During the Dutch Junior Open 2022, we met Koketso Ntshebe, who was assigned as the head coach of Botswana’s youth players. While waiting for the transfer bus to the Frans Otten Stadium in Amsterdam, Koketso and Rogier van Veen, an employee of the Dutch Squash Federation, got into a conversation about the tournament that ended up in a highly inspirational conversation.
The Batswana coach said that they - unlike most countries and players - weren’t participating to win the prestigious tournament just yet under the current circumstances but that the tournament was all about ‘Botho’, inclusiveness and awareness, as are the core values of the Botswana Squash Rackets Association.
The concept of Botho is commonly expressed as “Motho ke Motho ka Batho”, meaning ‘I am because you are.’ and typifies the spirit the Batswana team brought to the tournament. The African federation has fought hard over the years to encourage players to play squash in one of the scarce facilities and to provide these grassroots players and other young elite talents with the resources to play squash as it’s supposed to be. Due to a minimal budget, only a few Batswana can participate in tournaments in countries outside of Africa at any given time. When they do, the tournament outcome is subordinate. Koketso elaborates: ‘’The best we have done was a quarter-final appearance in 2019, but that was because of the continual participation in global events until covid set us back to this current situation.’’
For the Batswana team, there are multiple reasons to participate in events like the Dutch Junior Open. Koketso: ‘’It’s more than a game for us. However, we come from a part of the world which is not necessarily a stone throw away, it takes more time for our athletes to get used to other people and cultures because we don’t see so many cultures every day. We help our athletes work on their mindset by facilitating multicultural events like the Dutch Junior Open continuously. Once that comes right, winning will follow rapidly.’’
The Dutch Junior Open hosts over 550 participants from different countries. It allows the players from Botswana, and so other countries, to have an insight into what being in India, the US, Japan, or other European countries like Croatia might look and feel like and forms the tournament a school of life for the players. Within this school, talented players learn that skin colour doesn’t matter and that they are just as equal as a kid from a western country. That you, as a player, but also as a human, haven’t got to be scared when you touch a player with different skin colour and can enjoy life and so our passion for the sports of squash together. Koketso adds: ‘’For the players, it’s a perfect global school. For us, these are truly valuable moments that add so much growth to them as an individual’’.
Next to that, the African federation is giving the youngsters an opportunity to live for, to prove that everything you aim for can be reached if you’re willing to excel every day, to be better than the day you were before and be disciplined in what you do over and over again. The lessons learned in this school of life are taken back to Botswana and spread by youngsters and staff all over the country. The message is to spread joy, but mostly to give hope and talk about inclusiveness, that Batswana are just as equal.
The participation and spirit of the Botswana team inspired the squash Federation, Rogier van Veen: “On a daily basis, we’re all working towards our own goals and ambitions and overcoming the challenges ahead. The story above places these challenges in perspective and teaches us to mirror ourselves as federations, coaches, players, parents, and relatives. Tournaments like the Dutch Junior Open, with over 550 players, are mainly focused on the winners, but for us, the real winner of the Dutch Junior Open 2022 is Botswana. From now on, ‘Botho’ will also be in our values to inspire the next generation.”
Tom Lucas, director of the Dutch Squash Federation, believes that every Western country should embrace the happiness and joy the African players bring to the tournament. “The elated spirit of Koketso Ntshebe and his players were a lesson in life for us as well. Next year we hope to bring more countries and cultures together in the ‘school of life'. Therefore, on this World Squash Day, we start a ‘Botho’ initiative with our partner Dunlop to hand over squash rackets and apparel worth over €6.000,- to the Botswana Squash Rackets Association. We hope this message will find other federations, communities and partners who will do the same for countries who need the most to encourage them in their mission and overcome their local challenges. Because we're all the same at the end of the day.”