Netball has always been her love. She was so much of a star that she got called up to play for all netball national teams from juniors to seniors. And now as Notwane Netball Club chairperson Neo Gwafila-Bulayani is focussed on nurturing upcoming players putting to use her vast experience. As a go-getter she will not rest until she sees this through. The ambitious Gwafila-Bulayani talks to OTHUSITSE TLHOBOGANG.
Q: When did you start playing netball?
I started playing Netball in Standard 5 way back at Our Lady of the Desert Primary School in Francistown.
Q. Why did you choose netball of all other sporting codes?
Netball chose me! I think it was one of those afternoon activities at school. I don’t even remember trying out for any other sport. I went to Netball and stayed there, from age 10 to date! Netball is my first love.
Q. Have you ever tried any other sport other than netball?
When I retired from active Netball, I took to aerobics and running marathons. The other thing that I really love is extreme sports, like off-trail running, mud race like SA Warrior. They just unleash the adrenalin junkie in me. I’m a biker so, adrenalin rush or nothing!
Q. As a netball player how far did you go? What honours did you get?
I played for all the National Teams. I started playing in the league when I joined the then BDVC Netball Team at GSS Grounds, a team I played for, for a while. I then moved to Notwane Netball in my early 20s. I earned my stripes at the age of 19. I have played for both the U20 and the Senior Team. At 24, I was selected as a guest player in the U20 for Malawi Independence Games. I’ve been through all the ranks. Back then there were no individual prizes, maybe I would have been lucky enough to grab one, who knows!
Q. What made you realise that you have what it takes to become a good administrator?
I am an organised person and I am a hard worker. So if you put the two together, something had to give! And I am driven by passion. I don’t let the ‘usual problems’ sway me from achieving my goals. Instead, these propel me to want to achieve, given the circumstances. I am a firm believer in the possibility of things. As a huge fan of Adidas, ‘impossible is nothing’.
Q. When did you become a sport administrator?
That was in 2011 after I came back to settle in the country at the end of my short stint in the UK. I came back right into it, as I wasn’t playing anymore. I was in committees supporting the bigger committees at club and national level, I only became the Chairperson for the club in 2015.
Q. Why did made you go into administration; what did you want to achieve?
During my playing days at Notwane, we had our mothers, MmaKesupile and MmaMokgadi; they did so much for us, to build the team. So when I grew up I realised the amount of sacrifices they made that I perhaps took for granted back then. I just felt I had to do the same to see my little sisters through as well. I want to grow my club; I want us to undertake projects that add value to the society we live in; I want to see more girls play sports; and I want to see Notwane Netball taking opportunities to make money and sustain itself. All this needs a lot of work and input from different parties. My role is to coordinate these efforts and form one great force that will achieve all these dreams.
Q. Since becoming an administrator what positions have you held?
I have been Competition Manager for the Africa Youth Games 2014, Head of LOC for the Invitational Games 2015; and currently the Chairperson of Notwane Netball Club. I also sit in the LOC for Youth World Games that Botswana Netball Association is hosting in 2017. This is a very big and challenging project that we are undertaking as a country and as a sport.
Q. Do you think you are achieving what you have intended to?
I am! I am living my dream in sports volunteering. It’s a lot of work, but I love it. I love what we get to create and the amount of team work that comes with it. I have set out to work with Netball youth, and once one project comes up, the next spins off from that one. There is so much to do and bigger highs to reach. I am also steering the Club towards a number of projects we have in our project bank at Notwane.
Q. How different is the game now from the olden days?
Way back when we didn’t get trainers while playing in the national team! Now player welfare is at the top of the game. And the facilities have gotten much better. I played Netball in dusty courts, in courts made of tar, now we have the right surfaces, and with the new facility at UB Sports Hall, I would say we are coming along alright.
Q. What do you think is the reason for netball’s slow growth in recent years?
It is due to lack of funding. We try to make projects and run the league, but without financial support, that growth will be stifled. This frustrates the association as much as it frustrates the affiliates. And this, as you rightly put it, slows the growth of our sport.
Q. What are you doing to make sure netball grows faster?
As a Chairperson of Notwane Netball, I steer the team to do outreach programmes that sees us spending time with the youth who play netball out in the rural areas. We recently undertook an Outreach Programme in Mmadinare and spent the weekend with three schools there and got to encourage the young girls to stay in sports. This programme is also meant to identify talent in the areas where Netball has no presence in the national league. We have a series of projects that contribute to the growth of the sport. For example, Notwane run the annual U20 HIV/AIDS Netball Tournament, which has become a huge calendar item for BONA. This attracts about 10 teams a year and all U20. At Notwane, we are currently in the process of putting together a Board of Directors for the team. They will provide strategic direction towards achieving the goals we have in our project bank. This is very necessary as it gives us as the committee running the team, a responsibility of reporting to someone who will be guiding us and also for the development of the sport and growth of the Club.
Q. What challenges are you faced with in your endeavour to develop netball?
Lack of uptake by the very people we run projects for. For example, the Business Clinic we just ran for the netball youth did not get the numbers we wanted. It catered for 75 players but we got less than half of that. This was very frustrating as it took so much effort for us to organise and find funding for this project. The other problem has to be lack of funds. As we know that Netball is not a professional sport in Botswana, and that the grant from the Sports Council really limits the projects we can run. But that doesn’t dampen our spirits at Notwane Netball; we have learnt to keep working to achieve our goals, even with less or no budget. My other challenge working in these ranks is that I am a perfectionist who works to very high standards. I expect this from everyone I work with, and other people are finding it hard to work up to these standards; and this creates challenges between parties.
Q. Are female administrators like yourself, facing specific odds?
As a female administrator! None! You have to remind me that I am a woman; that doesn’t come to my mind when I’m in pursuit of something! The challenges I face are just like any other sports administrator’s, such as little time, low budgets, lack of facilities, etc. Being a woman has never stopped me from achieving anything I want to work for.
Q. What is your opinion on women’s participation in sport and sport administration locally, is it satisfying?
Women work. I have a lot of sisters I have been with in sports, at my team and at national level. We have learnt to be self-reliant. There is still a lot of growth to do. But, I am happy that women have given a lot of their time and resources for the growth of the game.
Q. Apart from sport administration what else do you do?
Apart from being employed full time, I am a fitness junkie! I ride motorbikes; I love the feel of wind on my face on Sunday mornings. I also cook as a part time thing; I am a trained Chef; so that’s one of the things I do to express myself.
Q. How do you manage to balance your time between your formal work and volunteering as a sport administrator?
Gosh, I work around the clock! I put a lot of effort into volunteerism in the evenings and weekends. Because my role in the Notwane Netball Executive Committee is that of leadership, it encompasses mainly writing proposals and conceptualising projects and events. I do this in the evenings, in the still of the night. And my support system, Iris Penny Mosweu, is just as alive at night; so we are able to discuss and coin these in a very productive way at night. We call it ‘moving the world’!
Q. Where do you want to see yourself in the next couple of years?
I’m going to BONA NEC! I feel that I’m ready. I would like to get into the higher executive and contribute to the running of the sport nationally, rather than at club level. I would like to see that happen in the next two years; at which point I hope I would have done my part at Notwane.
Q. What needs to be done to continue to produce quality players in the country?
We need to do more talent search. As it is, I feel that BONA is not doing enough to attract the necessary raw talent to the sport, right from grass root. We should have talent scouts who go into the most rural of areas to find the tallest teenage girls; we are lacking mainly on height so we lose games due to this unfair advantage that other teams have over us.
Q. Your advice to fellow women who would like to break into sport administration?
There is a lot of work and a lot of ground to be covered. Come in and let’s build our sport. I would like to urge the people I played with in the past to come back to the sport and make a difference. We were nurtured; it’s our turn to do the same. There is a lot of love and satisfaction in giving of self. But I must warn them; this is tiresome, gruelling, hard work, long hours because as a volunteer, our business hours start from 5pm but it’s very fulfilling.
Q. How do you relax?
I go running while music is blaring in my ears; that always balances me out and gives me some amount of peace. I love Matsieng music, it is absolute bliss. I also like the outdoor life, taking road trips to the country side relaxes me.
Q. Which book you are reading at the moment?
I am an avid reader. I am currently reading Ayi Kwei Armah’s ‘The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born’. I read a lot of inspirational books, and the book I enjoyed the most would have to be TD Jakes’ ‘The Lady, Her Lover & Her Lord’.