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Down but not out

NIGEL AND MAKWALA WILL BOUNCE BACK

The Botswana team which went to represent the nation at the ongoing IAAF championships will return home empty handed after failing to rise to the occasion in one of the biggest international athletics competition. Many are wondering what could have gone wrong and the prospects of Botswana athletes going forward.


With Amantle Montsho in the shadows, the nations’ hopes for a medal at the IAAF were solely pinned on Nigel Amos’ prowess. In his last outings, Amos proved to be slowly but surely becoming invincible to his perennial rival David Rudisha of Kenya. Since striding gloriously away from the field at the London 2012 Olympics in a world record time of 1min 40.91sec, Rudisha has met Amos six times. And he lost in every single race.


Amos had one strategy, as British publication The Guardian observes: “sit on Rudisha’s shoulder as he moved from third at the bell to second and then first, before unleashing those whirling arms and whirring legs with 50m remaining to edge ahead by half a metre”. “I wasn’t expecting a tactical race,” said Amos to The Guardian after defeating Rudisha four weeks ago. “I expected something much faster. I used to watch his videos as a youth, so running with him is a dream came true.”


Despite his dominance over his nemesis in the Diamond League, the nation watched in shock and disbelief as the confident lad crashed out of the competition. Amos failed to reach the finals after finishing third in the semis of the IAAF 800m race.


Amos has tumbled where it mattered most, and Rudisha piped him to the Gold Medal. Had Amos finished second, he would have had the opportunity to take on Rudisha once again in the final to prove his dominance but he finished 3rd, much to the Kenyan’s pleasure.


All is not lost though, next year the two will meet in the Olympics, provided both athletes remain injury free. At 21 years, Amos still has plenty years ahead of him- a silver lining on the cloud for him, and the nation. But he still has to learn to win big tournaments and not play second to Rudisha.


Another athlete who was put on the pedestal going into the competition was Isaac Makwala, only to also disappoint his myriad supporters. Ahead of the competition, the sprinter was breaking records.


He became the fastest man in Africa’s 400m setting a record of 44.01. Just two days short of the record’s first anniversary, Wayde van Niekerk shaved off 0.05 from that mark.


Makwala was back to his best less than 24 hours after South Africa’s van Niekerk broke his African record with 43.96 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Paris, but Makwala overturned that by making a sensational 43.72 run at the Resisprint meeting in the Swiss city of La Chaux-de-Fonds.


Most of his achievements came in the shadow of Amos’ domineering personality, who since his London 2012 Olympic exploits has been the face of Botswana in athletics.


Makwala however had a brilliant start in the competition and was able to reach the final, while many were still wailing about Amos’ heartbreaking defeat. He finished first in the semi-final improving his prospects of winning Gold in the final.


However the Tutume born sprinter finished the final on fifth position, ending hopes of any medal for Botswana at this year’s competition. Makwala will celebrate his 29th birthday on the 29th of September this year.


Makwala is probably at his prime and unlike Amos, his last opportunity could be next year’s Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. Prior to the competition, Makwala was in fine form. It is important that going into next year’s show, Makwala makes amendments and avoids stumbling at the last hurdle like he did this year.  


Long-time athletics favourite, Amantle Montsho has now slipped into oblivion following last year‘s doping scandal which resulted in her being suspended from international competitions.


At the time of her suspension, Montsho was already showing signs of fragility. When her ban is lifted, she will face an uphill task, if she is ever to compete again. No doubt, age has already caught up with her.


At 32, Monthso maybe be contemplating hanging her boots because sooner than later as her hey days could be behind her. Athletes slow down after going beyond 30, a reminder to Batswana that we might have seen Montsho’s better days already.
It is however worrisome that the failure of Botswana athletes to reach their maximum potential in bigger tournament is becoming a theme. Three years ago at London Olympics, Montsho was at her pick.


She had an incredible tournament and reached the final of the 400m women. Having beaten United States’ Allyson Felix a year earlier at 2001 IAAF championship, another American, Sanya Richard-Ross was out for revenge. Montsho was not only beaten by Ross in the final but finished fourth, and missed out on an Olympic medal.  


Botswana was represented by Isaac Makwala, Nigel Amos, Leaname Maotoanong, Sakarea Kamberuka, Onkabetse Nkobolo and Kabelo Kgosiyang.
   
AMOS NOT YET FADED – COACHES

A collective of homegrown top-tier athletics coaches have altogether disagreed with the unpleasant and dreaded notion that the curse of lacklustre International arena domination that has ceaselessly afflicted the nation’s top athletes in Amantle Montsho and Isaac Makwala seem to be lurking around the career of youthful 800 meter racer Nigel Amos.


According to BISA Athletics Youth Chief Coach specializing in sprint, Chilume Ntshwarang Nigel Amos is Olympic class and did not lose his finals qualifying heat due to lack of fitness and fine physical conditioning but attributed it to the awkward 800 meters contest. Ntshwarang pointed Amos’ defeat to the complex and slow start of the race whose initial snail’s pace ensured the crowding up of athletes and disruption of Amos latter lap unrestricted sprinting style.


Ntshwarang who described Amos loss as “just an unfortunate case” said that when “the athletes changed pace Amos charged for the finishing line late forcing him to battle with maneuvering the crowded track therefore losing valuable time.” Ntshwarang also believes that Amos fell victim to an anti-competition maneuver called ‘caging’ which he says is common in middle distance races by the athletes.


Athletics coach and Chairperson of the Botswana Integrated Sports Association (BISA) Coaches Committee, Isaac Mbise fingers fatigue for Amos defeat. Mbise retorted that Amos performance at the recent IAAF in Lausanne Switzerland left his body fatigued.

The top coach also believes that local athletes who have already paid their dues and made their mark in athletics such as Nigel Amos and Isaac Makwala should be exempt for competitions such as Africa championships and All Africa Games as they wear out athletes.

“Accomplished athletes should be made to pave way for upcoming athletes such as Nkobolo and Pako Seribe in continental championships, have you ever seen Usain Bolt compete at the commonwealth games or Rudisha at continental competitions? Mbise rhetorically asked.


The top coach also poured scorn on the idea that Amos could have lost due to indiscipline saying on another day Amos would emerge victorious.


Another BISA and COSASSA coach dedicated to sprint Innocent Sibanda, believes that the Rudisha camp had calculated Amos style of running. Sibanda believes that the intentionally snail paced first lap with the second lap fast-paced and revved up stood in divergence with Amos traditional style of running and its 400 meter sprint burned up Amos reserves, as he normally sprints in the last 100-150 meters. Sibanda believes Nigel Amos can still rule over Rudisha again and that’s it’s all a matter of a game plan.

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Sport

City turns to BFA tribunal over relegation

23rd November 2021
Premier league players

Botswana Football Association (BFA) arbitration tribunal is set to hear a case in which Molepolole City Stars is challenging the 2019-20 football season curtailment that led to their untimely relegation. The season was abruptly ended amid the ravaging COVID-19 scourge when the government decided to place the whole country under lockdown.

In particular, City Stars, under Somerset Gobuiwang, challenges the rationale and fairness of the association to end the league when there were several options to pursue. The club does not want to contest the authority of the national executive committee to stop the league but argues that the decision to relegate them based on the log standing was unfair, irrational and unreasonable.

Moreover, the decision was against the spirit of the game and not the most appropriate one under circumstances where they were still about 10 league games to play. As the papers were submitted, City Stars argues that the most appropriate step would have been to suspend the league and protect the league standing. “The league would then resume when it was safe to do so, as indeed it is happening now, with the log standings maintained as they were,” the court papers read.

The team, which was languishing at the bottom of the table when the decision was taken, also argues and gives an alternative that the league could have ended without relegation issues. City Stars argues, “This would be in recognition of the undeniable facts that the league was not complete and that the log standings at the time were not in any way an indicator of how they would have been had the league been allowed to run its course.”

Furthermore, Molepolole City Stars are livid that the association did not consider that the complainant had valid contracts with its staff and players and that such agreement could not be terminated abruptly. On the one hand, BFA said it was looking at three options before ending the league. Facts and scenarios informed each decision, and one was independent of the other, it was argued.

The first option, BFA says, was to stop the league where it was and crown the team that occupied the first place, which was Jwaneng Galaxy. Furthermore, three teams lying at the bottom of the table would be relegated, and teams on pole positions from Debswana First Division north and south will be promoted automatically.

By all accounts, the association felt it was a controversial option to undertake but also fairer for the sake of progress. The second available possibility was to stretch the season and consequently change the football calendar. “There has been a shelved proposal that recommends the change of our season from the usual August-May calendar to February – November because of health reasons,” BFA president MacLean Letshwiti said before making the decision.

The last possibility was to nullify all the leagues. This was — and continued to be — the last resort. Across all the global leagues, the domestic campaign had only 10 matches left, which could, in theory, be completed in the space of five weeks. In the end, BFA feels that a decision had to be made for the sake of progress. The dates of the hearing are yet to be made public.

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Sport

Is it time to take Piro serious?

23rd November 2021
GU

Pontsho Moloi’s character and football standing as a young coach have embodied simplicity and hard work for far too long. Moloi is a local bred coach who has so far threatened foreign gaffers with his coaching philosophy, a style that is exciting and irking football purists in equal measure.

As Moloi is famously known in football circles, Piro has coached a few different clubs in the homeland, but his stewardship of Gaborone United last season — going into the new one- remains his best memorable achievement ever. Before the 2019-20 season was stopped because of the COVID-19 outbreak, GU was one of the league’s favourites.

But as any self-respecting purveyor of sporting cliché knows, it is never a bad idea to keep quiet and let your football do the talking. The only hanging problem for Piro is that he has often wanted to let his talking do the talking — which is a shame since, by and large, his football, both as a player and coach, has spoken loudly enough.

Piro’s coaching resume is fascinating and worth the test for a coach whose career is barely two years old. He has presided over big guns, one staggeringly good debut top-flight campaign, one freewheeling title charge, and one dramatic league season. Yet throughout, he has continued to serve as a punch line, painted by a substantial cohort.

Now, three games into the current season, his Gaborone United side sit at the top of the pile, having won all their games and remarkably keeping a clean sheet. No team has scored more goals than Piro’s side. Is Botswana football finally ready to recognize Piro as an elite-level coach? In fact, why has it not done so already?

The answer is not straightforward, regardless of what some of his harsher detractors would want to believe, although it is true that he has often failed to do himself any favours when a microphone has been aimed his way. In today’s culture, it only takes one slip of the tongue — one tiny sound bite lacking in self-awareness — to make you look silly.

Piro’s model has worked across the board: promotion-chasing minnow, sleeping giant, trophy-hovering Goliath figure, and now an aspirational upper-middleweight.

In each instance, he has found a new gear, improved his team beyond expectation and created a side better than the sum of its parts, at least for a time. Young and veteran players excel under his watch. Attackers — especially hard-running and bloodthirsty centre-forwards, Thatayaone Kgamanyane — flourish like never before. And for once, he has needed big money to make significant progress. Yet even at United, the least tangibly successful of his last three jobs and one where things went downhill towards the end, he put together sensationally exciting teams.

Now at GU, pundits still ask whether he will last longer at the top or he will soon fall. His demonstrations this season speak volumes about winning a bigger and better trophy this season. Can he deliver, or time will tell? Part of the answer will come as the season wears on.

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Sport

GU, Rollers – early favorites

16th November 2021
Rollers & GU

Football giants Township Rollers and Gaborone United have emerged as early favourites to win the newly refined Botswana Football League (BFL), following a perfect start to the season.   

There is a sense of relief from different quarters that this new football season, still striving to secure a title sponsor, is set to be packed with more excitement and action than anticipated. Seasons’ never-ending transfer rumour mill, coupled with half-paced friendlies, have their place in football, but they were indeed only going to be a tasty little snack before the sumptuous banquet, which is a new season.

Each team has played three games. At the time of going to print, Gaborone United, driven by local gaffers Innocent Morapedi and Pontso Moloi, remains in pole position with 9 points, maintaining an unbeaten record. The club also holds another record as only to club yet to concede. Also, on pole position is Township Rollers, who remain of the favourites to clinch the title come season end.

Languishing at the bottom of the log is Extension Gunners. The Lobatse based outfit have already pressed panic buttons by sacking their coach. It is still early days, but it appears The Peleng Boys, as they are affectionately called, are suffering early relegation season syndrome. They have played three games and are still struggling to find a win, let alone finding the back of the net.

Big guns like Orapa United and Jwaneng Galaxy have tried to bolster their squads but have failed to stamp authority in their first three encounters. Galaxy look set to be a better team, but two registered wins and a loss may as well betray this standing belief. Orapa, on the other hand, has grouped experienced players in their camp. Die-hard followers hope that this may be a fruitful season, but a midweek loss against Police XI in their backyard leaves followers questioning the readiness of their technical team as the season gets hot.

Township Rollers are breathing heavily on Gaborone United backs. The two teams now becoming rivals are equal on points, but much of the scrutiny is on GU, whose defence might be critical to this year’s championship.  The need for news and views — not to mention wins in Lobatse and Francistown or wherever will once again become the all-consuming passion in many football lovers’ lives. Some had reason to be happier than most. That is why Sua Flamingoes and Masitaoka are ecstatic for their first 2021 victories.

A logical decree is that the Premier League’s usual suspects will have it all their way again. Talent galore and bottomless pockets of cash were enough to ensure yet more silverware ends up in already crammed trophy cabinets. The cream, as they say, always tends to rise to the top. Week 1 of this first half-season was the most interesting one. Eighteen goals were scored, and Thatayaone Kgamanyane of GU became the first player to score a Premier League goal this season.

Premier League Chief Executive Officer Solomon Ramochothwane believes this will be the most competitive season of recent seasons. “It is tight and competitive, and we might have a new champion at the end,” he opined. He also expressed happiness that numbers will grow at the stadiums as time goes on. But beyond the shadow of a doubt, the return of Premier League fourth round — as remarkable as the first three laps — will signal several months of nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat tension.

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