Thursday, August 5, 2021

‘Troubled’ Olympic hopeful Baboloki Thebe chases the Holy Grail

As 400m Olympic hopeful Baboloki Thebe settles in his old new surroundings in Ivory Coast, he seems oblivious of the chaos his sudden departure has created.

His focus, he says, is on reaching his personal best of 44.02 in the men’s 400m race and qualifying for the upcoming Tokyo 2020/21 Olympics.

But back home, Botswana Athletics Association (BAA) is at sixes and sevens trying to quell the raging fires surrounding the sudden departure of an athlete they describe as ‘troubled and troublesome.’

The BAA now has to explain to the Botswana National Olympic Committee (BNOC) the team Botswana’s Chef de Mission (CDM) for Tokyo Olympics Tshepo Sitale as to what transpired.

They also have to answer the abounding allegations making rounds that Thebe was unduly targeted for ridicule by one BAA official for being ‘an unruly and troubled athlete.’ 

“Our understanding is that he left camp without permission. We however cannot determine anything yet as we are still waiting to hear from BAA as to what is going on,” Sitale says. 

Allegations are rife that the athlete left the country to find a better space at which to train as he felt persecuted by some BAA official, who it is said is always quick to single him out as a troublemaker.

The root cause of this alleged ‘persecution,’ it seems, stems from the athlete’s late-night escapades last year which left his fellow national team athlete wheelchair bound after being involved in a motor vehicle accident. Both Thebe and the concerned athlete had sneaked out of camp for a night out with friends.

While BAA Vice President technical Oabona Theetso says they are very much aware of Thebe’s departure, he is however adamant the young lad left without the approval of the association.

Thebe, it seems, has sneaked out of the national team camp to hook up with his Ivory Coast based coach Koffi in a bid to improve his performances and qualify for the Olympics.

Theetso says while Thebe had long expressed a desire to hook up with coach Koffi, they had required that his club Orapa Athletics write a letter to BAA regarding the matter. To this day, he says, the letter has not sufficed. 

The BAA vice president technical says the only communication they have received on the matter this far has been from Thebe’s coach in Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, the letter, which arrived this past Thursday is in French and needs translation.

As it stands, Thebe long desired to travel to Ivory Coast in December, but due to the court case he had regarding the accident he had; they advised him not to travel just of yet.

“This was because it was going to be expensive for him to travel to and from Ivory Coast just to attend the case,” he explains.

This explanation is seemingly consistent with what Thebe told this publication in an interview regarding his departure to Ivory Coast.

“It was a long plan. I have long wanted to go since December but due to Covid and personal challenges there were some delays but I eventually I managed,” the athlete says.

As far as Thebe knows, everything is fine between him and the BAA. “I am getting assistance from BAA and as we speak, we are still communicating in covering for all my expenses of which things are going accordingly and everything is fine,” he says.

On the furore here back home and the news articles and the BAA’s displeasure at his departure, the athlete says he does not know anything.

“I haven’t received any communication from BAA with regards that they are not happy with me moving, so I don’t have much to say on that one.”

On the contrary, Theetso says ‘Thebe ga a battle go kgalemelwa go tlhelele,’ and due to this, him and the association are always at each other’s necks.

“I do not believe he was ill-treated in anyway,” he says on allegations of mistreatment. “Thebe is somehow a naughty child who does not take discipline well. In January, he brought his girlfriend to camp and wanted us to just look the other way and not say anything,” he says.

Concerning allegations of the BAA requesting BNOC to stop Thebe’s allowances, Theetso says there is no truth there.

“We wrote to the BNOC explaining that he has left for Ivory Coast and was not in camp. We only asked that they stop their payment towards his camp and accommodation here at home as he had already left,” he explains.

Meanwhile, Thebe says he is hard at work in Ivory Coast and has ‘some few races that are coming next month in Europe which he and coach Koffi are preparing for.

“Those are going to be the races that I am going to use to qualify for the Olympic,” he says, adding that with the help of Coach Koffi, he believes he will qualify for the Olympics in a short time.

“My plan is for those races to be the one I use to qualify for the Olympics. I moved to Ivory Coast to focus more. I felt like I couldn’t focus more as much as I wanted to.

“I will say I am psychologically and emotionally fit. Everything is fine,” the athlete concludes.

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