Botswana-born squash player, Alister Walker, recently registered one of the best wins of his career by beating World Number 3, Amr Shabana, at the PSA Tour Super Series Platinum squash event at Sky Petrosport Club in Cairo on the 22nd of September 2009.
Walker himself is currently ranked Number 12 in the world. This is not the first major win of his career though, having beaten then World Number 3, Gregory Gaultier, in March 2008 at the Canary Wharf Open in London.
Walker’s world ranking at the time was 35, and it was thus a major upset.
At this rate, the 26-year-old Walker is banging on the door of a top 10 world ranking.
Walker is quite possibly Botswana’s best sporting export. Having grown up in Gaborone, he learnt to play the game at the Stadium Squash Club, encouraged by an environment that had produced top African junior players such as Lefika Ragontse.
“Even as a teenager, Alister had tremendous determination. I recall playing him in a tournament many years ago, and despite the fact that I was 4 years older than him, he always believed he could beat me,” said Tapologo Motshubi, himself previously a player of the game at senior provincial and national collegiate level in South Africa.
Walker attended Broadhurst Primary School, and then later Maru-a-Pula. Born to a British father and a Motswana mother, he took up English citizenship aged 16. This allowed him access to the superb British Junior Squash Programme, which provides ample support to talented young players wishing to turn professional.
Since then, he has never looked back. Even as a professional, he receives considerable support from the British government. He is due to visit Botswana towards the end of the year on a sponsored tour, along with former World Number 1 Marc Chaloner, in order to promote the game locally, and to play exhibition matches.
Other Batswana are currently plying their trade professionally are Lefika Ragontse, aged 33. He was once one of the top junior players on the continent and Botswana National Champion.
The former Maru-a-Pula student is now based in Baltimore, U.S.A and has attained a highest ranking of 157 in the world. He attended Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut on a squash scholarship, and led that university to numerous national squash titles.
In addition to playing professionally, he runs various coaching programmes in Baltimore, aimed at grooming young local talent, as well as promoting the game.
Lekgotla Mosope is another young Motswana aiming to climb the world squash ladder. He made an excellent debut on the Professional Squash Association (PSA) tour last year, having gone from the qualifying rounds to reach the semi-finals of the Rochester Pro Am Tournament 2008.
He is also based in Baltimore U.S.A. and his current world ranking is 202. Cunning Machinya, who represented Botswana at the 1998 Commonwealth games, and now manages the Orapa Squash and Tennis Club, feels the quality of junior squash in Botswana has deteriorated considerably.
“We used to be able to compete aggressively within the region at the junior level. This is what produced the likes of Alister, Lefika and Lekgotla. Now though, few of our juniors would cut it outside Botswana, which implies the chances of any of them turning professional in the near term are slim.”
The Stadium Squash Club has, however, embarked upon various training programmes aimed at encouraging young players, including regular training camps throughout the year. These have been taken up enthusiastically by young newcomers to the game.
Machinya, whose company, Blue Dolphin (Pty) (Ltd), is organising the end of year trip that Walker will undertake to Botswana, re-iterated that sponsorship opportunities remain available for the tour.
“Local companies have the opportunity to align themselves with one of the best sportsmen to emerge from this country with this tour, and naming rights are still available. There is no doubt that Alister has what it takes to be World Number 1. The tour is going to generate significant public interest in squash and Alister,” he said.