Sunday, November 29, 2020

Nepotism said to have cost Botswana a spot at London Olympics

From Leonard Matenge’s description of events, Botswana would likely have won its first Olympic medal in 1992. A year before, Matenge had beaten Namibian sprinter, Frankie Fredericks, at a regional competition and was Olympics-bound until the very final moments when, without explanation, he was dropped from the national team. Fredericks went on to participate in the Barcelona Olympics, winning a silver medal, the first Olympic Games medal for his country. That debacle may have repeated itself two decades later when Botswana missed an opportunity to send a swimmer to the 2012 London Olympics.

Sources say that as part of preparation for the London Olympics, Botswana was given a wild card – the selection of an athlete or team to compete in a tournament or playoff from among those who didn’t qualify by meeting the regular requirements. This spot was filled by a female Botswana swimmer who had participated in the All-Africa Games and World Championships. In preparation for London, she was sent to Australia for training but soon thereafter, was pulled out training and came back to Botswana. It later turned that the disruption of her training programme was at the instigation and insistence of a Botswana Swimming Sports Association committee member who felt that her own daughter should have been the one representing Botswana at the London Olympics.

The reason given by the mother was that her daughter had clocked faster times than those of the swimmer who had been given the wild card. The mother felt so strongly about the issue that she is supposed to have written to FINA (the French acronym for the F├®d├®ration Internationale de Natation) to argue her case. However, there was a problem. Unlike the first swimmer, the committee member’s daughter had not swam in a pre-qualifying event in Shanghai, China. The latter fact didn’t resolve the apparent stalemate and in the end, Botswana didn’t send a swimmer to the Olympics although FINA had given the country a wild card. The current chairperson of the Botswana Swimming Sports Association, Ruth Van Der Merwe, couldn’t comment on the issue, saying only that she was not the Association’s head at the time of the London Olympics.

The person who headed BSSA then, James Kamyuka, says that the decision to not send a swimmer to London was taken by the Botswana National Olympics Committee. By Kamyuka’s account, the latter wanted Botswana’s swimming representative to have qualified as opposed to being given a wild card. Whatever happened, the result was that out of frustration, the wild-card swimmer drifted away from BSSA which is the only real platform that Botswana uses to prepare its swimmers for international competitions. Sources mention eight other names of swimmers who quit swimming because they were frustrated with BSSA’s “politics.” One is supposed to have switched to basketball, another to golf and the third to netball and all are said to be excelling. Similarly, Matenge’s frustration with sport administration drove him to a second-choice sporting activity.

In a March 2013 interview with The Voice, Matenge, who later became a star footballer at Tafic, stated: “I also believe that had I gone to the Olympics I would have picked up a medal or even beaten Fredericks again. In fact I had qualified for the 1992 Olympic team to go to Barcelona, but was left behind without any explanation from the officials. I was doing my national service in Gaborone and spent a lot of time training on my own believing I was going to the Olympics. I only realised that I was not going when the team left for the pre-Olympic training camp in Bulgaria without me. It was then that I quit athletics and decided to concentrate on football.”

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Sunday Standard November 29 – 5 December

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of November 29 - 5 December, 2020.