BY ANITA RANNOBA & BOTLHALE KOOTHUPILE
What a difference a fortnight makes! Days on from the joy of a triumphant return from the Zone 6 Karate Championships, a storm of controversy threatens to bring down the Botswana Karate Association (BOKA)’s house of cards.
Just last week, the BOKA executive committee found itself on the back foot as skeletons of their ‘athletes’ misdemeanours in Namibia’ came tumbling out of their closet.
At the heart of the controversy are two incidents, ‘alleged theft incident in Swakopmund’ by some of the local athletes as well as unbecoming behaviour by Botswana Karate coach Christopher Ponatshego.
In the first incident, BOKA has received a letter from the AUSC Region 5 Karate Federation Secretary General Joe Rugwete demanding that the association furnish the regional body with ‘findings of an investigations’ regarding the alleged theft incident.
In the letter, which is dated 27 May 2019 and addressed to BOKA President Tshepo Bathai, the regional Karate Federation reminds the BOKA President that they expected to have been furnished with the findings of the investigation on the 31st of May and not end of June.
“We wish to reiterate the urgency of this matter and to remind your Vice President that the agreed date for submissions of findings of his investigation is this Friday, the 31st of May, and not end of June as he stated in his letter. We would like to conclude the matter and engage the parents of the concerned athletes whose property was stolen before the end of June,” so reads the excerpt of the letter.
According to sources, during the last day of the Region 5 Karate tournament at Swakopmund, one of Namibia’s Karatekas lost her bag along with karate gear estimated to cost more than P3000.00.
The incident allegedly sparked an impromptu search of all regional national team buses by the Namibian law enforcement officers, only for the stolen bag to be found in team Botswana bus with the karate gear tucked under the back seat of the bus.
“Prior to the gear being found, one team Botswana official had tried to block the Namibian officers from entering the bus to search for the stolen goods. It was only after some interventions by some of the Botswana entourage that they be allowed to search the bus that the said official relented,” a source said.
It is alleged that following the discovery of the stolen goods in the Botswana bus, the Namibian law enforcers sought to impound the team Botswana bus until the matter was resolved.
“It was only after the intervention of Ofentse Bakwadi, who negotiated on behalf of team Botswana as tempers flared that the Namibians relented,” a source said.
A source from BOKA said it was not surprising that the Namibians listened to the young Bakwadi more than any one as he has at times gone to the country to train its athletes.
Following the intervention and an apology from the Botswana entourage, it is said the BOKA executive committee, and in particular its Vice President wrote a letter explaining the incident and promised that investigations on the circumstances surrounding the incident would take place.
While the Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC) has allegedly been informally informed of the incident, BOKA President, Tshepo Bathai says he does not know a thing about the alleged theft or about the letter.
Despite allegations that he was present when the search happened, Bathai said he was not aware and will only get to know if anything happened when he receives a report from the Botswana team manager.
“I have not heard anything about a letter which was written by the regional committee seeking the submission of a report of the investigation concerning the theft done by our athletes, this is all news to me,” said Bathai.
While Bathai is adamant ‘he knows nothing’ of the alleged theft, the issue is already said to be causing a stir among the BOKA executives with some accusing him of trying to cover up for his close friends and their club athletes.
“It seems he (Bathai) does not want us to solve this issue as it affects those closest to him. He protects these people because ke ditsala (they are his friends) or students of his friends,” the source alleged.
The source went on to explain that this is not the first incident that some local Karatekas have stolen while at international events.
Information that hit this publication gathered is that a similar incident occurred during last year’s Karate Commonwealth Games in Durban, South Africa, but the incident was swiftly covered up.
“I however do not believe news of the Durban incident reached Bathai’s ear as it was quickly resolved and at the time, there were no law enforcement officers involved,” the source said.
The source went on to say the committee has been pleading with the President to be open about the matter at hand in order to enforce proper disciplinary but he is refusing.
On the matter of coach Ponatshego’s behaviour, Bathai dismissed it off hand saying it was just a smear campaign carried out by their detractors.
According to a report allegedly authored by the AUSC Region 5 Chief Referee Llewellyn Rhoda, the coach insulted him during the female Team Kumite between Botswana and Namibia.
It is alleged that after Ponatshego submitted a team list for the female kumite for the final, a different coach was sent with the team.
It is alleged that when the teams were called to compete, the coach sought to change the team list before the match as he said the team was not his.
“Unfortunately, with Karate, once a team list has been submitted, it cannot be changed. Botswana coaches however wanted to continue doing this which against the rules of Karate,” a source said.
In the midst of the exchange, Rhoda alleges Ponatshego started insulting him verbally. The incident is said to have happened in the presence of Region 5 Treasurer Mr D’Alton, Region 5 Technical Commission Chairman Mr Martin and World Karate Federation (WKF) Referee’s Commission Chairman Javier Escalante.
While Rhoda in his report compelled the BOKA executive to take action against the coach, Bathai is adamant no action will be taken as he believes the report is devoid of facts.
“The incident happened in my presence and I can vouch that at no point did the coach insult the referees. If ever the coach insulted the referee, he could have been expelled from the competition,” he said.
On the allegations that he was deliberately stalling to act on issues affecting his close allies, the BOKA President said there was no need to protect anyone as there is no truth in what was said about the coach.
However, when commenting on the manner in which Bathai is handling the issue, one Karate official said whilst the executive is trying to present a united front, they are unhappy with how he handles matters relating to his friends.
“The problem is that Bathai and Chris (the coach) are best friends and he always protects him. We have tried to advice him but he does not listen,” the source said.
This was reiterated by another official who said if Bathai did not take action against the national team coach, there is a risk of him destroying what BOKA has been building over the years.
“I wonder why Bathai is protecting this guy, why can’t he just drop him from coaching because he is here to destroy our sport that is just his interest to destroy and not build,” the source said.