Blood, sweat and cheers

Leungo Mokgwathi

FIFA’s go-to Motswana

When his promising football career was cut cruelly short by a niggling knee injury, Harry Koata was not lost to the beautiful game.

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With his playing days at an end, at least professionally, Koata turned to sports administration and volunteerism to fulfill his sporting fix.

His portfolio steadily grew as both an administrator and a consultant, gaining recognition locally and internationally.

By 2010, Koata’s star rose to new heights when he was invited south of the border to help out at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

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He must have done something right, as since then he has become one of FIFA’s go-to volunteers, his most recent invite being to the Women’s World Cup scheduled for Australia & New Zealand this July.

The Voice’s LEUNGO MOKGWATHI caught up with the sports fanatic to learn a bit more about his fascinating journey as well as his other endeavors, which include a weekly slot on radio.

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Who is Harry Koata?

Harry Koata is a sportsman, volunteer, music fanatic and radio personality from Molalatau, born in Francistown and raised in Lobatse.

Where did your sports journey start?

I started playing football from primary school all the way to high school.

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I briefly played for Sebele United in 1984 and 1985 under the mentorship of the late Major David Bright – May His Soul Rest In Peace.

I then played for Lobatse Stars until I retired early due to a persistent knee injury.

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I still play social football for Skom Boys Social Club, banging in those classic goals week in week out.

And before you started scoring screamers on a Sunday, which teams did you work with and what were your roles?

I have been an administrator and consultant for Mogoditshane Fighters, Notwane, Masitaoka, VTM FC and Double Action Women’s Football teams.

I was responsible for daily administrative issues such as strategizing, planning, athlete welfare, conflict resolution and general guidance.

Your time in football includes a long history of volunteering at the pinnacle of the beautiful game: the FIFA World Cup – how did that come about?

I first applied to volunteer my services at the FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010 and was successful.

I was initially based at Royal Bafokeng Sports Complex in Rustenburg but was later moved to FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.

When Brazil was preparing to host the FIFA World Cup in 2014, I received an invitation from their Local Organising Committee (LOC) to join them on their assignment, and I obliged.

I also received an invitation to grace the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018, but for personal reasons, I declined to be part of that team.

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 also invited me to be part of the workforce in Doha and I did not waste any time in working with them.

What was it like?

Working for an organisation such as FIFA is a milestone for any person who loves and cherishes sport.

The experience, expertise and knowledge that one derives from these events are immense.

What does it take for one to become a FIFA World Cup Volunteer?

Experience. One needs to have volunteered in several events locally, regionally and intercontinental competitions to get the nod.

I walked this path before I first tried my luck with FIFA in 2010.

Does FIFA cover the transport, accommodation and meals for volunteers?

FIFA only provides meals and transport when you are on duty, but the flights and accommodation are taken care of by the volunteer who wishes to take part in the experience.

So where did you get the funds to volunteer over the years?

I always try my best to save as much funds as possible to cover all these expenses, but sometimes it proves to be a challenge to fulfil this one hundred percent.

The Botswana government, through MYSC, brought me a return air ticket to Qatar for the 2002 World Cup.

I have recently been asked by FIFA Women World Cup Australia & New Zealand to be part of their workforce from July 20th through August 20th 2023 but do not have funds to go and serve.

I am, however, hopeful that I will get sponsors for this assignment.

What exactly are your roles and responsibilities as a World Cup volunteer?

I have performed almost all the roles on different assessments.

In South Africa, I did Risk Assessment and Accreditation, Brazil I was responsible for Protocol, Hospitality and Welfare of all FIFA commercial partners.

In Qatar my main role as a Project Officer involved security risk assessment, marketing, competitions (on and off the field of play) and volunteer welfare.

Very impressive! Is it solely football or have you volunteered at any other international events?

I was involved in the COSAFA Metropolitan Under19, AUSC Region 5 (Gaborone 2014) Games, CUCSA Games 2018, UFAK Karate Championship as well as COSAFA (men and women since 2019 to date).

Travelling the world to help out at major sporting events sounds exciting but working in a foreign land must come with its challenges?

Throughout my travels, I have never encountered serious challenges, except language barriers.

When I was in Brazil, I had trouble understanding Portuguese but my experience of travelling around the world on numerous occasions has taught me to be adaptive wherever I go.

You’ve experienced both the local and international sports fraternities, what notable differences have you observed between the two?

The level of professionalism in international sports events is miles ahead of ours, more especially in terms of commitment, discipline, transparency and involvement of local communities.

Friendship is not used as a yardstick to reward and favour those within your circle.

But I must mention that Botswana is one of the few countries in the region with the ability to host world class events.

Any recommendations for how our local football can be improved?

You need administrators and strategists who have the sport in their DNA and not people who come on board to drive their personal agendas and build their profiles at the detriment of the game of football.

Sometimes I wish our Government could intervene and revamp (clean up) 90 percent of our sport codes, although there are risks of sanctions from international sports bodies.

Moving away from sport, I understand you have a record number of blood donations? Tell us about that!

I did my first blood donation in 1982 whilst in high school as a personal trial, and I have never looked back since then.

To date, I have done over 124 full blood donations and 31 apheresis (extraction of platelets and plasma).

Why the fascination with donating blood?

To save lives. It pains me to hear and see that fellow human beings sometimes die due to lack of blood when billions of litres of blood is within our bodies.

I encourage people who are able, to donate blood as much as they can.

What else do you do besides volunteering in sports and giving blood?

I love music, especially jazz.

I manage one of the best jazz maestros to come out of BW, Lister Boleseng.

I’m also a radio presenter with Duma FM, currently hosting Motlapele every Saturday morning.

As a family man, how supportive is your family in your cause, which I can imagine takes you away from them a lot?

I have a tolerant family and caring wife in Regina Koata.

She has been my pillar of strength since we met 26 years ago, and has been very supportive all these years.

My son Nathan and daughter Moesha were actually raised by her since I spend the bulk of my time volunteering my services for free throughout the globe.

What are you currently working on?

A book. A very inspirational and insightful piece of work that should hit the shelves in less than three months.

This is for all those aspiring to go the route of serving other people for free (not only sports) for the love of making an impact on mankind.

Finally, thank God it’s Friday, what will you be up to this weekend?

I will be spending some time with my family after missing out on Father’s Day due to community service assignments in Paje and Serowe.

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