Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Botswana Marathons ÔÇô a money making industry with no trickle down benefits for athletics

Botswana’s local marathons, mostly privately owned and organised, are flush with money. These events, mostly organised by the country’s influential personas have no problems attracting sponsors, with the amounts of sponsorship monies amounting to hundreds of thousands of pulas. As a result, these marathons are glitzy events which boast some of Botswana’s political and corporate leaders among their attendees. As such, these marathons continue to attract even bigger sponsorships, and with that many international athletes, most of whom are lured by the big cash prizes handed out. Despite being flush with large turnouts, the marathons are yet to produce a single local track star and no Motswana athlete has even qualified for an international event.

With their glitz and top notch organisation, these events are in stark contrast with the country’s track and field events organised by the BAA. The association still continues to struggle to lure sponsors to their events, something which has made most of the BAA events low key and devoid of allure. This disparity is so huge that even the sponsorship money granted to the BAA to host the country’s National Championships, the biggest event in the calendar of BAA track and field and the country as such, pale in comparison to the ones given out by sponsors to the marathons. Unlike in the marathons where prize monies can go as far as P25 000 for the winner, the prizes for BAA organised events are very low, with the winners of national championship events pocketing at least P1000 at most. Despite this disparity, the lowly sponsored BAA events continue to unearth athletes who have represented Botswana with distinction.

“This is travesty. If you look at the money that is pumped into the marathons, we should be developing enough long distance athletes who can help raise the country’s flag high in international competitions. On the contrary, we cannot even point out a local athlete who has emerged from these races nor has been helped to reach the international stage level qualifications. These marathons are mostly made by people who have no interest in the development of athletics in the country,” one observer commented. According to the observer, the main reason why these marathons continue to attract large sponsors is because they are mostly organised by the country’s influential and well connected people.

“Most of the people who organise these marathons are not just ordinary Batswana like you and I. They are very influential people who are well connected both politically and business wise. As such, if you go to a marathon today, you will find all these influential people, including ministers attending. However, the only time you will see them at a BAA organised event is when our local athletes have won medals or accolades,” the observer said.

Reached for comment, BAA President, Moses Bantsi concurred that the BAA does not benefit from the events, though they are sanctioned by them. “Initially when we sanctioned these races, we believed that they will help develop both our athletes and the BAA. This has however not happened and we are now looking at how to regulate them and ensure that the country’s athletes benefit from them,” the BAA President explained.

He said despite the marathons attracting a lot of sponsors and international athletes, there is yet to be any training extended to local athletes to help them develop. He said in future, the BAA will only sanction events that will also enhance the development of local athletes to make them competitive in the international arena. He said in the future, the BAA will demand some percentages of the profits from all events they sanction to be channeled to the development of athletes. For his part, BAA Vice President, Glody Dube, said the association is hatching plans to bring all marathons under the regulation of the BAA to ensure they benefit athletics. Dube, who also leads the BAA Technical Committee, said the BAA has realised that while some of the marathons do charity, some have also started to use the marathons as a money making scheme to line up their pockets while claiming to be doing it for charity. “We are currently coming up with policies and regulations to curb this. This has been so bad that in one of the marathons, the organisers negated on their agreement with athletes and did not pay the monies to athletes as they had promised. This left us with problems in our hands because when issues like these arise, it remains with the BAA to answer as the custodians of athletics in the country,” the BAA Vice President explained.

He said as such, from the 3rd to the 5th of next month, the BAA Technical committee and subcommittee members will go on a benchmarking exercise in South Africa where they will learn necessary skills to organise everything related to athletics in the country. “As the custodians of athletics in the country, we intend to stamp our authority on athletics in the country to ensure that it is not abused for personal gain. As the BAA, we are to blame for the current situation because we have never really exercised our authority on issues relating to athletics, including the sanctioning and regulation of marathons,” he concluded.

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