For the past five days, Dakar Rally fans have been glued to their screens with high level of anticipation as riders are put to their paces in the dunes of Peru. Batswana in particular have set their hopes on Ross Branch.
Branch popularly known as ‘Kalahari Ferrari’ has built a strong reputation over the last three years as the Southern African’s fastest Cross Country rider and he is proving that at the world’s most grueling off-road event. He, together with his compatriot Vincent Crosbie have dreamt of finishing the Dakar, and in a fantastic moment set-off for stage one on Monday with a 246km liaison and 84km special in store. A few issues with his GPS system saw him racing with slightly more caution than usual to avoid penalties. Despite this, he settled in comfortably to finish stage one with a 43rd place overall.
“It was slightly nerve-racking off the start line, but I’m just relieved to have gotten that first stage out of the way! Navigation is actually easier than I thought it would be. Now it’s time to put my head down, focus on the good things and have some fun,” said Branch after stage one. His nerves had clearly settled by the time the second stage rolled in, and Branch stormed the desert terrain to affirm his nickname as the ‘Kalahari Ferrari’. It was pulsating to track the rider over the 342km special as he moved up the ranks to finish the stage in an impressive 20th place.
With a tight grip on a comfortable 30th position overall, his Dakar journey was off to an extremely promising start. A technical challenge, however, brought Branch to an unexpected crossroad. He had broken his KTM motorbike 6th gear during the second stage – a problem that could only be fixed by replacing the engine. While the solution seemed simple enough, it came with a 15 minute penalty and ultimately the cost of 8 positions overall. He debated changing the engine with the hope of making up 15 minutes, or playing it safe and riding the rest of the rally with five gears.
“We decided to take the penalty and put a new engine in, which they worked on until 3AM this morning! It’s still a long rally, and it just wasn’t worth risking engine failure at some point and throwing this opportunity away. Things like this happen at the Dakar, and we just have to work forward from here and give it our best shot. I’ll take it a bit easier today to run the new engine in,” Branch explained in his Facebook page. For day three Branch had an exceptional day running among the world’s best in the top 25 before coming home 24th, to move up to second among the rookies and 25th overall.
Botswana Motor Sport Secretary General Jackie Meyer has been quoted saying they are expecting a “greater performance from Branch and that his standing was good since he was competing with over 140 world-class rider.” The rally which has over 500 competitors in different categories will end on the 16th of this month.
Amid the heightened public back lash and low lying protests from athletes concerning welfare and unfair treatment at global stages, it comes to light that sport performance in the country can reach greater heights if the incentive package document seen by WeekendSport is anything to go by.
In March of 2012, the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development liaised with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to work out and approve a budget for incentive packages for national team players.
The step was a necessary milestone that aided the Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC) to erect a long standing policy that dictates the best possible ways of rewarding athletes in various codes.The approved package sees a total of 29 sporting codes listed under 3 categories with different athletes getting varying amounts while on preparatory camps.
In Category 1, the approved package list football and volleyball as the two codes whose preparations can expand over a long period of time. It comes into the open that the monthly allowances per football player is P 1.500 while volleyball players get P 3.500 each. Moreover, all the players under these two codes are entitled to a benefit of a government-funded insurance premium cover of up to P 100 000 in medical expenses.
Furthermore, athletes enjoy death cover of up P 100 000 while a gratuity at 25% of total earnings is payable every four years.Category 2 lists netball, karate, softball, athletics, boxing and rugby. Of these six codes, each athlete receives P2000 for every match appearance.
These athletes also enjoy the same benefits of injury and death cover as codes listed in Category 1.A total of 21 sporting codes are listed in the last category. These include amongst others, chess, badminton, table tennis, motorsport, cricket, squash and swimming. For all these codes, the incentive package states that each player will get P 1.500 per cap. Again, the athletes of these codes retain the same benefits as those in category 1 and 2.
The incentive package document further lists down rewards set aside for athletes performing in regional, continental and world competitions.Individual performers partaking in regional competitions gets P 1 500 if they bring a bronze medal home. P 2000 is for silver medal while athlete is sure of P 2.500 for scooping a gold medal. The same amounts also apply to a group code.
The ante is upped a little high at continental games. The document states that individual athletes bringing home a gold medal will get P 25 000. Furthermore, an athlete winning a silver medal receives P 15 000 while P 10 000 is for a bronze category.
Rewards for performance at the world stage is that an athlete get P 100 000 for scooping a gold medal, P75 000 for silver and P50 000 for bringing a bronze medal home. Furthermore, an athlete is given P 10 000 for finishing within the top 4 places while an added P 5 000 is for those who complete the top 8 category. This is for both individual athletes and group codes.
The document further states in the last paragraph that rewards for setting or breaking competition records is available. If athletes break a regional record, they will be given P 10 000. A continental record set and broken will see an athlete winning P 20 000.
In the Commonwealth stage, a local athlete will be given P 30 000 while P 100 000 is for those who break and set new records both at Olympic Games and World competitions. Coaches are also rewarded and get 10% of what an athlete receives at various competition levels.
However, there are misgivings that the document is static and needs to be revised to match it with today’s standard practice. Calls are overwhelming that rewards must be improved especially for codes-like Athletics- who bring optimum results at global stage.
The document should also clearly state break downs of budget for preparatory competitions and rewards for each stage especially in a group code. When giving clarity, the acting Chief Executive Officer of BNSC, Tuelo Serufho, said that it is necessary to understand the document but is eager to go back to the boardroom and effect changes if need be.
“We must be careful when we compare codes, a lot of emphasis is needed to get to the conclusion of who is performing and is who is failing, but for all purposes of fairness, rewards are meant for everyone and can be triggered,” he said.
COVID-19 Task Force is said to be studying the proposition of Botswana National Sport Commission (BNSC) to re-open sport activities in a phased manner before the end of this month.
The Task Force is said to be operating under immense pressure to build and maintain the equilibrium of sport alongside the impact of corona virus in the country. The team is working behind closed doors following recommendations from BNSC and the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development that the relevant importance of sport together with its socio-economic value in Botswana’s circumstances can no longer be ignored.
This is also propagated by the recent scintillating performance by 4 x400 man national relay team. The quartet led by veteran Isaac Makwala scooped the bronze medal at the World Athletics Championship held in Poland last week. This feat was achieved despite the current lockdown imposed on sport.
Sources say the general recommendation from these sport organs is that sport activities must come back immediately but proper adherence to COVID -19 protocols must also be the number one priority. Furthermore, the sport organizations are believed to have recommended that there must be a phased approach to uplifting the suspension of the games.
Foremost, the Ministry argues that non-contact sports must return in the first phase. This includes among others, long tennis, table tennis, volley ball, athletics and chess. The second stage is to allow contact sport to come back to life where football is largely missed.
It is said the ministry has also attached the matrix involving all 40 sporting codes in the country that all give life to the proposed return to play guidelines. The matrix indicates that all 40 codes need to return to the field as soon as it is safe. Of these 40 codes, 22 of them have an urgent need to return to competition and this includes football.
BNSC argues in their position paper that the level of risk assessed and detected has seen only 10 sporting codes that are not in danger of spreading the virus. These are athletics, badminton, bowling, bridge, golf, motorsport, Paralympics, squash, and traditional sports games.
Football, wrestling, rugby, handball and hockey form part of the codes that act as catalysts in spreading the virus and a proper and strict adherence of protocols is needed.Meanwhile, it is said that football has met with BNSC high ranking officials to present their own case. The football association argues that industry has suffered a lot and there is an urgent need to return.
They say their venue across the value chain in Botswana is about P 55 million, employing approximately 3 000 people directly. About 9 000 jobs are created when the game is up and running, they said.
Newly formed Botswana Football League (BFL) has shortlisted Olebile Sikwane and Solomon Ramochotlhwane for the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) post, with the duo having been interviewed this week and now awaiting their fate.
Information passed to WeekendSport indicates that BFL has engaged a certain Human Resource firm to screen the best possible candidate.
It is further mentioned that there was a third candidate, Harry Koata, who had to withdraw primarily on issues bordering on principle and conflict of interest.
Koata is an employee of Masitaoka FC of Molepolole, occupying the post of General Manager (GM) and his boss Aryl Ralobala has been elevated as the Chairman of the board where Masitaoka are bonafide members.
However, sources say the two administrators showed great command of corporate language and managed to put together a compelling football argument.
It is further stated that the football league board will have a hard time in choosing the right candidate given the stiffness of the competition between the two.
With a number of blunders and past failures at the hands of the CEOs at Lekidi, the panel is said to have made a tremendous recruitment exercises and thorough screening.
With that said, adjudicators argued that they did not want to start trying out old combinations and a decision to recommend two names is seen to be in the interest of dousing flames from the eyes of the public around how BFA and its structures manage its affairs.
However, a careful perusal of Ramochotlhwane‘s credentials speak about a football administrator who is well versed on either side of the game. While it is quick to remember that the newly voted Green Lovers Chairman, a Serowe based outfit, is a relatively higher influencer on the political landscape of Botswana football, Ramochotlhwane is said to be commanding respect wherever he goes without ever demanding it.
He stands as an administrator with acumen of coaching and a CEO Guru. His technical and administrative version of the game springs out, and if chosen, he will, not disappoint.
Many are believed to retain admiration for him largely because he is not corrupted by the football politics. He stood for BFA elections last year for the post of Vice Presidency. He however was not successful at the poll.
While this is a plus for him, the other advantage in choosing Ramochotlhwane- who also holds Masters in finance- is that he has vast experience in leadership and has a proven record of giving a push to a new company.
Often times, the CEO of the league faces a stubborn board of governors when making crucial decisions. Can he manage? The question lingers on.
Solly however holds the same vision with that of the President of the association, Mac Lean Letswiti, in turning football into a business. Should premier league genuinely buy the idea, there are no misgivings nor any denials that the man will not disappoint.
Over a period of 12 years (2007-2019), Solly attended courses under the association and he arose best as both a technical and administrative expert. He will need minimum supervision.
On the other hand, Olebile Sikwane is also seen as a corporate leader in financial industry with vast experience in media and sports. Sikwane has applied for the job and is hoping to get the position to implement the board vision.
“I have ambitions, I am young and competent. I have most of the attributes but let’s respect the process. I have faith in the process and the people doing the recruitment,” he said.
Sikwane has worked for several international media houses and leading sports firms in South Africa. He is a well-known Agent and publisher. Upon return to Botswana, he briefly worked as General Manager at Gaborone United and turned around the fortunes of the club.
Last year, he won the position of the Vice Chairman position at Mochudi Centre Chiefs. He is therefore part of the crew tasked with transforming the once popular club bringing it back to its glory days.
Whether he will be chosen as the best candidate is open for debate, but his proficiency remains crucial as BFL is faced with a taxing and tricky situation of re-negotiating with sponsors to re-start the league post corona scare.