The honourable Minister, I write to request that Botswana withdraws from the 2022 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) candidate city race. And no, it is not too late. In fact, there are cities that have withdrawn from hosting these mega sports events after having been awarded the rights.
A good example is our neighbour South Africa. Durban was awarded the hosting rights for the 2022 Commonwealth Games but they declined soon after. Durban is a city with more facilities, human capacity and financial resources than Gaborone yet South Africa’s Minister of Sport, Fikile Mbalula, was honest enough to admit the costs for hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games would be more than the country could afford.
Returning to the Olympics, the US city of Boston withdrew from consideration for the 2024 Games. The city’s mayor was paraphrased as follows: “he refused to mortgage the future of the city away.” Other cities that had announced their interest – the Italian capital, Rome, the Hungarian capital of Budapest and the German city of Hamburg also withdrew from the race. The cities of Stockholm, Lviv, Krakow and Oslo also withdrew their bids to host the 2022 Winter Games.
These are developed western cities yet they made honest admissions that hosting the Games, at that particular time, would not be in their cities and countries best interests.
Perhaps we do not have financial issues like the above-mentioned cities but surely there are other sports issues that demand our urgent attention and should be a priority right now than hosting the YOG. They say acknowledgement is the first step to recovery and we also need to acknowledge our current state. As a country, we should be honest with ourselves as far as the sporting fraternity is concerned and re-evaluate whether hosting the Youth Olympic Games is our top priority.
As a nation we have all that it takes and required to stage the YOG in terms of capacity and competence. Hosting the YOG would be a dream but unfortunately the opportunity has come at a wrong time.
Our athletes are doing well and they can shine at any event staged anywhere in the world. We do not have to host a mega-sports event for us to motivate them or develop our sport fraternity.
The timing is awful for the Botswana government, through your ministry, to spend taxpayers’ funds on staging the next YOG because we still have many issues plaguing our sports sector to deal with. Issues like inclusion and integration need to be dealt with and resolved before we can entertain thoughts of using excess funds to host any mega-sports event.
Are you aware honourable minister that we do not have a disability sport secretariat in Botswana? Botswana National Olympic Committee has not, does not and will never fully serve athletes with disabilities because that is not their mandate. Asking them to take on disability sports and athletes under their wing is doing an injustice to both entities as it is not the NOC’s responsibility.
The current system through which disability sport affiliates to BNSC also needs to be reviewed.
My plea to you Sir, is that if at all there are funds in coffers stashed somewhere that are enough to bring the world youth over, can we use that to not only establish a secretariat for disability sport but to also build a high class inclusive and accessible sports centre. My greatest fear is that at the speed we are moving, athletes with different abilities will continue to lag behind able-bodied sport.
The cost–benefit report has proven time and again that it is rarely worth hosting a mega-sport event. Exceptions are only for cities that already had plans in the pipeline to restructure and add some developments. In Botswana’s case, such restructuring and developments can still go on without having to host the YOG as they can immensely benefit our sports sector.
We are doing very well in the able-bodied sports sector, the children that side have undisputable role models that we have developed and we now need to look on the other side. There is potential also waiting to be developed: we are a diverse nation and diversity is also packaged in ability degrees.
We need to start acknowledging athletes with disability and work towards removing barriers they are experiencing when trying to claim their rights on an equal basis with others. Let us inspire children with disabilities to believe that they too can make a living from sport. We are Africans and that on its own gives us unique challenges as compared to the rest of the world. We have cultural burdens to deal with that influence our decisions both consciously and subconsciously.
Unless and until we get honest with ourselves, we will be running ahead and forgetting our own behind. We will have “them” and not “us” scenarios.
My appeal, honourable minister is that you kindly take another look at the YOG feasibility report in relation to our own current situation at home, not the world.
For fully developed countries without social crises like ours, they have excess to spend. For us, it is not an inclusive dream and we should not be ashamed of withdrawing our candidacy. Once we are stable, ready and inclusive, then we can think about hosting, just not now.
Let us rather spend the next four years that we want to spend preparing for the YOG towards deliberately overhauling our system and establishing structures that will facilitate the development of sport in the country. Let us create a system where our athlete programmes are clearly defined and easily accessible for everyone who wants to participate in sport to do so without experiencing challenges. As I have stated, let us have a real structure and move from a volunteer-based approach of dealing with disability sport.
Let us spend the next four years benchmarking and implementing what our neighbours are doing in South Africa, Zambia and Namibia in terms of disability sport. Their approaches are making them excel and we need to adopt and contextualise it to our country. Let us be realistic in our YOG optimism. Let us be our brother’s keeper. Borrowing the words of Nelson Mandela in conclusion, “sports can create hope where there was once only despair.”