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Breaking new ground

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Basadi-Akoonyatse

TAKING CARE OF A MEN’S GAME

Football, the world’s most beautiful game as they call it is a sport largely dominated by men on and off the field with very few women in the picture except as supporters. Bringing it closer to home where it is also the same scenario, Basadi Akoonyatse has broken new ground by becoming the first woman to become Vice President of Botswana Football Association (BFA), Administration. Her appointment means she will be involved in all matters concerning the sport code and thus her voice must count. But does she feel intimidated or undermined in this male dominated field, read on to find out as she opens up to Voice Reporter Archie Mokoka

Q. Football is viewed by many as a men’s game and administered by men, how did you land this job?

A.
After graduating with Masters in Sports Physiotherapy from the University of South Australia in 2008 I volunteered as a sports physiotherapist for BFA. That same year, I eventually became chairperson of BFA’s medical committee for two terms until 2012 when I successfully stood for National Executive Committee position. When the position of VP Admin fell vacant, I showed interest and as they say, the rest is history.

Q. You must have worked as a physiotherapist before joining BFA?

A. Yes, I have been a physiotherapist in the civil service for close to 20 years and I am currently the head of physiotherapy department in Mahalapye Hospital. I must also mention that in December 2013 to August 2014 I was seconded to the Ministry of Youth Sports and Culture and served as a Medical Manager at the second African Youth Games. At the end of the games I moved back to Mahalapye.

Q. Have you always loved football?

A. I’ve always loved football and boxing but when I decided to volunteer I chose football. Styles Ntshinogang was the BFA Chief Executive Officer then and when I approached him with an offer to volunteer, he was excited.

Q. How was it though working with men?

A.
It was tough and I was intimidated but Styles contributed a lot towards encouraging me. Also the fact that I was coming from a professional background proved to be a challenge as the coach was everything including being in charge of medical issues. However pressure from FIFA and CAF for the association to have a medical structure to look into players’ health changed all that and those who didn’t understand my presence started warming up. At some point I was able to attend FIFA and CAF medical conferences and the General Assembly. Before I became an executive member I had already attended three meetings and no one else has achieved that. I was lucky. In 2010, just before the World Cup, I wrote a paper on the role of the health profession in football and won a FIFA award. I got very motivated. I have also been awarded by BNSC in recognition of my contribution to sports health.

Q. You are one busy woman…

A.
Yes. I was part of the local organizing committee for both Olympics and Commonwealth Games for a long time. I was also a physiotherapist for Botswana Olympics team in 2008. In 2010 I went to India with the Commonwealth team and to Singapore with the Olympics team as acting head of delegation.
I was General Team Manager and Physiotherapist at the first African Youth Games in Morocco. I am also on the National Advisory Committee on Anti-doping. Junior Chambers International nominated me among the top 30 women for ‘most influential young person in the whole world’ in 2010.
I served in the CAF medical committee from 2012 to 2015 and currently I’m CAF Match Commissioner and I was supposed to officiate in Zambia on January 23 for the ladies’ team world cup qualifiers but the game was cancelled.

Q.Interesting, what inspires you to do all these?

A.
You do one thing and you face challenges but you get motivated. I have an urge to always do something better and greater. I ask myself; ‘what can I do better next time’, and that’s what keeps me moving.

Q. And what are some of the challenges you are talking of?

A.
Men have no confidence in women. One has to convince them and prove she is equally capable. The other challenge is pressure from the media and the public, which can drive you to panic. As women we are always asked about kids as if to say we should be looking after them instead of working, men are not asked such questions.

Q. What can you say about the state of football in Botswana?

A.
There is a lot of potential for growth but the challenge is fear to move out of comfort zone. For change to come, we can’t operate the same way. Clubs need to be adventurous. For instance; why rotate the same coaches over and over? Why not find new coaches out there? Why do we want someone with a name already? Sponsors and funders also need to come to terms with the fact that they are not experts. We have a long way to go and it’s still challenging especially for women. I was lucky I came with a lot of exposure.

Q. What about your family? Do they get a share of you?

A.
I do get busy but I always have room for my kids. I’m a single mother of two girls and a boy. They come first. There’s always time for everything and I have never felt like I’m not giving them enough time.

Q. What about when you have to go away?

A.
They know that they share me with sports and other things and they are always interested in what I do. You might be surprised that they know more about anti-doping than some sports people. We’ve made this part of us, but when one of my children has an exam I stay put.

Q. How do you unwind?

A.
I am a Christian and do some work in the Church.

Q. Where do you go for holidays?

A. I’m aviophobic so we go where we can drive. Driving to Bobonong which is my home village is like a holiday itself. I also like Kasane but I’m so scared of animals I can’t even keep a pet. My dream destination, however, is Mauritius. The food is amazing, the people are great and there are beautiful flowers.

Q. What are you up to this weekend?

A. I was supposed to be a match commissioner in Zambia but the game was cancelled so will be attending the BFA NEC meeting and Anti doping meeting in Gaborone.