BY ORATILE OTSETSWE
Botswana’s first International Basketball Federation (FIBA) accredited international referee Dorothy Okatch‘s stock seems set to rise further this year.
The local referee, who continues to gain recognition both locally and internationally, is one of the international referees invited to officiate in basketball at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi on March 14 this year.
In a field dominated by male umpires, the 36 year old local referee now looks on course to be one of the most domineering standout female referees in the continent.
For Okatch, the invitation to officiate at the Special Olympics, where she will be refereeing in both the ladies and men categories, brings her even closer to her dream of officiating at the World’s biggest events.
Speaking in an interview, she revealed that ‘her dream has to officiate at the world games and has set her eyes in officiating at the 2020 Olympics or World cup.’
As a woman in a male dominated sporting code, Okatch, who explained that she uses basketball to demonstrate that females can achieve their dream and perform better than the men if given a chance, has come a very long way.
Okatch joined the basketball fraternity as early as 1999 when she turned out for Ledumang Secondary School. Upon completing her secondary education, Okatch went to University of Namibia (UNAM) where she turned up for her varsity basketball team UNAM Wild Cats.
Aside from school teams, the local lady has played at league level and has played for three different local clubs, being Relics, Botho Ravens, and Police.
It was however at UNAM where her love affair with refereeing took root. According to her, it all started when her coach in Namibia Charles Nyambe invited her and other players to go watch and support a high school team he was coaching.
Okatch says while there, she noticed that the high school players were refereeing their own games and she offered to help and this was the beginning of a refereeing journey.
“I found myself going back to the UN Plaza every other Saturday with the aim of giving the teams a chance to play their best by promoting fair play,” she narrates.
Her efforts did not go unnoticed. “After a few weekends of watching me ref, Charles Nyambe who was the Chairperson of the Namibian Basketball Officials Committee approached me and promised to schedule me to ref the games in the senior league. I was terrified because I had not gone through any rule book or any course and did not think I could do it. He told me that I had the most important character in me when I held the whistle and that was honesty. He said the calls I was making were not made up or designed to favour any team,” She explains.
She went on; “By this time, I was enjoying reffing games. I liked how I was promoting fair play. I enjoyed the authority that the whistle gave me. I liked how it assisted me to teach the rules of the game.”
It was however not all plain sailing for the local referee. After being selected by Nyambe to attend a zonal coaching clinic in Johannesburg in 2011, but she could not do it.
“I was unable to as I was 3 months pregnant and would without a doubt fail the much needed fitness test. I almost gave up at that point,” she says.
Encouraged by her potential, Nyambe however did not give up on her and encouraged her to soldier on. This worked out well as after giving birth, she ‘worked immediately on getting back in shape.’
“In 2014, I sponsored myself to attend the licensing clinic in Harare. I passed the exams and became the 9th Zonal Referee in Botswana,” she says.
Thereafter came another breakthrough, this time courtesy of the Botswana Basketball Association (BBA)’s then technical director Mothusi Thipe.
While it is mandatory as per FIBA regulations, that an aspiring official had to wait for 2 years before going for International licensing clinics, Thipe requested that they waive that requirement for her and it was done.
This opened an opportunity for her to attend a FIBA refereeing clinic in Madagascar courtesy of the BBA.
“Two of us were sent by the association to Madagascar for the clinic. At this clinic, I became the first Motswana to become FIBA International Referee,” she explains.
Since then, Okatch has never looked back and her star has continued to shine brighter. The recognition of her work in Botswana was there to see last year as she was a nominee in the Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC) Best Umpire/Referee awards.
She concluded that knowing the rules helps a lot, knowing how to apply the rules is a life saver because being a female referee is challenging. She said calls are doubted and challenged and it is more challenging if you are unsure of your content, your rules and your calls.
Now as she prepares for her biggest officiating duties of her career at the Abu Dhabi Special Olympics World Summer Games, Okatch can only look back with pride.
“This is a milestone for me and I am so excited by this opportunity. I look forward to it anxiously and have started the preparations for the games,” she concludes.