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The karate kid kicking high

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The karate kid kicking high
Solomon Solly Reikeletseng

In his days as a national team karateka, Solomon Solly Reikeletseng delivered a mean chop and a destructive kick.

However, nowadays the Francistown-native wields a power of a different sort – he is at the forefront of sporting administration in the country.

The 43-year-old made history earlier this month, becoming the first Motswana voted onto The Association for International Sport for All (TAFISA) board.

Reikeletseng will serve as the association’s 2nd Vice President Africa for the next four years – considering TAFISA is a leading global sporting movement, it is a role that should boost the country’s sporting fortunes and opportunities.

The former karateka is also the chairperson of the Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC), a position he has held for six years now.

This week, the HeForShe ambassador (a solidarity movement that advocates for gender equality and women’ rights) found time in his hectic schedule to chat with Voice reporter Portia Ngwako-Mlilo.

Topics discussed included Reikeletseng’s new international responsibility as well as his on-going local mandate.

Q. Congratulations on your recent TAFISA election – how do you feel?

A. I feel very honoured, excited and challenged because I have been given the responsibility to contribute towards sport development at a global level.

I am going to learn new things and I’m ready for the challenge.

Q. Why did you stand for TAFISA elections?

A. I have served Botswana sport for some time and we have achieved a lot in terms of development but I thought it was high time we get representation at an international level.

The challenge we have is that most of the time we get compromised when there are decisions to be made at an international level.

When programmes have to be brought to Botswana funded internationally it is always difficult to access them because we do not have representation.

We needed representation, even if it was not me.

Q. Zimbabwe and South Africa had initially voiced interest in the position, why did they pull back?

A. Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa have a body and we have agreed to always corporate. If one of us wants to stand for a position, we sit down and discuss to avoid splitting of votes.

We made a decision that this time we support Botswana.

Q. How are you going to ensure that there is growth or recognition of TAFISA in Africa?

A. One of the exciting things is that TAFISA do traditional sports and in Africa we have more of them than any continent.

Sport For All programmes are many in Africa and what I have to do is to make people aware of this body.

We will also use our Minister, Thapelo Olopeng who is the chairman of Ministers of Sports, to promote this organisation at their forums with other leaders of Africa.

Q. How is your involvement going to benefit Botswana?

A. The benefits are immense: access to information, funding for our programmes and being able to promote what we do here and sell it to the global community.

TAFISA has stakeholders and big sponsors at a global level – they work with FIFA, United Nations and International Olympic Committee.

Being the Vice President representing Botswana and Africa I will be very close to them and able to sell our country.

When I was there (Seoul, South Korea where the elections were held) I met Generic Electric, which is a huge company and they want to invest in sport anywhere in the world.

Q. Returning to your local mandate, you have been BNSC chairman for 6 years now – how would you describe your journey so far?

A. It was the most difficult journey, from the beginning it was very rocky, thorny and heavy.

When I came into this position, not many had confidence in me that I would deliver.

There were so many reports and controversies; having to navigate those was the most difficult period of my life!

There were times I would even doubt myself and ask what I got myself into. By the grace of the Lord and the support of Batswana who believed in me, I was able to sail through.

Q. What sort of challenges do you face?

A. Funding for sport has not changed over the last ten years – we still receive the same amount yet we are growing and winning.

Sponsors, when they do not want to fund sport, they claim is because of in-fighting – I think that is just an excuse.

This must stop! The private sector must look for other excuses.

People fight everywhere when they have differences – even at home.

Q. What do you regard as some of your greatest achievements in BNSC office?

A. Now we have programmes that recognise our athletes even after retirement, like Hall of Fame.

The awards structure is different and includes people living with disability.

We hosted the world in Netball and Baseball and won the bid to host IWG (International Working Group on Women and Sport) Conference next year.

We won our first World medal and Olympic medal.

Q How has changing from a council to a commission affected the BNSC?

A. Council was operational, doing the work on the ground. Commission is different – we are a regulator and offer support. However, codes are supposed to run on their own.

In the long term we just have to give them their money and let them run their activities.

We have also brought in recreation sport, snooker, Morabaraba, Spin City and professional sport.

Last week we endorsed Professional Boxing and there is also horse riding.

Q. Are we on the right direction in terms of sport development?

A. I personally think Botswana has the best sport development model in the world. Sport, right from Primary School, is compulsory – it does not happen in any nation.

The only thing we lack is talent identification model.

Our athletes start very well from an early age, break national records and we do not know what happens to them, especially when they fail to progress to senior schools.

Q. Women participation in sports is a concern in Botswana – what are you doing to combat this?

A. It is a big concern. We have put systems in place – we are hosting IWG and the only thing we can do is educate.

My view is I do not subscribe to picking and plugging women in position.

Just recently there was the BNOC elections and there was a team consisting of women only and I think it was wrong.

That is not how we should address the issue because there is need for collaboration between men and women.

IWG is the mouthpiece for the girl child in sport and for me that is what matters.

Q. There were reports of an anonymous letter, written to Minister Olopeng, raising issues of maladministration against you. Your comment?

A. This is really frustrating.

There are lots of back stabbings in sports, pulling others down instead of working together for the growth of sport.

Some go to an extent of calling media and feeding them with propaganda.

There were people among the board who felt I was not supposed to be given the position and I was not bothered because I was doing what I was mandated to do.

The culprits have been washed away from sports and there will be no place for those individuals in any position within sport.

Q. Athletics is Botswana’s best performing code, don’t you think it’s time BNSC built a high performance centre?

A. I think we have not done the best we can to support athletics, yet we still find ourselves winning.

I don’t think any of us has ever stood up and said ‘let us make sure athletics is taken care of’.

The first thing we need to do is to put a structure at Botswana Athletics Association – without it we will continue winning by default!

Right now we have left BAA in the hands of volunteers. Athletics is our diamond mine – just like Debswana is not run by volunteers.

We should make sure we protect athletics with everything we have but we are failing.

Q. There has been conflict over branding at the National Stadium; how close are you to finding a resolution?

A. What solution? That stadium is going to remain the way it is. We do not want to entertain corporate wars.

It is for their own choice, whoever wants to use the stadium will do so and go elsewhere if he does not want to.

We have opened that advertising space for everybody. Just because you sponsor sport you now think you can dictate terms – we are not going to allow that!

If you want a ‘clean’ stadium, tell use, you will pay and we give you, just like Castle do for COSAFA.

Q. Your term at BNSC is coming to an end in 2019, are you interested in continuing as chairman?

A. No I will be done. I am hoping whoever takes over will serve better than me.

I am now going to focus on my business and on international collaborations.

Q. Why did you reconsider standing for Francistown South in the BDP Parliamentary elections?

A. I was very much interested but there were lots of back stabbings and some people were not honest – even those who lobbied me also wanted to stand.

Q. Thank God it’s Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?

A. Whatever this city is bringing in terms of entertainment, I am going to be part of it.

Find me in every space in Gaborone.