Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Lethabo punches rhetoric

Botswana team which did duty at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games arrived in the country last week with only two medals from the games – a silver and a bronze.

The medal return left the team on position 33 in the final medal standings at the end of the games. This is a marked reversal of fortunes for the country which has over the past few additions enjoyed success at the games.

It was a far cry from four years ago when the team garnered five medals from the games, 3 gold, a silver and a bronze. In fact, this was the worst medal return by weight for the country at the Commonwealth Games in a decade and no speeches could sanitize it.

In an attempt to sanitize the poor showing at the games, the Minister of Sports Tumiso Rakgare reminded those at the arrival ceremony that ‘high performance sport is not just about the medals.’ He then pointed to a season ‘saturated with high level sport events such as the World Athletics championships and World Junior Athletics championships.’

“Unlike other countries which have depth to send different athletes to different events we ended up over stretching our athletes, a problem we have to confront,” the minister said.

While the Minister’s quick reminder that ‘high performance sport is not just about the medals,’ this however should not divert attention from our failure to meet set targets. When the team left the country, with what was the second largest contingent ever in the country’s history, the target was to bring home 8 medals. Bringing only two medals, none gold, fell far short of the target.

The only take away from the minister’s speech was his admission that ‘sheer talent alone will see us reaping awards.’ He went on to state that ‘athlete development and talent nurturing at the elite level is a paramount component of success in sport worldwide.’

In Rakgare’s failure to address the real shortcomings in our sport, it took a speech by country’s bronze medalist Lethabo Modukanele to do such. Though diplomatic, Modukanele pulled no punches as she called on the country to invest in sport science to help athletes.

Addressing the sports leadership in the country including the government, the youthful pugilist reiterated Rakgare’s assertion that sheer talent alone is not enough. However, unlike Rakgare, Lethabo addressed the real problems inhibiting local athletes’ performance.

In an impassioned plea, Lethabo called on the sport leadership ‘to look into research and development as well as invest in sports science and sports infrastructure.’ “Passion is great. Passion will get you there. But passion backed by science, backed by resources will take us to unbelievable heights,” she said to an applause from her audience.

This assertion by the young Modukanele cannot be taken lightly. Going into the games, the country was without some of its best talent due to lack of form emanating from persistent injuries.

Save for Isaac Makwala and Amantle Montsho who have retired, the team was without its other 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth luminaries. Loss of form due to injuries meant the likes of Baboloki Thebe, Galefele Moroko and Leungo Matlhaku among others failed to make the games. Of the team that won medals four years ago, only Christine Botlogetswe had made the cut.

Coming from long injury layoff herself, Botlogetswe, who says she is still learning to run again, was far from her best. In her own words, ‘she is still trying to face the fear of running fast again lest she tears some muscles again.’ This on its own shows a need for more scientific approach to sport in Botswana.

Speaking on the sidelines of the welcome ceremony, one administrator said sports science is a necessity. The administrator said had the country’s injured athletes been well taken of and available, the country would have performed way better.

“We need those runners like the Thebes, Morokos and others who can run quicker times to complement the young talent we have. These young athletes are not yet on the level of the athletes we are talking about,” the administrator said.

Meanwhile, Modukanele also called on the sports leadership to ‘engage athletes more’ at every given time. The young pugilist call has of recent been echoed by Makwala in his recent Facebook post. “I also say to our leadership, let us engage our athletes more in our forums, our committees, in our commissions during, before and after major events. Please do talk to your athletes. They are the ones representing you in the end. You need to know how we are feeling, what we are thinking, how things can be improved and so on,” she said to another raucous applause.


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