Ten African Union Sports Council (AUSC) Region 5 member states have converged in Botswana for the 8th edition of the under 20 games. The games rolled into action yesterday, and will be officially opened today (Friday) in Gaborone.
The countries of Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa will compete in different sporting codes of Netball, Basketball, Swimming, Volleyball, Boxing, Judo, Athletics, Football and Tennis. Botswana has pulled all the stops to ensure she delivers an exceptional 8th edition of the regional sporting event. Since signing the games protocol agreement early last year, the government has been up on its toes to fund the event relatively to the best of its ability, not forgetting cooperatives that also stepped in to ensure the plan does not fall through the cracks.
Early this week, the games Local Organising Committee (LOC) handed over competition venues to AUSC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Stanley Mutoya who was very impressed. He accepted the venues and declared that Botswana was indeed ready to host the youth games. All the competitions and training venues have been refurbished to the highest quality. Some of them have even been upgraded to international standard.Hosting of such major events has proven to come with great benefits to the hosting country; back in 2012 and 2014 when Zambia and Zimbabwe hosted the games respectively, an international standard and qualifier swimming pool was built in both countries.
In 2016, Angola built a new athletics track. In 2018, Botswana has already managed to upgrade three competition venues to international standards. New touch pads have been installed at the University of Botswana’s Aquatic Centre to meet International Swimming Federation (FINA) requirements; in fact, the 2018 swimming games are qualifiers for FINA championships in Gwagnju next year.
The national stadium athletics track, long jump runway and pit have been renovated and marked to international athletics governing federation (IAAF) standards. The Notwane Centre has resurfaced seven tennis courts to International Tennis Federation requirement.
All the renovations will ensure that Botswana continues to benefit from the facilities even after the games end. Botswana as a developing country will be able to produce world class athletes who will use the facilities to prepare for international competitions. Local athletes will be able to get the feel of international competition while still preparing at home and this might just reduce the need to travel across borders for intense training sessions.
The Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC) recently decried that maintenance of the competition venues especially stadia was becoming a burden to them and were considering returning all to government. Indeed, the refurbishments done recently could have not come at a better time for Botswana. Furthermore, the LOC Chairperson Labbeaus Peloewetse is not giving up on their wish to erect an indoor sports arena in Botswana.
Funds permitting, the project will be one of the legacies left behind by the hosting of the 2018 youth games. However, that will be decided by the depth of their pockets once the games come to an end. Additionally, the economic sector stands to benefit greatly from the 2018 games, with over 2000 athletes in Botswana not forgetting officials and other stakeholders such as the media personnel, the local transport system, hotels and restaurants.
As for the sporting fraternity, administrations within the region have had the chance to plan for the 2018 event. This has since opened room for sharing of knowledge and skills. Actually, Botswana deliberately added a Cauldron (leiso) to the games’ marks and symbols to traditionally symbolize that the region is gathered to share ideas and experiences on how best to improve talent identification in the region.