Dorothy Okachi – a Motswana lady aged 35 – is over the moon after being nominated for the BNSC Referee/umpire of the Year award. She is the first ever nomination from Botswana Basketball Association (BBA).
She is the only internationally licensed basketball referee in Botswana. A single mother of one, she was introduced to the sport by her older siblings. From the age of 16 she started playing the sport seriously at her school. Her sister was her first coach.
She then moved to Namibia where she played for the university team under the tutelage of Charles Nyambe who mentored her into becoming a referee.
“I started high school games in Namibia and Nyambe then put me to referee the country senior league men's games. That was terrifying as I thought I would definitely mess up. I didn’t. Instead, I found myself enjoying it more and more,” she said.
It was the meeting with Charles Foster from South Africa that made her realise the huge potential in her – he pulled her aside and told her she can be an international referee. This made her more determined.
Her first opportunity was in 2011, but she missed it because she was three months pregnant.
“In 2014 when I was back in shape, I travelled to Zimbabwe for the first stage of licensing. I passed top of the class. Eight months later I was off to Madagascar for the International licensing. I passed and became Botswana's First International Referee for Basketball,” she said.
She has been a FIBA referee since 2015. She has officiated at top level games including the U18 Africa Championships in Egypt in 2015, Africa Club Championships for Women in Angola in 2015 and in 2017, Africa Club Championships for Women in Mozambique in 2016, U16 Africa Championships in Mozambique in 2017, Zone 5 Qualifiers for Men and Women for Club Championships in Rwanda in 2015, Afro Basket qualifiers for Men and Women in Zimbabwe in 2015, U18 Zone 6 Qualifiers in Zimbabwe in 2016, and All Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville in 2015.
She officiated at the U18 Africa Championships for Women in Mozambique just last week. And for the first time at a FIBA competition, she was appointed to officiate in the Finals.
When talking about her male dominated field, Okachi conceded that there are over 120 male FIBA referees in Africa alone with only 17 females. Three of the females are in Botswana. “At any given FIBA competition you will find a maximum of five female referees with the bigger pool being males, regardless of the fact that it may be a female competition,” Okachi said.
She said it was only though her family support that she broke through.
She said with the misinformed assumption that a man can be trusted to do a better job when officiating she had to fight as a female to show her abilities on court. She almost quit on many occasions as she became tired of having to prove herself over and over.
“A setback I had which got me down was when I was to attend my first licensing clinic in South Africa and could not because I was pregnant. I pleaded with everyone to allow me to attend and that I would do the fitness test after delivery. I was turned down. This broke my heart. I was ready to never officiate again after this because I felt it was unfair that as a woman there was no provision for pregnancy when it came to officiating,” she said.
She got motivation from friends to soldier on despite the odds. She handled many FIBA assignments last year.
“This nomination means that all the hard work, sacrifices and money that I have put in are worth it. It means that I have represented Botswana well all those times I was out there on national duty and that gives me the push to continue representing our country the best that I can. To our association, it is validation and confirmation that we are indeed doing something right,” she emphasized.