It is a little under a year since 35-year-old Boineelo Hardy was voted in as the Botswana Basketball Association’s (BBA) newest President.
The former national team captain, who retired from competitive action back in 2006, pledged to revive the ailing sport, promising wholesale changes that would transform basketball in Botswana.
Now, on the eve of her one-year anniversary in the BBA hot seat, Voice reporter Portia Ngwako-Mlilo sat down with Hardy to discuss her time as Madame President to date.
Top of the agenda was last month’s Zone VI Club Championships Preliminaries, which were held in the country for the first time.
Organised by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), the regional tournament included 24 teams – 12 men’s and 12 women’s – two each from Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Angola.
Q. How did Botswana qualify to host the Zone VI Club Championships?
A. The past executive is the one that showed interest in hosting these games.
Previously, the games had only been hosted by Mozambique and Angola – the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) has always encouraged other countries to host.
BBA submitted its request and it was approved that we host this year’s championship.
Q. The games were launched in Lobatse before promptly being moved to Gaborone – why the change in venue?
A. It was a logistical problem.
We originally decided to take the games to Lobatse because we couldn’t afford what was in Gaborone, in terms of venue and a standard that met FIBA requirements.
We had sent them a list of venues around Gaborone and they were not happy with them. Lobatse was the next best option.
The town council was happy to host us because it was during the preparations for Lobatse 120 anniversary.
We had negotiated with one of the hotels for accommodation; unfortunately they changed their mind at the last minute and transport costs from Gaborone were high.
We then decided to just do the launch in Lobatse and move the games to University of Botswana.
Q. How did Botswana benefit from this event?
A. We have benefited in many ways. As an association we learnt hard and painful, as well as positive lessons.
Going forward we are in a stronger position to host big events.
Technically, FIBA was happy with the facilities and the games started on time.
Games of this magnitude, which have been sanctioned by FIBA through FIBA Africa, increase teams and technical rankings for a country.
Countries that host such games receive more support and assistance from FIBA, which will benefit the development of basketball in Botswana greatly.
Big and small businesses benefited from these championships in terms of accommodation, transport, food and much more.
Q. Local teams were routinely hammered in their matches, losing most by an embarrassingly big margin! Were the teams under-prepared?
A. It was not a big surprise because we are amateurs and were up against professionals.
Our players play basketball part time while in other countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Angola it’s a profession.
FIBA is going to bring a coach that will train coaches and players.
He will also help in our grassroots development – I believe it will help improve our play.
I am confident we will see a big difference in our league because our teams have learnt a lot from these professional players.
Q. Did any local players impress?
A. I had a few conversations with Mozambique and Angola team officials talking about Dolphin Team’s male players.
They were particularly impressed by the performances of two of Dolphin’s players but I still have to find out from their coach if they contacted him after the games.
Q. You have been BBA President for almost a year now. How would you describe your time in office so far?
A. This has been the most eye-opening experience of my life.
Sports administration for me is a new thing all together.
Botswana National Olympic Committee (BNOC) is training me and I have already done certificate in Sports Administration and I am now doing an advanced diploma.
It is a great thing that BNOC is empowering me. I never realised there is a need for leadership training.
When I stood for elections, my idea was that basketball needs to grow and shape up.
We are one of the top four commercial sports in the world and it should reflect in our country.
Q. What does your administration hope to improve?
A. There is a lot. To this day I do not know how many players I have in the country.
What we have done successfully so far is to get our teams to submit their returns at registrar of societies, which did not happen in the past.
We are cleaning up and trying to get things into order.
We need to have our records in order so that our job becomes easier when looking for sponsors or doing audit.
Q. When elected you promised to build more basketball courts; how’s that going?
A. We have a bit of a challenge in terms of piece of land that we want to develop.
When you think about the just-ended championships, we spent a lot to pay for a facility for seven days and the money was enough to build our own.
I will not rest until we have our own facilities!
We already have a partner who wants to help in the development.
I am actively pursuing it.
Q. What are the major challenges of running basketball in this country?
A. Basketball facilities are a major challenge; I get numerous calls from teachers saying players are training in dusty grounds.
UB courts are being refurbished and our league is going to suffer in terms of a venue.
I spoke to teams that they should embark on a programme of adopting schools which have courts, train students and get to use their facilities.
We also lose a lot of athletes after high school.
We have 32 high schools playing basketball but we have ten players or less joining the league.
We also don’t have a league sponsor and are sweating to get one.
If you package your needs very well to prospective sponsors you will get a deal.
We will be working very hard to package our product so that it is appealing to the sponsors going forward
Q. In recent times, there has been a slight increase in female participation in sport in Botswana – does that apply to basketball as well?
A. In basketball we are stagnant. In 2001 when I was playing we started the women’s league with four teams – today, 16 years later, the league has five teams.
Our players from school drop out of basketball when they start working.
I think what is needed is a Women’s Basketball Commission, to run the league separate from the men’s.
UB Basketball team manager, Thandi Tumelo will spearhead this and I believe next year it will be up and running.
Q. You once talked about making local basketball profitable – how do you intend to make that possible?
A. We want to make the league an appealing product.
My vision is to have it as a separate entity and we focus on development programmes and national teams.
We want the league to have its own administration and office to make it profitable.
Having facilities can also help to generate income from gate takings during league games.
Basketball is a fashionable sport so we can make money from selling our merchandise.
We met with local suppliers to design a replica shirt and sell it.
Q. As a mother and married woman, how do you balance sports, study, work and family?
A. I do this sports volunteerism during my extra hours, which used to go to my family.
What I have learnt is that you need to have a strict time plan and stick to it.
Maintaining your balance is also important.
Most of the time it involves sleepless nights because I do basketball work after 9pm.
Very few treat volunteerism with the respect it deserves and needs.
As a leader it is a huge challenge, you end up pushing people or doing all the work yourself.
It is a thankless calling – just ask Tebogo Lebotse Sebego!
Q. Thank God it’s Friday, what do you have planned for the weekend?
A. I will be attending class for my sports administration course.