Wednesday, May 12, 2021

GRASSROOTS SPORTS DEVELOPMENT ÔÇô REALITY OR A DREAM?

The kids take positions on the field, each to his base. The pitcher and the batsman face each other.

It’s softball time at Bonewamang Memorial School.

Whereas this may seem a normal softball practice, the equipment reveals something abnormal, a tennis racket and ball are being used in place of the usual softball bat and ball.

While the kids seem to enjoy the game, for their teachers, this is a nightmare. For starters, this game, as with all sporting codes in this school, be it athletics, football, netball or any other sport, is played on a small play ground between classrooms.

Besides the severe lack of equipment, the school is faced with lack of basic infrastructure, a playing field. The space between classrooms is the only ground the school can get if they are to participate in sport.

Even as Botswana’s sporting codes talk of grassroots development, for the teachers and kids of this school, this is just what it is, all talk and no action. In an interview with SundaySport, Ms Masego Moroke, a sports coach at the school, says unavailability of playing grounds at the school dates as far back as 1997.

“This school had a playing ground prior to then, but it was declared as not safe for kids back in 1997 as it was very rocky and could injure kids. We wanted it to be repaired but it was not viable,” she tells SundaySport. According to Moroke, this has adversely affected sporting codes in the school so much that they no longer do sport to compete, but merely to participate. She says the ground between classes is very small to even accommodate recognized sports like athletics, football and netball.

Moroke says this problem has badly affected sport development.
“It is very disheartening to work here. We can’t train our kids’ basic football positions nor train our goalkeepers. We are also doing badly in athletics as we have no proper measurements and our kids are always found lacking in competitions,” she adds.

For her part, the school’s netball coach, Vinoliah Letlole, who is also the Kweneng regional Netball Coordinator, expressed concern over lack of serious effort by sporting bodies to develop sport from grassroots. She says Primary schools have become a dumping site for sport bodies that only come to launch their codes and then disappear.

“All they do is invite us to launches, which they always hold at the Sports Complex and then give us basic equipment even without checking whether we have grounds to play the sport. After that, they disappear and never even come back to check on the progress we are making,” she tells SundaySport.

Another concern for both Moroke and Letlole is the apparent lack of support from sporting bodies. She says while grassroots development starts in primary schools, sporting codes seem to ignore empowering teachers to be better coaches.

Moroke added that the last time she went for a coaching clinic was back in 1999 during Ben Koffie’s tenure at the Botswana Football Association. To keep up-to-date with latest sport development, she says they rely mostly on the Television and Newspapers.

Commenting on the issue, the president of the Botswana Netball Association, Tebogo Lebotse admitted that they are not doing enough to develop sports at the grassroots.

“This is mainly due to the fact that BONA since inception has been run by volunteers and for this to be successful and bear fruits, it requires full time resources both human and financial,” she said.

She further added that BONA is in the process of signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Primary Schools, Secondary and Tertiary Schools on areas of collaboration and have started discussions to formalize relationships as, in the past, “we have worked and collaborated with them on areas of coaching and umpiring”.

She also admitted that though they do collaborate with Botswana Primary Schools Sports Association (BOPSSA) to train coaches, they are not doing as much as should be done.

For his part, the Botswana Football Association (BFA) Technical Officer, Philemon Makhwengwe, says the BFA is very keen on development at the grassroots.

Makhwengwe says to show commitment, his association last year signed a Memorandum of Understanding with BOPSSA to help develop football in schools. He, however, says they can do little on issues of playing grounds but said they can help if alerted through proper channels.

He further says, in cases where schools without playing grounds do identify a place, they can channel their requests through BOPSSA and the association will help where possible.
On the development of coaches, Makhwengwe says the BFA is always holding coaching clinics to train teachers but admitted that these are done at the request of regional coordinators.

Botswana Athletics Association (BAA) Senior Sports Development Officer, Bobby Gaseitsiwe, for his part says his association is giving grassroots development as much priority as possible. He admitted, however, that though they do identify potential athletes, it is difficult to monitor their progress once they go back to their different schools as some of the sports teachers may not be keen on athletics but on other sporting codes. BOPSSA’s Publicity Secretary, Edward Moreti, established that there are cordial relationships between his body and major sporting codes in Botswana but he also admitted there is lack of monitoring of development, which he says is apparent even within BOPSSA structures. He says they are already engaging local government and senior sporting bodies to help ensure the availability of playing fields. While Botswana dreams of grassroots sports development, with the lack of playing fields, knowledgeable coaches as well as the severe lack of monitoring, this may remain what it is, a pipe dream.

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