As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to decimate the human race, it has not spared the mental health of athletes.
For athletes, whose lives have been disrupted and their livelihoods all but destroyed, the mental toll is telling.
Where athletes would have at least found solace in working out and exercising, the suspension of sporting activities by the government of Botswana, has come with steep costs.
Over the years, working out and exercising has shown to help mitigate issues like depression, anxiety or any mental health crisis in human beings; building up balance and stability for one.
It comes therefore as no little wonder that local athletes are now feeling the pressure.
Township Rollers captain Maano Ditshupo says being an athlete in Botswana at the moment is a big challenge.
For Ditshupo, who last played football in 2019 when he got injured, COVID-19 and the ensuing suspension of sport has been devastating.
When he was ready to come back to the field of play, corona virus hit the world leading to a lockdown in Botswana then followed by restrictions.
“It has been 2 years now without playing football,” he says. “As difficult as it is, I am trying by all means not to end up with depression,” he adds.
“I only get my comfort from the fact that once my contract ends in December, I will be retiring,” says Ditshupo.
In hindsight, he points out the need to have psychological support not only for football players but sport fraternity at large.
“Everyday there is that question that pops up in my mind; ‘when are we going to start playing?’ And the question sickens the mind,” he says.
The midfielder says many athletes are falling into depression while sports administrators do not know as they hardly check or communicate with them.
The same views are shared by Footballers Union (FUB) Botswana Secretary General Kgosana Masaseng.
“We have sadly learnt that some players have gone into early retirement due to mental breakdown and frustrations,” says Masaseng.
The FUB Secretary General says factors driving athletes to quit include age, injuries, expired contracts and also a belief that the is no future in football anymore.
He says not playing ball for over a year now has pushed athletes on the edge and depression is hovering over them.
“Some players have taken to drowning their sorrows in alcohol. Now they need more support to help them not to get lost in the game of substance abuse,” he adds.
Masaseng says from the survey the FUB carried out in female players during lockdown, it became apparent that COVID-19 was taking a toll on players.
Narrating a case of a female player who wanted to take her life as she felt she had nothing to live for, Masaseng says depression long started during the first lockdown.
The FUB Secretary General says priority now should be to start engagements with athletes.
He says as FUB, they have carried out workshops for clubs in the north and brought mental health specialist, doctors, social workers and people who deal with drugs and substance abuse to help.
For Botswana’s kata sensation, Ofentse ‘Shakes’ Bakwadi, as an athlete, the period of COVID-19 has been very frustrating.
He however says he gets solace in knowing that what is happening in Botswana is happening a cross the globe.
“We have been hoping that things will ease and get better but the more days pass the harder it gets. I do not know if athletes are mentally strong to cope with this crisis or if they will be mentally strong to get back up again to play,” he says.
Bakwadi says before all this chaos, they had been preparing to take part in tournaments but now they cannot do anything but only train at home.
As with other sporting codes, he says karate too is starting to register athletes who want to fall off and end their sporting careers as the strain gets to much for them.
“As it stands, we have a lot of athletes who are now willing to drop out of stop and venture into something different. We have those that solely depend on sport for a living and now they are left stranded. They are not only affected but their families are too but we just have to e strong and try to cope,” he explains.
Commenting on the issue, sports journalist Kagiso Kgaogano says we are in a sad reality not just as a country but the world; a reality no one was ever ready for.
Unfortunately for Botswana, Kgaogano says the situation is made even hard as ‘covid-19 found our sport already in trying times and made the situation even worse.’
“We must accept that the players are the worst affected because to some, playing sport is the only way to put food on the table. As such, some are now voicing out their worries in social media to push the government to come up with solutions to bring back sport,” he says.
“All hope is on the government and sporting associations to come up with ways of safe return to play so that athletes can have their jobs back. But then again, the question is; ‘what if corona gets worse and we do not ever get a chance to play? At this point, anything is possible,” he opines.
He says for athletes, the current crisis should remind them sports is a short-lived career and should explore other avenues to fall back on when things go awry.
For now however, he says all stakeholders in sports should stop pointing fingers, and come with ways that will help the situation and assist players.