My five day visit to Gaborone, Botswana last week on a mission to assess the country’s capacity and suitability to host the 2014 African Youth Games, in terms of Association of National Olympic Committee Africa’s (ANOCA) stipulated requirements, rekindled fond memories of my regular sports trips to this now vastly changed city in the mid to late 80s.
Every year between 1985 and 1988, I had to endure many hours of travel by road or rail to compete in my favourite shot put event and also to coach both the then formidable Police athletics team and the revered Zimbabwe athletics team. All the competitions took place at the National Sports Stadium and they were mostly well sponsored giving us the opportunity to win not only medals and trophies but the much sought after Pulas (at the time) as well. The highlight of these sports visits was in 1988 when I travelled to Gaborone as Head Coach of a star-studded Zimbabwe athletics team determined to take the honours at the highly competitive annual Zone VI athletics championships. I had just returned from West Germany (then) the year before, armed with a coaching diploma and this particular national team included two of my favourite prot├®g├®s namely sprinters Fabian Muyaba and Gaily Dube.
To digress a bit, in my humble opinion, Muyaba and Dube were the most naturally talented sprinters to emerge on the local scene since the era of the great Artwell Mandaza and I am grateful that I had the priviledge to coach and guide them. I also feel duty bound to pay tribute to them and other illustrious sons and daughters of Zimbabwe. In 1988, the dynamic duo who were still teenagers (juniors) stormed into the Zimbabwe Olympic Team and announced their arrival on the world stage by competing against the best in Seoul, South Korea after completely outperforming and thereby displacing more experienced senior sprinters who had earlier on been pre-selected for the Games; the selectors were left with no option but to pick the best available, their inexperience notwithstanding. Although their performance results in Seoul were predictably nothing to write home about, this was nevertheless a milestone achievement for the two distinguished sportspersons.
Unfortunately both never reached their full potential for various reasons even though they both represented Zimbabwe at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and their national records in the 100 and 200 metre events lasted for decades. If you ask me, these two, among many others of course, earned and should take their places in the athletics hall of fame; if and when this becomes a reality.
To get back on track, so to say, when I landed in Gaborone last week I found myself in a city that has been transformed over the last two decades to become a befitting capital of a fast developing country. I was impressed at every turn right from the international airport which has been greatly expanded and is now in the final stages of a major facelift. The road network is in mint condition and there are many high rise buildings under construction including hotels and other business structures. The hotels dotted in and around the capital are being boosted by the booming tourism industry. The University of Botswana which used to be a very small institution is now a massive complex providing educational and sporting facilities for 15 000 students. The University has its own 10 000 seater stadium with an eight lane athletics tartan track, an Olympic size swimming pool and a multi-purpose indoor sports complex nearing completion; to name just a few.
The sports facilities were the most impressive development that caught my eye. Not only is there an abundance of modern sports facilities to cater for the different sport codes in the city, but more importantly they are all well maintained and being put to good use by the respective sports bodies and educational institutions. I sensed that a sports culture is slowly taking root in this nation thanks to the deliberate policy of the government to provide adequate sports infrastructure to the various centres around the country. The government is investing heavily in sport through provision of sports facilities and financial resources in the form of annual grants to promote sport development. I can testify that the city of Lobatse which is 75 km from Gaborone and the Police College (50km) also boast of outstanding sports facilities comparable to those in the capital.
However, for the African Youth Games in 2014, the facilities in Gaborone will suffice given that virtually all the envisaged training and competition venues are already in place in and around the proposed Games Village which is the University of Botswana. The ‘Olympic Park’ concept would thus become a reality providing not only convenience for the participants but also efficiency and savings on transport costs for the organizers.
The recent sports successes achieved and enjoyed by Botswana seem to be driven by a national vision which has been translated into reality through appropriate investment over the years. As far back as the 2000 Sydney Olympics Glody Dube reached the 800 metre men’s final and some probably thought this was a fluke rather than a milestone, but since then the nation has celebrated steady success culminating in the latest major milestones headlined by the women’s 400 metre World Champion in 2011, Amantle Montsho and of course the first ever qualification of the Zebras for and participation in the most recent Africa Cup of Nations. Montsho is now the lady to beat in London…talk of putting one’s country on the world map! The successes will continue to flow if the focus and investment are maintained because the belief in and hunger for success have been cultivated in the nation. In other words, the domino effect has been triggered.
Botswana deserves its place in the sun and is clearly fast becoming the pride and envy of Africa. Hopefully other African nations will take a leaf out of their book. Let us continue to preach the gospel that there is no shortcut to success!
*Robert Mutsauki is the Technical Director of the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA)