Punching beyond BW

Portia Mlilo

Fighting hard for boxing

Backed by a passion for boxing which dates back to her college days, Irene Ntelamo’s exploits outside the ring make for extremely impressive reading.

The Maun native’s hard-hitting achievements have long exceeded Botswana’s borders, with Ntelamo’s latest success seeing her appointed Chairperson of the Africa Boxing Confederation (AFBC) Female and Diversity Committee.

It is an organisation she knows well, named as a Board Director last year and previously serving as President of the ABFC’s Women’s Commission.

A National Amateur Boxing Referee, Ntelamo’s glittering CV includes eight years with the International Boxing Association (IBA) as an advisor.

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Locally, she sat as Secretary General (SG) of the Botswana Boxing Association (BBA) from 2009 to 2017.

Taking time out of her hectic schedule, and her day job as a Librarian, Ntelamo goes toe-to-toe with PORTIA MLILO for a tête-à-tête..

Congratulations on your exciting new appointment, how does it feel?

I feel honoured.

It means I am doing something right and I have the expertise to be given such a big role.

I am super excited about my new role and looking forward to all that comes with it.

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How did the appointment come about?

I submitted my profile as a requirement to prove my worth and qualifications.

The appointment was made after assessment to identify the best candidate for the position.

This implies that they were impressed with my profile.

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So what inspired you to become a boxing administrator?

It is my passion and the love for boxing.

I started a long way back when I joined Healer Modiradilo when we were students at Molepolole College of Education to start a boxing club.

Modiradilo was a boxer.

Olga, Ivy, Mantho and myself were assisting in the running of the club and preparing for competitions.

I them moved to train as a referee/judge in 2007 and in 2010 I was named the best referee.

I worked very hard at every assignment I was given.

At one point I was co-opted by the BBA Executive Committee as a Deputy Secretary General.

I was the only female and that became a motivation that women can be the best sports administrators.

I did not want to end there as a referee, I challenged myself to keep soaring and learning the sport and I became a Secretary General.

And now you’re punching high in Africa – what does your new role involve?

It is to oversee women boxing development and ensure there is growth and increase in women participation at all levels as athletes, administrators, coaches and referees.

I have to ensure that women are empowered and trained to improve certain skills in boxing.

How will this trickle down to benefit boxing in Botswana?

Botswana Boxing has already benefitted and still is from my previous appointment at IBA.

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BOBA has benefitted by training their coaches and referees through a programme that I had the privilege to present at on how IBA could assist Africa in its development programmes at Tokyo 2020.

At the panel discussion, I presented that for our continent to excel it is important we are assisted with equipment, have qualified coaches, administrators and referees.

Our boxers can only excel if coaches are qualified and they impart the right skills.

After the commission meetings, the IBA President approved that Africa gets funding and instructors are sent to our continent to train our coaches and referees.

BOBA now have a direct representative at the decision making level.

If they have issues they want clarification on, then they directly have somebody who will be able to relate their issues.

They also get the advice and guidance on the programmes available for their benefits.

Sounds encouraging. Earlier you mentioned the motivation you derived from being the sole female committee member – how easy or difficult is it being a leader in a male-dominated sport?

It will never be easy.

It is easy when you don’t question them but when you prove to be more than just a woman, war erupts.

Basically, in an African set-up we know men are the leaders and women follow.

Now, when you are to sit in a meeting and making decisions and prove to be more of a critical thinker and smarter, they become uncomfortable.

Having been a leader for women boxing, I stand for our rights and ensure that we are not intimidated or feel unfairly treated.

This rubs many the wrong way.

You just have to find ways of working with them and prove that you earned the position with credit and you deserve the respect.

I have served under three BOBA Presidents Tayane, Moroka and Patlakwe, who were very supportive and the current one, Gilbert Khunwane.

It’s not only some men who can doubt your leadership even women would try to pull you down.

They will pretend to be supportive and under the tables, they will ensure they sabotage you and hinder your progress.

It is challenging and you need to be resilient.

I’m here today because I proved to be tougher then the challenges I faced.

But female participation in sport as a whole is generally much lower than males. Why do you think that is?

Each sporting code has its unique problems and processes and our problems differ.

The general ones would be that women are treated as second citizens.

For anything that men compete for, women are undermined and it would not be any woman who will take the challenge.

Some of them have low self-esteem, some believe it would be disrespectful to compete with men from a culture point of view.

Sometimes the environment would be conducive to express their views, skills and interests.

In boxing it should be acknowledged the sport is unique and a combat sport and not easy.

One should have real passion before they can consider joining.

When I joined the number was insignificant but it has since grown in that we now have a female coach who even coached at international games which is something that did not exist before.

We also have more female boxers who compete at different levels and Keamogetse Kenosi qualified for the Olympics and she is the African Champion.

We also have referees numbers increasing.

Some quit because they are not getting any incentives and there is lack of motivation.

What can be done to address this?

We need to have policies that will guide those in power on issues involving women.

This will make the environment conducive for women to thrive.

We also need to have strategies to educate, make sport appealing and run professionally so that people see it as business and career opportunity.

Boxing is not about street fighting or bullying others but it is for us to make people understand and know that at boxing we value a punch and it’s not supposed to be released unnecessarily.

A punch should be calculated, targeted and purposeful.

A fist is expensive which is why you can’t hear that a boxer was involved in a street fight.

To show others it can be done, what are some of your greatest achievements as a boxing administrator?

I advocated for the formation and the launch of women boxing and it was successful.

Women boxing was launched in Lobatse in 2011.

I established Women Boxing Commission in Botswana in 2015.

I also advocated for inclusion of women in other BOBA structures apart from them being referees – as a result, Pearl Mooketsi became the first female coach.

She was recently awarded Coach of the Year at the inaugural Annual Botswana Women Sports Awards.

These are some of the achievements I’m proud of.

I contributed to the discussion that led to IBA declaring 2017 as Year of Africa, where the continent was assisted with training of coaches and referees.

What advice can you give to those keen to take up a career as a boxing administrator?

First, you need to have the love for boxing.

You need to be assertive, resilient, smart, bold and patient.

And the key to making it to the top?

You need to be smart and at times you are forced to think on your feet when facing situations that demand that you go an extra mile.

You should be ready to work with people of different characters.

Be ready to deal with ungrateful people.

Sport ga sena tanki (Sport is a thankless job).

Who is your inspiration?

My parents.

My father is late but planted in me the trait of self-discipline and dedication to what I want to achieve irrespective of whatever challenge came before me.

He was a dedicated person, especially to his job even when he was not well, he would go to work.

My mother inspires me that I can be anything I want to be.

She was a Headman of Arbitration taking that from her father.

She has leadership qualities which I picked from her.

In her life she is not afraid to speak her mind and stand her ground when she believes she is right.

And finally, Thank God It’s Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?

My birthday is next week Monday so this weekend, I will be preparing for it.

I will have to spoil myself.

My family never disappoint and I know they will definitely make a plan.

Nna ke ta ikapeela tswii ena le maronga (I will prepare myself tswii with maronga).

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