BGSport: You recently resigned from your position as Chairman of the Botswana National Sports Commission. Can you share some of the highlights of your journey at the Commission?
Solly: I took the position at a very young age and back then I did not have the experience I now obviously have. When you are young, you make so many mistakes because you are ambitious. There are so many things you want to achieve and so many things you want to do. You tend to think things are easy when they are not.
BGSport: What were some of the immediate challenges you faced when you took over as BNSC Chairperson?
Solly: When I took over the Commission there was a very big feud between the Botswana National Sports Commission and the Botswana National Olympic Committee. I came in 2011 and found out that the long running feud was a territorial turf war. After my arrival the feud carried on for some time, I did not manage to stop it immediately. Over time we were able to engage in talk to the point where we ended up reviewing the BNSC Act and found a way to co-exist. After some time, there was cordial relations and we came up with separation of duties and eventually signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the two organisations.
BGSport: What are the changes you made upon arrival at the BNSC?
Solly: After dealing with the protracted feud with the BNOC, we focused on restructuring the BNSC. When I came in the BNSC was a huge organisation with so many people, a lot of resources and there was so much money being used in the secretariat than on the actual sports programmes, so I did the restructuring exercise and made it a fit for purpose organisation. I recruited Percy Raditladi from the corporate sector and he came in and went right into business as he was a private sector guy. At the time I was happy that someone like him came in and restructured the organisation. We were now able to be liquid and paid salaries as well as sports programmes.
BGSport: What are some of your career highlights as BNSC chairman?
Solly: One of our major successes was qualifying for the 2012 Afcon finals which was a big thing and the first time in the history of the country. Those young people did well. They were knocked out of the preliminaries but they did well and put up a good fight. A lot of things changed back then as it was not just about playing sports. The Zebras were the only team wearing an African kit, All Kasi kit that was made in Botswana. All Kasi was the brand that people were wearing at the time. Our industry was able to make quality products. This led to other brands like Dlala being born and growing to where they are.
The other thing that I am very proud of is that the same year in 2012 we got a silver medal at the Olympics, getting a silver medal at the Olympics was not a small thing. That was a great thing, the country got united and everybody was happy and then Botswana started becoming number one in athletics especially in the middle distance where we witnessed the likes of Isaac Makwala and Amantle Montsho becoming world champions in 2014. They became millionaires. Even softball we had the best pitcher in the world. It’s not easy to compete with Americans and Japanese. One thing I was involved in and directly pursued was chess, I made it my project; We started having Grand Masters and I took chess under my wing. It doesn’t pull a lot of resources and it was easy for chess to find sponsors and venues.
BGSport: What policies and reforms did you come up with during your tenure?
Solly: We came with a lot of policies and programs and one of the programmes is the BNSC Hall of Fame as veteran sports people were forgotten. That was a great thing. We introduced salaries for national teams starting with volleyball and football. People did not like this at first but eventually, it was working but it was later scrapped of which I never understood and disagreed to. This initiative saw national team players earning a salary whether there was a tournament or not. This meant national team members would have to work hard because they did not want to lose the salary.
BGSport: The BNSC hosted an impressive number of international sport events in a space of five years. How instrumental were you in luring international sporting organisations to Botswana?
Solly: The one international event I played a pivotal role in was the hosting of the International Working Group (IWG) and the WSBC which were hosted in Gaborone. I was also involved in the hosting of the 2014 Africa Youth Games where I was Vice President of Operations, which meant everything that involved sports was under my role, that’s why I ended up moving games from BNOC to BNSC and we delivered excellent games. Another thing that we managed to do was to acquire land from the city council and town councils. The land is zoned for sports and we have land in Kanye, Oodi, Maun and Letlhakane. One of the things I leave, having signed a deal is the High-Performance centre at BFA, I worked with Botswana Football Association president Maclean Letshwiti to get it done. The other project that I signed off is the golf development, this one will be massive, it has hotels, offices, private property, golf course. It is a resort and it is designed to raise money for golf. The golf course will be able to host major games.
BGSport: You are well known for being a former karate athlete. What is your take on the current state of the Botswana Karate Association?
Solly: Before we came in, karate was given a P500 000 grant, but when we came in, they were given P1,2 million and it was a good way for them to be self-sustaining. We made sure they hosted tournaments. As you know there was leadership crisis including coups. The current leaders are not able to work together. They are the most talented sports code in the country. We are going to the Olympic games and Karate can be able to get a medal there. The problem we are having is that the heads of the different styles are not able to work together. So, everyone is protecting their style. They have to make a decision to say no more new styles and then they will win.
BGSport: What are the biggest challenges the BNSC is facing currently? Are there any solutions?
Solly: The biggest problem facing our sport over and above funding is the over reliance on volunteerism. This thing is killing our sport. It is very hard to hold volunteers accountable; they have passion and use the little time and resources they have. What I feel we should move towards at least for Vision 2028 is to have a secretariat for at least five major sporting codes. One other thing that I know I will be unpopular with but I don’t think I have a problem, we cannot manage 43 sporting codes with the same blanket and broom. We get P70 million from government and disburse it to 43 codes, that thing doesn’t work, it’s like running a social programme. We must make a hard decision to pick five sporting codes we can work on and let others work towards letting others to get there. If we get P70 million, we can get P40 million to the five and P30 million to assist the rest. The manner in which we give out individual P1 million grants to everyone has led to some codes not pushing as much as they need to while others end up returning most of the money. Look at cricket, they try a lot, they are serious about the development of sport. Athletics and football have competitive advantage as schools are dedicated to them.
BGSport: May you shed light on the recent transition from Council to Commission?
Solly: With the BNSC commercialisation from council to commission, we have not moved an inch as everyone is still reliant on government. Transition from council to commission is very blurry, it is just the same…. business as usual. Commission said we are a regulator not an implementor but it is still running the development programmes like Re ba bona ha. Commercialisation was meant to have sporting codes operating on their own. We are not supposed to be running things like Botswana Games. That thing doesn’t work, I think we need to review the BURS Act. There must be a tax reform. On the other hand , the Gambling Act must get its act together, it’s too late its 50 years later and there is no benefit. The trivias have been stopped because the Gambling Authority is still setting up regulations. These trivias were important in raising money for sports especially in football. In the UK, gambling is the biggest thing and government is not spending money in sports. There are horse races where people bet instead of watching a race for entertainment only.
BGSport: Do you have any regrets?
Solly: There are so many regrets, it is the kids we lose through the cracks at form 3 and form 5. You may know someone who was very talented at school but they fell off after failing at form three or five. Another thing is that we have failed dismally in decentralisation and everything is done in Gaborone so you can’t do development within a centralized system. The other thing I should have done is to disband the national team and play national league. And set up a group of 10 or 12-year-old put them together and plan four years from now. We should put our resources there and get a coach and have them grow together, right now we just go to the stadium to break our hearts. Freeze it and have a 15-year-old team and have them playing international friendless. Another thing is procurement, we have local products like Dlala and All Kasi we could have focused on.Nevertheless I am not lost to sports, I sit in international bodies. I am also planning to run programmes for young people, like an academy but at a personal level.
BGSport: Do you have any ambitions of joining politics and ultimately become sports minister one day?
Solly: I am going to join politics someday. I think the next general elections I am going to be involved. Sports is my passion I never felt at home doing anything else. I hated people who stopped me from going to karate with a passion. I would die to be a sport minister. It’s something that at some point in my life I would like to do. God willing very soon I will be taking up that post. We have a new president so I would like to make him shine. I have also been the chairman of the Botswana National Youth Council (BNYC), so I have the youth element as well. I resigned before my term concluded but I am in a happy space, I just don’t like some stories going around at the moment.