Her face lights up when she speaks netball. With more than two decades in the sport, her passion for netball is still undiminished, it is unambiguous, contagious.
Tebogo Lebotse is at the moment the most powerful woman in African netball. Not only is she the president of the Botswana Netball Association (BONA), but she is also the President of Africa Netball, a position which makes her a board member of the International Federation of Netball Associations (IFNA).
Ms Lebotse’s netball journey began 26 years ago in Gabane while doing standard four at a local primary school.
“Back then, there were three sporting codes at school, football, netball and athletics. I was not the fastest athlete and football was for boys, so I chose netball as it was the sport at which I excelled,” she recalls.
That choice was to prove a master stroke for the Mochudi-born Lebotse. She broke into the school’s senior side while doing standard six, a feat which was tremendous considering that this was a side reserved mostly for senior students.
By the time she was doing her form three, she had already attracted the interests of BDVC netball club, which drafted her in their team. The year 1995 saw her selected to play for the National Under 21 netball team and a year later she was drafted to the senior side up until the year 2000.
After retiring from active sport in 2001, she focused on her career and played less active role in the sport, mostly as a volunteer at Notwane Netball Club.
However, her self-imposed exile from active sport came to an end in 2007 when, against her will, some of the people she had played with, mainly Sthulile Mlojwa and Ntebo Motsuminyane persuaded her to stand for the BONA presidency and, as they say, the rest is history.
“My first year in office was horrible. There were lots of negative reports in the media about netball and I, being a positive person, this nearly broke me,” she reminisces.
This uneasy relationship with the media came to a head in 2008 during the launch of Choppies sponsorship when she publicly chastised the media for its negativity.
However, all this made her and her committee more resolved to get their house in order and two year later, netball has landed a most lucrative sponsorship deal with Spar Supermarkets.
“This sponsorship is a culmination of hard work by BONA. It started way back in 2008 when we approached Spar to sponsor us. When we were invited to the Three Nations Tournament in South Africa in 2009, we took that advantage to talk to Spar and we clinched the deal,” she says. Optimistic as she is, she knows she still has a long way to go to achieve all that she set out to do when she ascended the BONA presidency.
“There is a need to restructure our netball and to put in place proper development structures. We are at this moment trying to involve past players to coach at schools. We have also appointed a development officer to put in place proper basic training structures for kids at primary schools and we have also embraced constituency leagues capture the out of school youth and to try select best players,” she tells Standard Sport.
To attract more girls into the sport, Lebotse acknowledges she has to bring ‘sexy’ back into the sport. This, she says, can be accomplished by profiling national team players so as to put them in the limelight.
Not one to shy away from responsibility, Lebotse this year accepted the presidency of Africa Netball, and is tasked with resuscitating netball in Africa. “When I went to South Africa for a netball meeting then, I had no intention of standing for any position in African netball. It was only after I was approached by netball authorities in Namibia to stand that I did, albeit reluctantly,” she said.
With Lebotse at the helm, the future looks bright for Botswana’s netball.