Like the rest of the world, Batswana are obsessed with football so much that it is regarded as a national sport.
Over the years however, the sport has fallen down the pecking order in terms of bringing Botswana international glory, losing ground to codes such as athletics and to some extent, karate and boxing.
As athletics shines at the ongoing 22nd Africa Senior Championships in Mauritius, many are now wondering if Botswana can be world-beaters if we stop obsessing with football.
And while athletics continues to grow in leaps and bounds, the same cannot be said of football. As it is, while still early in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaigns, signs are that the Zebras will struggle.
Shockingly, despite lack of results, football continues to be the most popular sport as compared to excelling sporting codes like athletics, through which Botswana is carving itself a great reputation.
A source commenting on the basis of anonymity stated that a country’s national sport is normally the one that is common or followed by most people (locals).
“A popular sporting code will always be a national sport of any country irrespective of the results in the field of play. What a country can do is to put more funds in sporting codes that excel which will eventually force locals to support that code and eventually it becomes the national sport,” he said.
The source pointed out that if more money is invested in sporting codes like athletics which are giving better results as compared to football, it will eventually gain more television coverage and eventually lead to more viewership and following.
“Football has a larger following more than any other code, it brings more income than any other code despite its horrible results. The government should just support athletics with more funding, currently there is very little support given to athletics as compared to football. In just 2 games between (Zimbabwe and Algeria), government spent P7 million, just for 2 games. That’s a budget for some codes over a period of 2 or 3 seasons,” he said.
Even though some countries select their national sport due to established law and others by popularity, the source noted that some are chosen due to the current situation of a country.
“Rugby became popular and regarded a national sport in South Africa because the white minority invested more money into it during the apartheid era as compared to football. Though football now has more funding because it has more following, it is having less positive results. Cricket also had more support and was more popular than football,” he said.
“I am not sure if a country can declare a certain sporting code as a national sport. I think the results normally generate more public interest which automatically translates into the so called national sport (i stand to be corrected). There is no need for Botswana to declare athletics a national sport, just channel more funds into athletics so that it produces more positive results which will attract more followers,” he concluded.
Calistus Kolantsho, said a national sport should be one that is easily accessible to all, starting from grassroots programs up to elite. “It should have resources and man power that is trained to impart the knowledge and it cannot be an overnight thing,” he said. “To me athletics has grown over the years and it now commands some following. Recent events have attracted lots of spectators. So, i think even when BNSC decided to change the funding model, they realised that it does not make sense to continue pouring lots of money into football while other codes are successful in international games,” Kolantsho said.