The eyes of the continent will be on Botswana this weekend as the Africa Karate Championships (UFAK) kicks into Gaborone.
Botswana won the rights to host the continent’s showpiece karate event back in 2017, beating off competition from Mali, Madagascar and Egypt in the process.
Having hosted the championship’s junior version in 2002 and 2014, the country will be banking on that experience to pull off a successful competition.
Indeed, positive feedback from the 2014 event proved crucial in landing UFAK 2019, which this time includes both the juniors and seniors in action.
With qualification for next year’s Olympic Games up for grabs, interest in the championships is at an all time high, with over 26 nations expected to take part.
Botswana have assembled a team of 35 athletes and will be desperate to impress as the continent’s finest fighters come to town.
Voice Sport’s Portia Mlilo caught up with the Botswana Karate Association (BOKA) President, Sensei Tshepo Bathai, who also serves as the Commonwealth Karate Federation Vice President to find out how preparations are going.
Q. Are we ready to host UFAK?
A. We had several setbacks in terms of preparing for the event because of the hosting policy interpretation.
We couldn’t arrange for the championships for two years because of other sporting events being held in the country.
When Minister Tshekedi Khama assumed Ministry of Sport office he gave us the go ahead and we started preparing in January.
We assembled a Local Organising Committee, working day and night preparing for this continental event and I can boldly say we are ready.
I am happy for the support we got from the Minister and we meet him weekly for updates on our preparations.
Botswana National Sports Commission is also assisting.
Q. Two years of inactivity, why is it that we were struggling to meet hosting requirements?
A. Sports codes are different. Karate’s hosting policy for continental competitions says you have to bid two years before the event.
We had a situation by then (2017), the continental body forwarded expression of interest to all the countries a month before the AGM (in Cameroon) where the biding was going to be done.
We wrote to BNSC and said in 2018 we have IWG and Softball so they advised that we consider 2019 and beyond.
We have a number of players who want to use the games to qualify for the Olympics, like Ofentse Bakwadi, Thato Malunga, Gofaone Mosupiemang, and Lame Hetanang who have accumulated points towards qualifying.
Q. What was the budget for this tournament?
A. Initially we wanted P2.5 million and requested for half of the budget and the rest we were to source from other possible sponsors.
The government came to our rescue and gave us P3.2 million and so far we are sitting at a budget around P4.6 million.
Q. How will the event benefit Botswana?
A. I will start with the association. For the first time we have fielded 12 referees to be trained.
Last year we fielded one and in 2017 none because of financial constraints.
We have also fielded 12 coaches to go through the course.
These kinds of events can be used for lobbying to get positions in the World Karate Federation and learn from experts as they will be running these training courses.
It is also going to have a huge impact on our tourism, transport sector, small and big businesses.
Q. The LOC suffered a blow when the chairperson, Lebogang Gaobakwe resigned in April – what happened?
A. When hosting such big events, there are some expectations.
There has been delay in appointing the LOC, they have to commit their time.
We started at a low pace and it took time to give them appointment letters so those who resigned were impatient.
It is very important to note that Gaobakwe has also been helping at Botswana Karate Foundation, she is a trustee.
Q. There has been a lot of controversy around the selection of Team BW. What was the criteria used by the technical team?
A. Our selection criteria is very clear. We have national team selections the first three months for the senior team and two months for the junior.
At the end of the selection there is an evaluation.
Sometimes those who won, you can see that in their category there was no competition so the winner cannot represent the country and we drop him or her.
This is not a new thing; it is there in our selection policy.
When people are one, we do not call it competition in a selection and we leave it to the coaches.
In 2017 we changed the team and last year we did the same.
This time we have two teams that share some of the players so we are leaving it to the technical team.
In our association, we do not have stars and when we do selections and you do not perform to the expectations we drop you.
Q. Is team Botswana ready to compete?
A. We had final preparations for the two teams, junior and senior.
The senior team went to Bloemfontein South Africa High Performance Centre for training over the weekend.
Junior team we had a challenge because most of them are students and they were writing examinations and so they remained behind.
They camped at the athletes village at University of Botswana.
Q. This is your second term as the president of BOKA, how would you describe your journey?
A. I recall I was a President of BOKA in 2014 for five months.
There were lots of issues and I resigned so that there can be peace.
The interim committee served for two years and affiliates called me back.
I am a very straightforward person – Botswana sport has been stagnant for a very long time for no reason!
I have implemented so many things with the hope of accelerating development of Karate.
We have achieved a lot since 2017. The coaches department is there and coaching accreditations.
We have Chief Instructors who are the backbone of karate and they were not qualified.
We came up with a development programme where we send them to Japan for vigorous training.
BOKA has also improved a lot in our administration. Project 1000 is also doing well.
So far we have set high performance programme and through it we will win Olympic and World medals.
Q. What are the major challenges BOKA is facing?
A. Availability of people to do the work because most of our officials are volunteers.
As a country we do not have policies that encourages people to be available for sport, there is no sports leave.
Private companies are reluctant to sponsor karate so it is difficult to implement some programmes with our limited budget.
We have international relations with Spanish, Egyptian federations and others to help in terms of developing our personnel.
Q. When did you first take up karate and who was your inspiration?
A. I joined karate when I was eight years old in 1988 in Lobatse coached by Sensei Fish Masilo.
My father, Moamogedi Bathai, was a karateka and introduced me to the sport.
Growing up I had all the material for karate, magazines with posters of Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee and books.
At Lobatse Senior School, Moruakgomo coached me and Ndiko Gambule also mentored me.
I have served in all structures of karate. I am a continental referee, World Karate Certified Instructor and Examiner.
I was captain of Botswana Senior Karate Team and I have also chaired Karate Technical Commission.
Q. You have two years remaining on your term as BOKA President – what legacy do you hope to leave?
A. A self-sustainable organisation that does not depend on the government.
I want a very ambitious organisation biding for international events and attending conferences that discuss issues at a global level.
It shouldn’t only be Bathai being Vice President of Commonwealth, we should have other officials in the World Karate Federation.
When it comes to implementation of programmes, BOKA should be at the forefront.
Q. Thank God it’s Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?
A. The games start this Friday until the 14th so I will be spending most of my time at UB indoor Sports Arena where the games will be held.