Bakwadi’s journey for Karate’s Olympic Debut

Tshepiso Babusi

You wouldn’t know it by just looking at him. In fact, the calmness he radiates might throw you off completely, but Ofentse Oshima Bakwadi is a two-time Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC) Sportsman of The Year. His journey with Karate can be dated from as far back as when he was eight years old. There was gratitude in the way he shared how his brother and coach Sensei Mpho Bakwadi set him up for the sport. He understood that, that one positive influence by his brother during his childhood was responsible for shaping the trajectory of his life. Today he stands the youngest 5th Dan Black belt in Botswana. To offer clarity on the little bit of Greek I just mentioned; the Dan ranking is what is used for the advanced players in Karate, which are the Black beltsThis Dan ranking is from 1-10. Bakwadi, along with a select few other players in Botswana are 5th Dan Black belts.
When asked whether he thinks about attaining the 10th Dan he quickly interjected, “I want to go all the way”. Karate is known to teach focus and discipline, it’s no wonder his determination is unwavering twenty five years later.
Thirty-three year old Bakwadi expressed that nothing keeps him motivated than the need to see our flag hoisted up there and better yet, hearing our national anthem play.
We can go ahead and add patriotic, to the many other qualities he exhibits. When discussing the fondest memory in his Karate career, Bakwadi narrated being crowned Africa Senior Champion in 2017 beaming with pride. You could tell that for him, a championship is a testament that all the blood, sweat and tears he put into his trainings were worth it at the end.
Karate is clearly time consuming, it has to be challenging to balance work and the sport. However, Bakwadi explained that he has been fortunate enough to be in a line of work where his superiors support sport, especially a discipline sport. “Over and above that my employer is by far the biggest contributor to sport in the country”, he added. His patience has finally paid off because Karate will be making its first appearance on the Games programme at Tokyo 2020. As he has been eagerly waiting for this debut into the Olympics, he is already swamped with preparations to compete. To us, it might seem like 2020 is a lifetime away, but Bakwadi assures that considering the amount of rigorous training he has to do, it really isn’t far. A large part of his training regime involves attending training camps that are often outside the country. “There is one that’s in Japan, that I’m really looking forward to attending”, he said. While he would like to do more training camps, funding for them has always been, and still remains the biggest challenge. Entities such as Cresta hotels and Saffron restaurant, along with his family and friends, have been able to assist where they can. Bakwadi has been at the forefront of his own fundraising efforts, using his social media as a voice. He has T-shirts being sold and a fundraising dinner coming up, both of which are intended to fund training camps and qualifying tournaments. However, he expressed that the fundraising has been frustratingly slow and worries about not training to the level that would better his chances of having Botswana well represented at the 2020 Olympics. When responding to a question about how we, along with the associations or the government can rally behind him, he simply said “Just help me prepare for the qualifying tournaments, preparation is everything really.” Bakwadi is self-sufficient and has paid for his own travels for tournaments and trainings on numerous occasions. He has proven his capability over and over again, and has awards and a championship to back that up. He isn’t the type of character to say the associations are barely lifting a finger in terms of offering support no matter how apparent it is to the rest of us. The sponsorships are hard to come by because of the popularity of the sport. We are a nation that identifies with soccer and athletics. The rest of the sports fall into the cracks and a devastating amount of talent goes untapped. We must think about what message this is sending to the players as well as the younger generation. Are we really the kind of country that is okay with celebrating wins but falls back when it comes to being involved in the rigorous process of building up the players? It’s time we diversified our efforts by supporting other forms of sports that are doing well such as Karate, Softball and Netball. Nothing stifles talent more than struggling for money. We need to let the players worry only about winning and bringing those medals home, period. Not about whether they will even afford to attend at all. If we were to take sports as seriously as we should be, it would be a viable career option for many people. Other African countries are able to do it, why shouldn’t we? Bakwadi is a prime example of the people we need to rally behind, or at the very least, meet his efforts halfway. Plus, when it’s all said and done, and that flag flies high up, it is representation of each of us. Helping Bakwadi realise his Tokyo 2020 dream can be the beginning of a change that is long overdue.