again.
Just as when his team which had won national selections was dropped, the same is happening again, with the same hastily arranged select team of 2017 once again the beneficiaries.
After winning the national team selections, a team made of Boemo Ramasimong, Magalie and Ofentse Bakwadi has not been called.
This latest snub has already irked parents who now question the existence of national team selections. Already, concerned parents are said to have written letters to the BNSC seeking an intervention.
Among them it is alleged are the parents of Mosupiemang. As an under 21 under 75kg champion in 2017, Mosupiemang was allegedly dropped from zone 6 bound national team and his spot taken by coach Ponatshego’s younger brother, who had come second.
Come 2019, it is again alleged that Mosupiemang, who is a silver medallist from the 2018 Africa Karate Championships once again finds himself at the periphery of the national team.
After finishing in second position to Bakwadi in Kumite, Mosupiemang was allegedly not called for national team duties while those who finished in 3rd, 4th and 5th, including Ponatshego’s younger brother have been called.
Reached to explain, BOKA publicity secretary Isaiah Ramontshonyana said no malice should be read from the matter, saying the national team was yet to be announced.
“For the past few days, the media has persistently asked us about the national team. But the truth is the team is yet to be finalised,” he said.
Asked how some athletes who had performed well at the championships had ‘conveniently’ not been called to the provisional team, Ramontshonyana said it was the coach’s prerogative to select an athlete.
“Normally, the only athletes who are guaranteed a spot in the national team are those who had finished on first position. However, even then, it is the coach’s prerogative to select athletes based on who he feels have a better chance of winning medals,” he explained.
The BOKA spokesperson was however at pains to explain how an Africa silver medallist who had also finished as a runner up in the national selections could not be selected while those who had failed to get a medal at the continental championships or made the top three positions in the selections got a nod.
He maintained that there was fairness in the BOKA selection processes, adding that finishing on better positions is no guarantee that an athlete will be selected as other factors come into play during the process.
“At the moment, we cannot answer as to why certain athletes have been overlooked as we do not have the final team. Once the national team coach presents to us the final team, we will then get to ask him about any concerns raised and only then can we have answers,” said the BOKA PRO.
On the team Kata, Ramonsthonyana said the team ‘was dropped for the good’ of the country to pave way for the team that competed at the 2018 Africa Karate Championships and qualified for the inaugural beach Africa Beach Games to use the Zonal championships for preparations.
Asked why they then called for Kata national team selections while there was a team in place, the BOKA publicity secretary said they did not know that the team had qualified until after the selections.
“We intend to call the team that won the national selections and their coach to a meeting to plead with them to forego their spot at the Zone 6 championships for the benefit of the country. Whether that will be successful remains to be seen,” he explained.
Pressed further on the matter, Ramontshonyana could not give consistent answers, as he said there were no selections for team Kata in the national team.
At one point, the BOKA PRO said other factors such as the height of athletes could have played a role, saying that sometimes coaches seek to have athletes of the same height performing team Kata.
He however could not explain why such was not communicated to the team that won the national selections prior to the call up of the provisional team for zone 6 championships.