Forget about the fact that Botswana Netball under 17 team qualified for the 2017 world cup by virtue of being hosts when they finished sixth out of eight African countries a fortnight ago.
Instead, let us celebrate that by merely hosting the world cup qualifying games and subsequently the first-ever world cup games in the African continent next year, Netball will not only be showing tremendous growth, maturity and bravery, but is a dream come true for the local netball pioneers. Just like in many countries around the world, Netball sport in Botswana started as an exclusively girl’ sport played only at schools. But with time things changed, today men are involved as players, coaches, administrators, umpires and so forth.
However, the tournament is more about how local netball sport started in the early 1990’s. After having tried many things without success, The netballers realised that they were just going in circles, as their national team was always dismally losing with big margins to the likes of Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Uganda and of late South Africa in either regional or continental games. The netballers decided to put their act together by firstly electing into office the administrators who will take them to the next level by putting in place all the necessary structures in place that could help to change the sport.
Among the many decisions the netballers considered was to ensure they bring about change and stability into the sport for good. In order to achieve that, they agreed that the best way forward was to lure in different people with expertise in their respective fields- into the new executive.
The visionary executive
During elections which were held during the Easter weekend holidays of 1994, a new executive committee was democratically ushered. It was composed of amongst others Prisca Mokgadi as the president deputised by a banker, Nozipho Mabe Iranius Motlhopeng (Secretary General), Segaetsho Garekwe (deputy SG) Dendo Thabolo (treasurer) and yours truly as its Public relations and Marketing officer. I was elected in absentia as I had gone to play softball during the Shell Oil Easter Tournament. I came to know that I was in the committee after receiving a call from Volleyball administrator, Jacob Sesinyi who was the election officer.
When he called, Sesinyi was enquiring on how come I had managed to obtain so many votes in my absence. I followed up his call by enquiring from the netballers on who could have nominated and submitted my name.
The mistake I made was to enquire from Prisca and Tebogo Kesupile. The latter was just too bold and responded, ‘It’s me do you have a problem with it?’ She never gave me time to respond but continued to say, “We nominated and submitted your name under Notwane Netball. We simply wanted to tap on your expertise.
“Netball needs people like you who could help to market it. Otherwise we will remain where we are forever, if we as Netballers do not tap on the talent that this country has”. One thing that I have learnt is that I should never refuse to answer a national call. I quickly jumped in though I found myself being thrown into the deep end. As a committee we became a united force, we came up with strategies and put structures in place. Key amongst these was to have national leagues sponsored by Kgalagardi Beverages. We hosted local competitions even for the all national teams. We lost some with big margins, but never got discouraged.
How BONA affiliated to IFN
Having met with other regional administrators in particular the likes of Ntambi Elizabeth Ravella, then President of Netball South Africa, Elize Petersen – President of Namibia Netball and International Federations of Netball Africa representative, Ms Chirwa of Zimbabwe, the incumbent Namibia’s deputy Minister of Sport, Youth and National Service, Agnes Tjongarera etc. we came to realise that within the region, Botswana was the only country not affiliated to IFN. We resolved to do so.
The then Botswana National Sport Council (BNSC), now Commission sponsored the trip. But we had to raise funds to pay for other expenses. I was charged with that responsibility. BONA further delegated yours truly and its president, Mokgadi to travel to the IFN Congress in Birmingham, England which presided over the 9th 1995 World Netball Championships. The premier tournament in international netball is held every four years. The 1995 tournament was contested by a record of 27 national teams after the abolition of apartheid.
Amongst the many highlights was that BONA was officially accepted as IFN affiliate. Further, three countries - South Africa, Namibia and Uganda represented the continent, while at the congress Africa spoke with one voice and Botswana was duly credited for its contributions despite being new members. Teams that participated in the championship starting with those who finished on top four were Australia, South Africa, New zealand, England, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Cook Island, Malawi, Western Samoa, Saint Vincent and the Grenades, Barbados, Antinga and Barbuda, Canada, United States, Papua New Guinea, Namibia, Wales, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Cayman Island, Scotland, Hongkong, Bermuda, Ireland, Malaysia and Malta
The finals game and top
Without doubt the final game will remain in my mind forever. It was played in the state of the art Birmingham indoor arena or stadium that has a capacity of 13,000 and all tickets were sold out. The humdinger games were played between Australia and South Africa with the Aussies winning 68-48 having scored in all the four quarters as follows (17-9, 31-23, 51-35, and 68-48). The Australians were led by coach Jill McIntosh who had a 13-member team composed of Natalie Avellino, Borlase Jennifer Cusack, Nicole Ellis, Liz Fielke Michelle (Captain) Harby, Kathryn Mckinnis, Simone Murphy, Marianne O’Donnell, Shelley Sutter, Sarah Tombs and Carissa Wilson.
While South Africa was led by Coach Marlene Wagner. The team was composed of Basson Johrina,Halgryn Tessa, Herverson Dominique, Odenendal Rene,Hammon Debbie (Captain), Hugo Rese, Keevery Laurie, Kooppers Annie, Kotze Elize, Rossouw Estelle, the most valuable player of the tournament Irene Van Dyk and Benita Van Zyl. During the 1995 games the then Executive Director of the Australian Netball Association, Pam Smith-also a lawyer made a bold statement seeking professional status for netballers, many of whom are competing in the world championship for little or no money.
Birmingham sports arena
As I watched the 1995 tournament inside the state of the art Birmingham sports arena two things kept on nagging my mind namely, Smith’s bold statement of when will Botswana players ever play in major leagues and get paid, as well as admiring the arena because it was my first time to be inside such an indoor facility that has a gym, running track, etc all meant to assist improve the performance of an athlete. I could not help it save to dream about when my country will ever have such a facility.
Those were the days when it was a taboo to hear of local players being paid to play sport, save to be handed courtesy kits as well as daily allowances when on national team assignments. As BONA delegates, our dream and wish was to one day see Botswana sports being played inside a similar arena to the one in Birmingham, further with Botswana players attracting the talent scouts of professional leagues around the world
The torch bearers
The first world tournament was in 1963 in Eastbourne, Australia. Botswana is still to qualify and make an impact on World cup netball games. The dream came true came true 21 years later as one Tebogo Lebotse-Sebego who then was an Under 20 player, president of BONA and Africa and an IFN board member too. It is only a matter of months before BONA plays host to the World championships which will attract 20 countries. Even though it belongs to the University of Botswana, the country has the state of the art arena which I am made to believe is the only one of its kind in the continent.
Further, worth noting is, although we have not advanced as we are supposed to have by now, BONA has been able to export players to different leagues. Players that come to mind are Hilda Binang, Letang Mogotlhwane and Violet Onneile who all went to Singapore. While Sarona Hans, Winnie Hill and Onalenna Theetso are currently playing in Australia. Umpires such as Abednico Chitelo, Lilian Mooki and Boikhutso are recognised internationally. Of paramount importance is that BONA becomes the first African affiliate to host the world cup tournament. Another of our own, the towering Thuli Retshabile is a technical INF delegate. She is qualified to train technical officials anywhere in the world. UB indoor sports arena can equal any other facility in the world, the difference between it and other venues where this kind of games have been played before is that the final games between the top continental giants Uganda and South Africa was played in an almost empty stadium. This was the case throughout the tournament.