COVID-19 set to bury careers

Retention challenges: Most codes like netball were struggling to play domestic competitions even before COVID-19 PIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO

As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic rages on, with essentially no reprieve in sight, local sport faces the danger of losing talent, as interest wanes, observes Staff Writer MQONDISI DUBE

A pandemic first detected in far-flung Wuhan has had a devastating impact, turning life upside down on the sport field.

Questions linger; what will happen on the day fans return to stadiums, and the first whistle is blown?

It appears a long way off before the normal sport life returns, and by that time, some athletes could have left the game for good.

Not the best way for a swansong, but COVID-19 could blow the final whistle for some careers.

In cash-rich nations, the impact has been cushioned, as athletes have returned to the pitch, but to yawning venues. The outbreak has served as a reminder of the gulf in class between sport’s haves and have-nots.

Most countries in the West and a select few in Africa have managed to return to the pitch, as the rest absorb the full wrath of the pandemic.

Elsewhere the body count is rising, as the world battles a second wave, with the future looking bleak.

While millions of bodies are carried to graveyards scattered across the globe due to the virus, scores of local sport careers are also in danger of being buried with COVID-19.

The obvious vulnerable group is the ageing athletes who are aware of the impact of delays on their careers.

Gyms and most sports facilities were closed for much of the time since sport activities were suspended in March. After a stellar career, Amantle Montsho is one of the most illustrious athletes standing closer to the exit door. Reports indicate that she was keen to retire but was persuaded to push on until at least after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which were due to be held this year but were pushed forward to 2021 due to COVID-19.

Isaac Makwala, although he stills has the legs and a bit of time, would also be amongst the concerned group as the pandemic rages on.

The 2018 Commonwealth Games 400m champion was in the form of his life months before COVID-19 disruptions, but was still looking to secure his berth. He had suffered a dip in form due to an injury, but remained one

Banners

of the country’s hopes for an Olympic Games berth.

Botswana’s talent conveyor belt could have delivered the best in recent years, but traditionally, talent retention has been an Achilles Heel. COVID-19 might only serve to exacerbate the situation.

Poor remuneration and a lack of professional structures have driven away dedicated young sports men and women. Most sport disciplines decry the dearth of talent, some disappear as soon as they finish school no matter how bright their future appeared to be in sport. Parents still frown upon a child who gives priority to sport as opposed to books.

They do not see much future in sport, and the child equally feels hapless at the thought of potentially dumping a six-figure salary at some air-conditioned office for the sport field. This has been a worrying trend even before COVID-19 set in. With months of inactivity, and a generally bleak outlook, some athletes would inevitably fall by the wayside.

A casual talk with some administrators paints a bleak future as, eight months after the suspension of activities, there is talk of athletes gaining ‘uncontrollable weight’ with some choosing to be inactive. “It will be an uphill battle to get all the athletes back playing. I can tell you, we have seen some of them are already overweight and it will take time to get them back in shape. Some might lose interest and quit,” a Botswana Rugby Union official said. Botswana National Sport Commission (BNSC) acting chief executive officer, Tuelo Serufho admitted the lengthy break could end careers. “Indeed it is an imminent risk. To partly mitigate it, we need to work on tailored solutions that can allow sport competitions to resume while not putting athletes at risk.  For this to happen, there has to be some level of compromise on the part of stakeholders.

Such interventions may including keeping athletes away from the families and other activities to reduce contact,” Serufho said. Eyes are on sport authorities on how they would prevent COVID-19 from sounding the death knell on some of the country’s promising careers.