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Chess heroines rise above the odds

Portia Mlilo

-Teen champs defy odds to represent the country

-BNSC too broke to sponsor chess players

Determined Junior National Chess team members, Woman Fide Master (WFM) Naledi Marape and Woman Candidate Master (WCM) Natalie Banda, have refused to let broke Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC) deter them from representing the country in the prestigious Africa Chess Championship.

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Marape (15) and Banda (14) will from next week, May 17th-28th represent Botswana in the Africa Individual Championships to be held in Lilongwe, Malawi, after their parents dug deep into their pockets to raise the much needed P35 000 for each player to cover flight ticket, accommodation, registration fee and Covid-19 test expenses.

In the build-up to the championship, Botswana Chess Federation (BCF) had hoped to send at least eight players, but their hopes were shattered when BNSC announced that they were unable to fund the trip, citing financial constraints.

Disappointed and dejected, Marape told Voice Sports, she broke the sad news to her parents who did not think twice about sponsoring her trip and making the young champ’s dream come true.

Since both girls are too young to travel alone, they will be under the care of Marape’s mother and both sets of parents have contributed towards her travel costs.

Marape who became the youngest Motswana to attain the WFM title, last weekend won a bronze medal for team Botswana in the Africa Zone 4.5 online Chess World Cup Pre-qualifiers.

She attained the WFM tittle at the age of 11 in 2017 after performing exceptionally at the African Schools Individual Chess Championships, held in Zimbabwe.

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Enlivened at the prospect of once again flying the national flag high at the continental showpiece, Marape says she is well prepared for the event and aiming to be Africa Champion.

“Participating in this event is very important because it is a qualifier for the FIDE World Cup which will be held at Sochi in Russia from July 10th to August 6th. I am expecting a tough competition from other countries but I am ready. I will be facing Grand Masters who are well sponsored, unlike me who did not even make it to the training camp,” she said.

Naledi’s father Dr Marape Marape said he tried to source sponsorship for her daughter but failed as most companies and individuals have been affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.

He said he still doesn’t understand BNSC’s funding model because national sports associations that are not doing well get more grants.

Dr Marape said this is a big event that he could not let his daughter miss.

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“She was so devastated and I will do all I can to support my daughter in her sport development because she is doing it with passion. I wonder what sporting codes like Chess, Karate, Boxing and Athletics which bring medals from major competitions should do to get the support enjoyed by our whipping boys in football,” he said in veiled reference to the recent P650 000 pledge made by government to the national soccer team before they crashed out of the AFCON 2022 campaign.

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