South African and Botswana athletes scooped top honours at the 3rd African Union (AU) Regional Annual Sports Awards (RASA) at the Birchwood Hotel in Ekurhuleni on Saturday night.
Botswana's 400m sprinter Karabo Sibanda was the night's biggest winner. The 19-year-old raced past South Africa's Luvo Manyongo and Zimbabwe's Samson Muripo to win the sportsperson of the year award. He also took the junior sportsman of the year gong. Although Sibanda could not attend the RASA night because he was competing in Europe, his coach Mogomotsi Otsetswe was on hand to accept the award on his behalf.
“I’m so thrilled. This is the greatest achievement so far for him. Being among the best in the region means a lot to me. He’s an obedient athlete and always willing to learn. He gives his all and he’s easy to work with. In the next three years he will be one of the best athletes on the continent and probably in the world,” said Otsetswe.
World and Commonwealth long jump sensation Luvo Manyonga bagged the sportsman of the year award, while 800m world champion Caster Semenya walked away with the sportswomen of the year accolade. Both were not in attendance, as they were competing abroad.
South Africa once again cleaned up, winning five awards in the 12 categories. After taking home the sportswoman of the year with disability award, former Paralympian Ilse Hayes said, "I retired last year and this is like a cherry on top. What a great way to end my career. I'm very grateful that all the hard work has paid off. These awards are a great initiative as we connect as Africans."
Under the theme "Celebrating Excellence, Inspiring Innovation", RASA recognised athletes who had exceptionally represented the continent internationally. AU Sport Council CEO Stanely Mutoya said the body wanted to use sport to achieve peace, integration, and unity on the continent. He said the AU was constitutionally mandated to nurture and celebrate local talent.
"It's our responsibility to honour and reward the athletes for their achievements. We want to inspire them to excel in all respects. We continue to grow and we're happy with the impact these awards are making in our region. We want to see more categories. We want to see winners going back to their communities to assist young and aspiring athletes,” said Mutoya.
South African Sport and Recreation Minister Toko Xasa said RASA helped promote social cohesion and build unity in the region. "These athletes have made us to unite as Africans beyond our possible comprehension. Our role is to ensure that our work within the sporting fraternity continues to promote [the] African agenda while strengthening the African Union institutions and policies. These awards must affirm our resolve for a non-sexist region that the role of a woman is not in the kitchen but in the field of play as athletes, coaches, mentors, and as administrators. We must liberate patriarchy from a false notion that women are not capable," Xasa said.
Botswana also took the country of the year award. Other winners included SA's Jean Venter who was crowned the coach of the year, Zimbabwe's Elford Moyo for sportsman of the year with disability, eNCA's OG Molefe for journalist of the year, Zambia's under-20 national team as the sports team of the year, and the Athletic Confederation which was named federation of the year. Angola did not hold national sport awards last year and was therefore not part of the AU awards. The AU Sport Council aims to encourage and promote the development of all sporting codes in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.
- African News Agency (ANA)