Female athletes in Botswana are not given enough support to excel in their different sporting codes, experts have said.
In a telephone interview with Business Weekly Sports, Lecturer in Sports Science at the University of Botswana, Dr Tshephang Tshube, said the challenges faced by athletes in general are compounded by specific issues encountered by female athletes. Addressing the variations across different athlete levels, Dr. Tshube said junior female athletes, particularly those in secondary school, face unique obstacles.
“Adolescence brings physical changes that may lead some girls to withdraw from sports or exert less effort due to concerns about their appearance,” he pointed out. He stressed the need for mandatory support, such as providing sanitary pads and other needs of adolescent girls, for discovering their identities and reassuring them that these challenges are temporary. Regarding senior female athletes, Dr. Tshube highlighted the pressure to succeed and the necessity for enhanced support in coaching and overall welfare.
“These athletes are particularly concerned about their well-being, training gear, and access to basic meals,” he said. “Considering existing challenges faced by athletes in general, the situation is worse for female athletes due to specific issues they encounter. “Additionally, gender role differences often require female athletes to perform household duties, potentially affecting their focus and training.”
Dr. Tshube also raised sexual harassment as a significant problem for female athletes. He said sexual harassment by coaches and fellow athletes undermine the performances of women athletes and create a hostile environment.
There is also the problematic matter of unequal pay between the genders. “While sports such as athletics and tennis strive for equal pay, disparities persist in sports like football,” Dr. Tshube said. Regarding efforts to alleviate these challenges, Dr. Tshube commended companies like the Diamond Trading Company Botswana, for making substantial strides in supporting women football.
However, he emphasised the need for proper structures for athlete development and support services, including specific initiatives for female athletes, being in place. “There is currently a lack of comprehensive support for both male and female athletes due to the absence of welfare and support service structures,” he noted. Dr. Tshube proposed establishment of a dedicated department within the Botswana National Sports Commission, and the Botswana National Olympic Committee and their affiliates for athlete support services to ensure provision of athletes with everything they need to succeed.
Careers in sports
Director of Sports Management Agency, Tsoseletso Magang, herself a former athlete, has also pointed to the general limited support for athletes, particularly in terms of welfare, that tends to be more pronounced for women because of gender bias in sports. She emphasised the educating young girls to understand the importance of being physically strong athletes and opportunities of successful careers in sports. Magang also highlighted the dearth of female athletes and administrators as role models for young girls. “Media coverage primarily focuses on male athletes, leaving young girls without proper role models,” she said.
It should not be difficult, in her view, for the government and sports bodies to promote current and former female athletes as such role models and sources of inspiration for young girls. “Cultural expectations, such as early return from training for household chores and the physical and emotional effects of menstruation discourage girls from participating in sports,” Magang asserted. She noted that this calls for educating young girls on appropriate sanitary products for training during menstruation and the significance of suitable athletic attire.