Shaping netball’s future

Portia Mlilo
A voice for world netball

In a big boost to local netball, the game’s governing body, World Netball, recently selected national team captain, Francinah Eyman to be part of the Voice of the Athlete Working Group.

The 28-year-old is the sole African representative on the ten-woman team tasked with giving the sport a global facelift.

For the Draaihoek-born netballer, it marks a new high in a journey that began 15 years ago, when she first took up the sport as an enthusiastic teenager.

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Even at 13 years old, Eyman’s instinct and feel for the game made her a natural in defence.

She has since gone on to shine in both the Goal Keeper and Goal Defence positions, representing Botswana proudly on the international scene.

As well as her exploits on the court, the sports mad Eyman is a founding member of a network called Botswana Youth in Sport, an organisation that links up-and-coming local athletes together.

The role model, who works as a Sports Development Admin Officer for BNSC, is part of the sporting body’s Botswana Sport Heroes Mentorship initiative set up to mentor and guide young talent.

The Voice’s Portia Mlilo caught up with this impressive young woman to talk all things netball, starting with her exciting international assignment.

Congratulations on your selection for the Voice of the Athlete Working Group, how does it feel?

This is amazing and I am super excited. World Netball, formally known as the International Netball Federation, as part of the rebranding exercise, decided to embark on a journey to be inclusive.

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One of the principles in their strategic plan is governance and they decided to include athletes in shaping the direction of netball.

This is meant for athletes to have a voice in the sport.

This is an opportunity for my growth as an athlete and to represent my country and Africa.

I will also learn, collaborate and share ideas with those who have been part of other high structures.

What criteria were used for your selection?

World Netball made a call for applications from athletes across the world within their affiliates.

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I submitted my application and motivational letter endorsed by Botswana Netball Association (BONA).

They wanted athletes who have played in the international space for three or more years.

That is how I got to be selected.

I am the only African in a team of ten girls who are going to be part of this working group.

How will this benefit BONA and netball players?

BONA will benefit greatly.

We are going to form an athletes’ commission which will then ensure that the needs of athletes are met and recognised by World Netball.

I believe that whatever comes from netball should cascade down to BONA then to players.

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The commission is pivotal because it is an advocacy arm of our netball that will enable players’ interests to be represented concisely.

World Netball will be doing policies working with the most affected stakeholders.

What is the group’s mandate?

Our mandate is to come up with a framework or a structure in the form of an athletes’ commission.

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It will become an advocacy arm of World Netball for the athletes to ensure that views, needs of athletes are at their core.

We are going to work closely together to come up with this framework of how it will function, all the modalities, and present recommendations to the board.

We are going to do this for the next six months with the members of the secretariat and board members.

Stepping back in time, what made you join netball?

I started playing netball when I was at Lesedi Primary School.

I used to accompany my cousin to the grounds when she went for netball practice and that is how I was hooked – the rest is history as they say.

The beauty of netball is that we are a family of sisterhood because it is a team sport.

There is some level of cohesion that prevails amongst the team.

You cannot do anything in isolation.

A Goal Keeper needs Goal Defender to assist, block opponents from scoring, and Goal Shooters to score.

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I cannot defend and goal shoot.

It allows you to be selfless and open-minded.

Shaping netball's future
LEADING THE PACK: Eyman during National games

What are some of your greatest achievements on the court?

It has always been my dream to represent the country in international competitions.

My breakthrough was in 2009 when I played World Youth Netball Championships in the Cook Islands.

Another achievement was when I was allowed to lead the national team.

It shows that the coach trusted me enough to be a leader.

I really treasure the opportunity to don the blue, black, and white because I know it does not come easily.

You have to earn it and I earned my stripes!

On the other end of the scale, what low points have you faced in your career?

My lowest moment was in 2019 when I sustained an injury and missed a very challenging tournament we had in Singapore.

The team was trimmed down to eight but I was happy the girls were able to soldier on and show great character.

The other moment was when we could not qualify for the 2015 Netball World Cup which was held in Australia.

What is the most difficult thing about being an athlete in Botswana?

Our sport is still at an amateur level.

The infrastructure available is still at a very low standard.

Netball is an indoor sport but we play it outdoors.

When we go to international competitions, it calls for us to adjust very quickly.

It is not easy for all of us.

I believe there is still a lot to be done to improve our sport in terms of making it attractive to young ones.

Thanks to elite athletes who are doing great despite all these challenges so all hope is not lost.

Tell us a bit about Botswana Youth in Sport?

It is an initiative meant for capacity building, skills transfer, and knowledge sharing.

There are a lot of athletes who have great potential even outside sport and they do not know where to start.

The majority of them lack mentorship so we formed it to fill in that gap.

What makes a great athlete?

Someone who is holistically available for sport both in and out of the field.

Sports people are unique to share their gifts with the world.

You have to invest thoroughly in yourself – in your mindset, physical and spiritual wellbeing.

You must recognise yourself as a brand that can inspire up-and-coming athletes and the public.

Athletes set records and for one to break them you have to be inspired to double your efforts to reach that level.

A great athlete should have resilience, integrity and be disciplined in all they do.

How has Covid-19 affected your plans?

We are all affected.

Having not been active for a year and a half will affect our performance.

It has paused my plans to grow my sports career.

World Cup is in 2023 and we need to start preparing.

Numbers of Covid cases and fatalities show no signs of stopping any time soon; do you think Botswana is ready for the return of sports?

We can never be ready for the return of sport in these Covid times.

It is hitting hard every minute and that’s the unfortunate thing.

I think the key thing is to be able to derive a model that will work best for athletes and sports federations.

It is tricky and needs caution because we are talking about people’s lives here.

We have seen so many fatalities so it is not an easy decision to make.

Away from netball, who is Francinah?

I am very ambitious. I like having fun, indoor games, and travelling.

I love reading at least two books in a month and I do online short courses to keep my mind active.

Who is your inspiration?

In every single area of my life, there is someone that will have an impact.

I can’t point out at anyone specifically even in sport.

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

Saturday I will be working.

On Sunday I am going to church.

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