When Isaac Makwala stepped up for the 400m race inside drenched Carrara Stadium at Gold coast Australia, he probably knew this was his last attempt to deliver home a medal from the global stage.
Distance memories of the 2017 World Championship games failure came flooding in the minds of those who doubted the ability of the 31 year old runner. After running a solo race, catching the attention of the athletics world, Makwala could not storm to the podium finish when he chose to run the 200m (instead of 400m) race alongside the company of South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk, who happens to be the race record holder.
But at Australia in the 21st edition of the Commonwealth games, without Van Niekerk, without Bahamas’ Steven Gardiner and without Kirane James of Granada, the roar was not the same. This time around, the melodious cheers of Tuesday afternoon carried a more meaningful weight than before. After so many years of failure, Makwala had a life and death opportunity to rewrite his name in the world athletics folklore. This is the same sport he has, from time immemorial, electrified with a burst of sheer speed and joy.
At Australia, few athletes knew more about time than they actually knew about Makwala. Even with the upcoming talent of Baboloki Thebe, it was no exception. And after so many attempts of failing to chase this ‘time’ down and probably exploding it into pieces, when Makwala eventually caught up with it, he tore it apart. He stormed into the finishing line alone with a time of 44:35. For all the good reasons, the eyes of the world were glued on this Botswana born runner. He came into this race as the overwhelming favourite. His eyes and body language told a simple short story of intent.
No doubt that in so many ways he had seen his final crowning moment coming. It was the one attitude- gracious winner-that he punctuated the victory with his trademark push ups. A race performed with as much aplomb came to a staggering end just under 44 seconds. “I am so happy that I have finally won what I want; I have trained hard for this. I am actually happy for Southern African countries, like Botswana and South Africa, they have now started to show dominance,” Makwala was quoted as saying after the race.
Statistically, Makwala came to this year’s Commonwealth games as the 8th fastest runner of the 400m race, but when the curtain finally fell down on his illustrious career, he was catapulted to the third spot in the history of the race. That was coming! On his heats and semi-finals, the Tutume born runner showed command and glimpses of dominance. He was never beaten; no runner on these preparatory races raised his hand to upset the phone book in the finals ahead.
One of the many things that Makwala has brought to this race of all sporting dramas is a sense of unfolding narrative. Because of his size, he has routinely started before his competitors, and then inexorably ran them down, but unfortunately too slow in the last 200m. What used to happen at the last half of the race, however, this time didn’t quite happen. For the first time, as he neared the line, relaxation showed on his face, he did not look like all the others. But the expression was quickly replaced by a broad smile of gratitude and relief.
At 32, Makwala’s career has never been much about to break records, but about proving himself as the flawless competitor who deserves worldwide attention. He is now the first Motswana runner of the 400m race to deliver gold. It could not come at a better time when he has rumoured to be eluding doping tests enroute to Australia. But for all the medals and the records, it is fun in its broadest sense, the indomitable overflow of pleasure, for which Makwala is now remembered for. He has dramatised all that human bodies might be capable of, and done so in a spirit not of “focus” but of celebration.
With just three weeks left before the World Athletics Championships kicks off in London, the Botswana Athletics Association (BAA) has set a modest target for its athletes, demanding a paltry two medals.
The members of the team that will be participating in the event are currently training. They are expected to leave on July 10. The Botswana team, which was composed of young athletes, was able to secure seven medals at the recently concluded Africa Senior Championships held in Mauritius. They were placed sixth out of 44 participating nations.
According to Oabona Theetso, the Vice President of the Botswana Athletics Association, the team’s goal is to secure two medals at the World Championships. On the other hand, the under-20 team’s goal is to bag at least four medals.
Nevertheless, Theetso said the team which is currently on training camp encompasses of Isaac Makwala, Nigel Amos, Anthony Pesela, Bayapo Ndori, Letsile Tebogo, Isaac Makwala, and Thalosang Tshireletso of High jump just to mention the few. Theetso noted that the training camp was not able to produce a female athlete due to the failure of the female athletes to secure a ticket to the event.
Theetso also noted that the BNOC gave the BAA about P500 000 to help fund the team’s preparations for the event. Besides the training camp, the organization additionally received the same funding for the Oregon World Champion team.
When asked about the presence of renowned athlete and 800m world record holder, Nijel Amos, at the training camp, Theetso revealed that he has never officially communicated his intention to become an independent athlete.
When further pressed about the outcome of the meeting between Amos and the Minister – Theetso said, “We are unaware that he ever meets with Rakgare. If they met without the presence of BAA official, it will be wrong and highly regrettable,” he said.
When contacted for a comment Tlhobo Tlhasana who is Public Relations Officer at Ministry of Youth, Gender, Sport and Culture confirmed to this publication that Amos met with Minister Tumiso Rakgare a few weeks after the 2012 Olympic silver medalist made known his intention to go solo.
“The minister is at liberty to meet any sport personality from different codes in his capacity as the minister. He doesn’t need the permission from BAA or let alone BNSC to have a meeting with Amos,” he noted. Meanwhile in 2019, BAA sent a strong team of 13 athletes, with five focused on individual categories, while others were to form part of relay team.
During that time two out of five athletes who were to represent this country within individual events were relegated to spectators owing to injuries. But the injuries on the two athletes had left one question on the lips of many within the athletics fraternity.
The duo of Nigel Amos and Galefele Moroko, who were undoubtedly team Botswana poster kids, saw their dream of sailing through in the competitions halted as they were forced out of tournament owing to injuries. Botswana eventually came home empty handed after failing to secure podium finish.
Botswana Football League (BFL) Chairperson Nicholas Zackem who is also a Gaborone United financier and director says Township Rollers should instead of being a hard-nut be remorseful on the Onkarabile Ratanang marathon case.
In an interview with WeekendSport this week, Zackhem says he has always had a good relationship with his Township Rollers counterpart, Jagdish Shah. However things took a nasty turn early this year when it surfaced that their left back Onkarabile Ratanang was not registered accordingly.
Again, the Rollers home game against GU played in February which resulted in a near stampede left him agitated such that Rollers should learn a lesson. “So with all these I think they should be remorseful and stop being militant,” he said.
His contention is, “this is recurring and with only one team – Rollers. Remember what happened in 2014 when BDF X1 was leading the log and they were docked points which in turn allowed Rollers to win.” In 2016 there was Ofentse Nato (Rollers player) saga where he was also not duly registered and now we are here again with Ratanang. This should be corrected to better our football.”
The Ratanang case has been dragging for months now and has created unnecessary chaos in local football. Of late the football league awards ceremony had to be postponed with those in the know saying it is because of the matter. A statement from BFL however says the postponement is a result of logistical challenges.
The BFL boss says he does not care what should happen to Rollers, which is arguably the most followed football team in the land. “Even if the relevant structure could fine the P100k or relegate or even be docked points I don’t care but I want them to respect football. My worry is they should be disciplined because they committed a heartfelt mistake.”
Some football commentators say there is high possibility of Rollers be axed from the elite league because they are facing a misconduct charge which means they can only plea for a lighter sentence like points docking.
When asked about reports of some players from other teams not registered accordingly just like Ratanang, Zackhem said it will be up to the relevant structures to decide because as far as he is concerned, the Rollers case is the only one that has been reported at Botswana Football Association (BFA).
ZAC ON BRIBING REFEREES
The 2021/22 football season was exciting but here and there it was blotted by allegations which were pointed at Zackhem himself as the league Chair of buying referees. He has vehemently dismissed those reports and rumours saying the current GU arsenal does not need any favors.
“We invested heavily on this team and if you have invested surely you are poised to win everything on offer. Look at the players that I have do you think I would need referees to win matches? Most of the players have also been called to the national team and that alone proves their mettle. I don’t remember the last time GU was awarded a penalty this season, it has been a team work and those referee talk is baseless.”
“I am a dreamer and perseverance is my name because after writing my Cambridge examinations a few years ago, I grouped young footballers in Francistown and started a youthful unregistered football team with them.
It was a difficult thing to do because the players were students and parents were not letting some of them to play football as they believed it might negatively affect their studies and some of the big clubs in the elite league will come and take my players.”
This is how Seemo ‘Sixteen’ Mpatane, a coach and founder of Eleven Angels football club which gained promotion to the elite league last weekend describe himself and the journey thus far. Barely two weeks ago, Mochudi Center chiefs failed to pluck Angels’ wings when they hosted them at Riverplate grounds during the first leg of the Botswana Football league promotional playoffs but this past Saturday Angels soared to a 5 – 0 win over them to reach the promised land.
The win meant Lekgamu la Bananyana (youthful side) as they affectionately known will now make a debut appearance at the apex of local league football. For a match characterized by a long stoppage time following clashes between Angels and Chiefs supporters, it was Angels who showed more battle to convincingly beat Chiefs and attain promotion.
Nevertheless, Mpatane said, “I continued to coach my team even when I was still studying at Botswana Accountancy College (BAC) in Francistown and it was a difficult journey because I had some school projects to do and I will divert my monthly allowance to some of my players; to feed them, provide transportation for them and also to buy them soccer boots,” he stated.
In 2013, he says, he decided to register the team officially with Botswana Football Association (BFA) in order to protect the players from other teams and to make income out of the team. He further said Lekgamu La Bananyana started in Third Division league when they got position one and gained automatic promotion to Second Division league although it was only their first season to play there.
“We struggled at Second Division because I had inexperienced youthful players and had limited resources like transportation, soccer boots and most of our players were sitting for their examinations, but we managed to avoid relegation as we finished in position four,” he alluded.
In 2017/18 season, he said the team won the Second Division League and qualified for the Debswana First Division North playoffs. During the playoffs, the team represented Francistown region, against other three teams from other regions, to be precise Chobe United, Maun Terrors and White Diamond from Boteti region.
In addition, the young tactician managed to produce quality players like Norman Mabaya who plays for Orapa united, Doctor David and Fortunate Thulare of Jwaneng Galaxy and Molaodi Tlhalefang of Security Systems who went and made their caps at the senior national team.
“I achieved one of my dreams; that is to take my team to the elite league and I’m left with one that is coaching at national level and I think after getting my license I will be ready to lead under 17, 20, 23 and even the national team cause it just requires humility, love, perseverance and commitment, but right I can offer my services cause football is in the heart,” he said.
Mpatane revealed his intention is to see more of his players participating at national level and overseas, as this week Zebras interim coach Mogomotsi Mpote called the 18-year-old Monty Enosa to be part of Zebras team which will compete for COSAFA tournament that is set to kick off next month.