The Gaborone International Meet is the only international track and field competition hosted in Botswana. It is organised annually by the Sports View Runners Club and is aimed at providing a platform for upcoming and elite athletes to showcase their talent as well as prepare and qualify for international competitions such as the World Championships, Olympics, Commonwealth Games and the All Africa Games. This year I was determined to attend with the kids especially as it would be our last chance to see national treasure Isaac Makwala as he nears retirement. So you can imagine my disappointment to arrive to a nearly empty stadium. Aside from the Grand Stand, there were hardly any spectators. If I was disappointed, I can only imagine how the athletes felt. As I sat there, I knew I had use this platform to say something in the hope that sharing my experience encourages you all to more actively support our national athletes.
Five Reasons To Take Your Family To The Stadium
1/ Fun For The Whole Family! When I told the kids we were going to the Stadium, I was met with a whining, “Isn’t it showing on TV?” “Yes, it is…” I said, “We’re going to the Stadium.” But as we drove up, I could see a shift in their mood. We arrived around 15:30 and joined the short queue at the Ticket Sales window. We were surprised to learn the kids could get in for free. We bought the P50 tickets for the normal stand and then walked quite a distance to our entrance gate.
We were rushing so we could make it on time for Isaac Makwala’s 200m race which was in a few minutes. The kids sat down cautiously. I could see they had no idea what to expect. But as people cheered for the athletes, they loosened up and joined the fun. They were intrigued as I explained some of the rules such as having to be quiet when the athletes were in the starting blocks. I pointed out the athletes I recognised, mentioning some of their accolades. They were especially impressed by the Olympic medallists from here and neighbouring countries. Just being there, teaching them, showing them was such a beautifully bonding experience.
2/ To Support Our National Athletes. Cheering for athletes behind a screen is just not the same as doing it in person. We were close to the tunnel where the athletes emerged from so many of them ran past us on their way to the start. It was great seeing the different personalities – some nervous, some relaxed, and others extremely focused. When Isaac Makwala came out, he did so with his trademark arm in the air to rousing cheers from the small crowd. This being his final run in Gaborone, you could feel the emotion in the stadium – it was that tangible.
Many athletes have complained that they are not well-supported by the authorities in charge. Maybe as ordinary citizens there is a limit to what we can change at that level, but we can certainly make it our duty to fill the stadiums. Someone like Isaac Makwala has brought so much joy to us over the years – who can forget his solo run on a wet track at the IAAF World Championships in London 2017? Or the pride we felt as a nation when he led the 4x400m Relay Team to a Bronze in Tokyo? So, for him to do a farewell run in a near-empty national stadium is not okay. We can and should do better by our athletes. Every time they show up, they do so for us – maybe it’s time we showed up for them.
3/ To Be Inspired. Had we come a few minutes earlier we would have seen Letsile Tebogo set a new world U20 100m record of 9.96. At 18, he is only the second runner in history to break the 10-sec barrier in the Under-20 age class. But even if we missed that, the kids’ excitement grew with each race. They cheered louder with each round. They scrambled up the stands to get a better vantage point or they stood by the wall to be as close as possible to the athletes.
When Leungo Scotch ran for his 400m win, they screamed so hard as they competed with the rain pelting down, until they lost their voices.
4/ For The Fresh Air. How often do we find ourselves stuck indoors fighting with the kids about how much screen time they can have? Just being out in the fresh air was beautiful. When it started pouring down, I thought the kids would start sulking but they sat or stood happily under their umbrellas until the rain got so heavy we had to make a beeline for the exit! They were laughing about the whole thing with such excitement and even expressed disappointment for us not staying to the end to watch the relays.
5/ It’s Cheap! It cost us P50 each for decent seats – and as I said earlier, the kids got in for free. All we did was throw some snacks in our little bag and Ditiro and I grabbed some cappuccinos from the outdoor kiosk in the nearby Main Mall.
This was such a lovely experience for us. Watching sport from the couch at home has many perks -the awesome replays with different angles, helpful analysis and commentary, and no rain!… but it was so fun being there – in the open air, away from screens, cheering our athletes until we were hoarse and bidding farewell to one of our greats. As a nation, we are incredibly passionate on social media but let’s take that passion to the Stadium. We owe it to our athletes as well as to our children who will never forget the different sights and sounds of the Stadium.
Have you taken your kids to the stadium? What do you love most about going to the stadium? What other ways we can support our athletes?