Former Botswana Badminton national team player, Tjiyapo Mokobi-Mokhosoa made history last week becoming the first-ever Motswana to receive the Badminton World Federation (BWF) Meritorious Service Award.
The award recognizes exemplary service to badminton at the national level.
For the 51-year-old Serowe-born Pilikwe native, it is the latest achievement in a life full of firsts.
20 years ago, Mokhosoa became the first female President of the Botswana Badminton Association (BBA), rising to the top post at a time when few women held meaningful roles in executive committees.
In 2011 she was elected BNOC Publicity Secretary, becoming the first woman on the BNOC Board.
During her tenure, Mokhosoa managed to defuse tensions between Botswana National Olympics Committee and Botswana National Sports Council (BNSC) and create an amicable working environment, for the benefit of sports development.
As a member of the BNOC Games Organising Committee, Mokhosoa pushed for the inclusion of women in Olympic teams.
This resulted in the selection of Amantle Montsho, through a wildcard, at the 2004 Olympics.
Mokhosoa also enjoyed success in her playing days, representing the country at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada back in 1995.
The Voice’s PORTIA MLILO caught up with this woman of many firsts in Botswana sport to discuss her recent recognition and her journey in badminton.
Congratulations on your Meritorious Award. What does this recognition mean to you?
I am happy to be honored and recognised for my contributions to the development of sports.
It’s a great feeling to know that you have made a difference in someone’s life.
This award motivates me to continue giving my best to sport.
What were the criteria used to nominate you for the award?
The Meritorious Award is for anyone who has served sports diligently for over 15 years, has been a great example to many, and has made significant changes and progress.
Sounds like you were the perfect candidate then! So, what made you join badminton?
Badminton was what I call ‘love at first sight’.
I had made an attempt at netball and softball before.
I was Eagles softball administrator at the time.
However, badminton captured my heart.
I was looking for a sport to play at UB and ended up at badminton.
I loved that it was indoor and active.
It was not a common sport at the time and this made it easy to excel and make it into the team.
My cousin, Chedza recruited me. She was a year ahead of me at university, and you know the ‘follow the big sister syndrome’.
Interestingly, she dropped out of badminton soon after while I soldiered on.
What are some of your greatest achievements as an athlete and administrator?
As an athlete, it was being part of the national team at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada.
As an administrator, being elected first woman President in 2000 and BNOC Publicity Secretary and being the first woman in the committee and also having a specific and meaningful role.
The other achievement was when BBA won the Botswana National Sports Council Team of the Year 2005 Awards and two of my athletes, Keletso and Mpiwa won BNSC elite scholarships.
Other proud moments were when Emmanuel Kgaboetsile qualified as a BWF umpire and the Men’s doubles winning a Bronze medal at the 2014 Africa Youth Games in Gaborone, Botswana.
And at the other end of the scale, what are some of your lowlights?
It is when umpires went on strike before major Games, especially during the All Africa Championship, demanding allowances and other things beyond my control.
Another one was when the national team coach killed a player and committed suicide.
I was not part of the administration at the time and I have always wondered if this would have happened if I was there.
Tell us a bit more about your Commonwealth appearance?
Competing at the Commonwealth Games was an eye-opener.
You realise that you are one of the lowest ranked players but there is so much more that you appreciate and learn.
Despite being the lowest ranked at the Games, you realise that you are better than a lot more who did not qualify.
You come back stronger and inspired to do your best at all times.
Female participation in sport, both at playing and administrative levels, is much lower than male representation. Why do you think that is?
Yes, there is less participation of women in sports leadership positions.
Most women are single mothers and prioritize family over sports.
Sports demand a lot of commitment and time, including personal resources, and this is a hindrance to many.
Society and cultural norms also question and put negative pressure on those that are trying to make a difference and become advocates and pioneers.
Abuse, especially sexual, is another reason why most women choose to stay away.
What can be done to address this?
More education and advocacy, the creation of role models and mentors, and a quota system to create opportunities.
I believe awards like these, which recognise those that lay the foundation, go a long way in motivating others to come on board.
Badminton today and during your playing times, has anything changed in terms of performance and administration?
The style of badminton today has changed for the better.
There is a lot more interest in the sport locally and hence increased competition.
There is more support from the mother bodies in terms of resources than before.
There are office support and increased annual subvention.
There are more opportunities for training for administrators and technical officials.
What else do you think can be done to improve badminton’s status locally?
BBA needs to build more clubs so that there is an opportunity to continue playing the sport after school.
Administrators and players have to be more committed and work towards one goal – that is to grow and popularize the sport.
Awards like these motivate others and they [BBA] need to nominate as many people as possible every year.
What makes a great sports administrator?
Great administrators are those that are committed and passionate.
They must lead by example, be ethical, accountable, and transparent.
Good understanding of corporate governance and putting the interest of sports first are also key.
They should take their team on board and appreciates everyone’s efforts.
Are you still part of the badminton administration?
I am no longer part of the administration, but badminton is my life and family.
I am currently a member of the Olympics Values and Education Commission.
I am also a facilitator for Sports Administration Courses and Advanced Sports Management Courses.
I am also the Chairperson of Pilikwe Masters Social Sports Club.
Who is your inspiration?
I get my inspiration from God.
From the badminton family, it was Mma Holy.
She was one woman among the men and did so much for badminton, using her own resources and time.
Another woman I looked up to then was Eva Mwila, from Netball.
Such a down-to-earth woman who made me realise that even introverts can quietly make their point and be seen and heard just by their volunteerism in sport.
She taught me to stay true to myself and stay in my lane.
Another mentor was Negros Kgosietsile who believed in me and pushed me out of my comfort zone.
Lastly, my husband, Mokhosoa, a great volleyball player and administrator.
He always encourages me to go for what I want and am passionate about.
Finally, Thank God It’s Festive, what are your plans for the weekend?
Planning lunch with my family and mother.
It’s been a challenging year with so much uncertainty.
I am happy I managed to come home to Pilikwe and unwind and look forward to a better year ahead.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.