As the Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC) goes to the annual sport awards next week, an unusual battle is expected in the Junior Female Sportsperson of the Year award category. In the typical David versus Goliath scenario, the nine-year old Naledi Marape of chess faces her elder sisters in Galefele Moroko of athletics and swimming's Naomi Ruele, both aged 19. At the age of 9, the little history maker becomes the youngest athlete to have competed in the BNSC awards since its inception.
However, concerns have been raised on the fairness for an athlete as young as Marape to be competing in the same category with seasoned teenagers who have long been in the game as in the case of both Moroko and Ruele. Another debate questions the validity of categorising a child under 10 years of age as a junior when the category has traditionally been known to serve athletes on the upper side of their teens.
Sports commentators have opined that Marape’s failure to win in this category might dent her confidence and even affect her future performances. For this reason, awards followers have called on the BNSC to consider a category that would pit the children this age together rather than have to make them compete with the tried and tested teenagers.
However, Botswana Chess Federation (BCF) president Tshenolo Maruatona seems to have no qualms with the nomination of his sport body’s developing juvenile against elderly competitors for now. He rather chose to advise that going forward, the categories be streamlined further to cater for the very young ones, arguing that it is the first time a nine year old has competed in the awards and at best therefore, lessons can be derived from this year’s nominations. "It would have been nice to see her compete against her peers but Marape is a competitive athlete who attained high ratings by even beating athletes older than her," Maruatona said.
Botswana Netball Association (BONA) president Tebogo LebotseSebego shared a different view. The woman who also serves as continental netball president said it was not only unfair but uncomfortable to have a category where the competitors’ age difference is so significant."I do not know what the solution is at this point but speaking as a mother, I am uncomfortable with a nine year competing with athletes so older than her," she said. LebotseSebego said it is time that sports leaders re-think and come up with a more inclusive award system that considers age disparity among other considerations.
Reached for comment, the BNSC’s Sports Development Director Technical Bobby Gaseitsewe agreed that in future a category for young athletes is something that could be considered just the same way that other categories that were not there in the beginning were added. "As we grow as a country these improvements will surface," he said. He however said as long as the guidelines have not been changed upcoming athletes will continue to compete with elderly ones. He said a junior athlete is anyone who is under the age of 21 and therefore according to the current awards policy, Marape is a junior.
Gaseitsewe gave the little star a pat on the back for making history and said she has a great future ahead and that even if she does not emerge victorious, she would still be a winner by just being nominated. The awards’ ceremony is scheduled for June 18 under the theme "Legends live among us."