Botswana has a young and active population eager to participate in an amazingly wide range of sports and activities.
This natural love of sport and healthy living is also evident in moves to further develop Botswana as a destination – and it’s already working. The local corporate sector and the government have both given their financial backing and blessing to promoting sports events – not only for local people but to attract sportsmen and women from abroad to take part and to raise Botswana’s international profile. Many of these are annual events that have carved themselves a regular slot in the local sporting calendar. Botswana has also sought to attract and host big, one-off, continent-wide events. Arguably the biggest such sporting event occurred when some 2,500 athletes together with their coaches and officials travelled to Gaborone from 54 nations across Africa in May 2014 to attend the 2nd African Youth Games. The event, comprising 20 sports, was held at 13 locations around the city including the 10,000-seat University Stadium and the 22,000-seat National Stadium.
Gaborone showed it could provide not only the superb sporting facilities but also the necessary infrastructure – in terms of hotel accommodation and a range of pre- and post-stay attractions – to handle such a large influx of visitors.
A sporting destination
Hosting the African Youth Games in 2014 was a clear indication of Botswana’s attractiveness as a location for major events; but it’s far from being the only example of the nation’s quest to become a major sporting destination.
Elsewhere, it has been individual sports events that have flown the flag for Botswana.
For example, the annual Botswana Open attracts players from across southern Africa to Gaborone Golf Club for this pres- tigious tournament; the Botswana Ladies Open is held on the same par-72 course; and the club was used as the golf venue for the Youth Games. Meanwhile, the Phakalane Golf Estate Hotel offers golfers from abroad the opportunity to stay close to Gaborone and play its 18-hole course.
Botswana’s national football team, the Zebras, play home matches at the National Stadium and the qualifying games for the Africa Cup of Nations regularly draw fans to Gaborone to cheer on their team – again, tourism in a different form.
The 1,000 km Toyota Kalahari Desert Race, which is held in June, attracts in excess of 500 entrants from many of the world’s leading car and motorcycle manufacturers as well as a mass of spectators congregating at 19 designated viewing points. In fact, over 100,000 fans, not all of them local, flock to witness this race as it crosses some of the toughest terrain on earth. The race starts and finishes at Jwaneng, about 160 km west of Gaborone. The winners of the Desert Race and the invitation motorbike event both receive free entries to the 2016 Dakar Rally in South America.
There are about 20 teams, including one women’s team, affiliated to the Botswana Rugby Union and the very nature and tradition of this sport involves regular annual tours in which clubs host visiting XVs from South Africa and beyond. The national team, The Vultures, also play home international matches, which in turn bring players, officials and fans to Gaborone.
The Diacore Gaborone Marathon, held in March each year, features a series of runs starting and finishing at The Grand Palm Resort. In addition to the main 42 km event, there are 21 km, 10 km and 4 km fun runs. This is not just for local residents, as the race attracts over 4,000 runners from some 40 countries. Other events include the BeMobile Francistown Marathon and the Mascom Phikwe Marathon, while Maun, too, held its first marathon in 2015.
So there is much more to Botswana than superb game viewing and expertly run wildlife reserves. It is a vibrant country that attracts and welcomes sportsmen and women from across the globe.