Team Botswana’s failure to secure medals from the just ended 2017 IAAF World Championships in London divided locals with some dismissing them as failures while others are singing praises for them. The praises have been spearheaded by government officials including Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development Thapelo Olopeng. However, some members of the public feel the team has failed as it did not bring back even a single medal. Going to London, hopes were very high that the team will bring back medals as the athletes were in a very good shape from their recent competitions. Even the Botswana Athletics Association (BAA) had targeted six medals from the championships. However, the team failed to attain a medal, hence some feel they do not deserve the heaps of praises they have been getting especially from government.
What went wrong?
To come up with suggestions or solutions for the future one first needs to understand what went wrong that resulted in the local team coming back empty handed. Apart what BAA call unfair treatment of Isaac Makwala to deny him participation in the 400m final, one would ask – what about the rest of the team? Athletics coach Justice Dipeba said it is unfortunate that the team could not get a medal. Dipeba said no one ever thought the 4X400m men’s relay would not even reach the finals, hence it was painful for a lot of people. The coach said though the Makwala debacle had affected both the athletes and the team officials it cannot entirely be blamed for not winning a single medal. He said the team went to London in a very good shape. According to Dipeba, athletics is very complicated in the sense that winning does not depend on how someone ran the previous day. “It all depends on what the athlete can do on that given day not what he did prior competitions or the day before,” he said. Dipeba said that is why a runner can do well in the heats and fail in the semi-finals or finals. He further illustrated with a certain runner who set a personal best time in the heats but ran way below his time in the finals. “It all depends on how the athlete is at the time of the race. That is why many athletes set personal best times and take a long time to come even near to them again,” he explained. The coach said it was just unfortunate for the team to have not brought home medals even though it showed great strength before the competition.
For some time now some athletics lovers had raised concerns that it is like BAA always put their hopes only on two events being 400m and 800m while others seem to have been neglected. To try and avoid the repeat of what happened in London as well as at the Rio Olympics where if the 400m runners do not do well the country loses on medals they have suggested that BAA should start working on diversifying from 400m to include other events such as 100m, and 200m track events as well as long distance races. Reacting to this Dipeba said it is something that could be done but it would need more high level coaches. He said currently there are only a few coaches who can coach at elite level which makes it difficult for them to diversify to other events. Dipeba said this limits the production of quality athletes from other events. Even though he did not feel that some events are neglected BAA president Thari Mooketsi concurred with Dipeba, saying there are a few elite coaches. Mooketsi said Botswana used to be good in field events like high jump and long jump and performed well just like in 400m now. This, according to him, was because there were Cuban coaches working with athletes at that time. “I think what we need to do is get more elite coaches for different events to start doing well in a number of them. When the Cubans were here we made a mistake of not attaching local coaches to them so that they would learn from them and continue where they left,” he explained. The BAA president, however, said they have requested for an elite coach from Europe to come and help with the field events. “We are still awaiting response for our request. On the other hand, if things go well we are looking to also train more coaches for level 1 and 2 in the near future,” he said.
With the government of Botswana through the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development promising to avail support to the team going into the future, it is envisaged that this would bring better results. This is expected to help BAA reach their planned activities to improve performance at international competitions. Minister Olopeng, who praised the team for good work at the just ended championships, said his ministry will start preparations for coming events right away. Olopeng said both Botswana National Sport Commission and Botswana National Olympic Committee should start treating the athletes as professionals. “If we want the athletes to compete professionally they should be treated as professionals. I have instructed the two bodies to find a place where the athletes will be managed from one place to maximise their potential,” said Olopeng. Vice president Mokgweetsi Masisi has reinforced Olopeng’s assurances of government support to the team. Masisi told the athletes that government is behind them in their endeavour to excel in sport. “I assure you of government support yesterday, today and tomorrow,” he said implying that government will continue supporting them.