BY PATIENCE LEPHOGOLE
For athletes, on individual basis, being called for national duty is the pinnacle of a career, a moment of pride that needs to be cherished.
However, at times, such dreams are hindered by several issues, varying from parent’s permission to not being released from school or work. At times lack of sponsorship may be a barrier if national committees are unable to assist.
While the problem goes a long way back, the regularity with which it has cropped up recently now calls for solutions as it affects national team performances. The failure by concerned parties, among them employers, to release players for international duty continues to haunt national team selectors and athletes alike.
Just recently, Botswana National Olympic Committee (BNOC) faced such an issue when one of their athletes could not be released to go to the Youth Olympics as he was set to sit for his Junior Certificate Examinations (JCE). There was however some good ending to the saga as the concerned student was later released after several negotiations with the Ministry of Basic Education.
There was however no such happy ending for the Botswana Netball Association (BONA) as some of their players were not released for national duty.
“Just two weeks back when we went to the Diamond League tournament in South Africa, some of our best players at the Police College could not be released to attend it, we ended up getting other players. It was said since they are recruits they cannot miss some important event scheduled for them,” BONA Public Relations Officer (PRO) Theresa Hirschfeld explained.
This was to prove a recipe for disaster for the local netball side as it received some good hiding during the said Diamond League tournament.
For the netball fraternity, this was not something new. According to Hirschfeld, they have for a long time now given in to the fact that they will at times have to do without some of their star players due to refusals by employers or institutions to release them from their work places to attend national sports duties.
“I remember when we went to Zambia, one of our best mid court player who happened to be the team captain Gagotheko Tshelametsi was not released to attend the Pent Series games, because she is in the private sector and they could not give her an off. They strictly said she can go but on an unpaid leave hence ending up not going at all,” she reminisced.
Hirschfeld went on to explain that this has proved to be a great inconvenience for the local girls as they end up losing their scheduled games due to last minute patches to the team, despite all having trained and camped together with no sign of the other missing the games.
She said “It is a good thing that we always call 13 players with one extra to cover up and join the best 12 in times of such need.”
Botswana Karate Association (BOKA) Public Relations Officer (PRO) Isaiah Ramontshonyana has said they experience the problem less as for them it is always young athletes at school.
He said “Normally we resolve such issues well on time, there was one time we travelled to Rwanda that one athlete had an exam that day at 1000hours. We ended up asking that she write it an hour earlier so she can join the rest of the team.”
He further added that in some instances the athlete will join the team the following day. “If the athlete has an exam a day later after the team leaves, we arrange that they join the team the following day, provided that our schedule is not affected nor the category they will be attending to is not jeopardized,” he added.
“Normally we write letters well on time to the relevant authorities to try curb issues where our athletes are not released to take part in competitions, and they will be responded respectively, that way we stand a better chance for our athletes to be released,” he added.
However, both are of the opinion that it is imperative that employers and institutions find a lasting solution to the problem.