Botswana National Sports Council Awards 2015

As Prepared For Delivery | May 23, 2015 | Gaborone

Good evening. What an honor and privilege to be with you at the Botswana National Sports Council Awards. I would like to thank the Honorable Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture, Mr. Thapelo Olopeng and all the people who made this extraordinary evening possible.

Please allow me to use that wonderfully forgiving phrase when there are far too many distinguished guests and friends to recognize properly: all protocols observed.

Sports, like music and art, is a universal language. Sports connect people on a personal level through our common passions and values.

Athletes can inspire and, importantly, change us through their deeds on and off the field and court and pitch. There are many towering figures in American sport who changed the culture of my country for the better: Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, Muhammad Ali. The roll call of legends is long.

Arthur Ashe was a World Number One tennis player. He won three Grand Slam titles and was the first African American selected to the U.S. Davis Cup team. But Ashe once famously said, ”I don’t want to be remembered for my tennis accomplishments.”

Because this man gave the world so much more. The game of tennis really just gave him a platform to speak about the issues he cared so much about. Arthur Ashe was a social activist, a prominent supporter of the American civil rights movement, and a fierce foe of the apartheid government of South Africa. His hero was not tennis player or famous athlete. It was Nelson Mandela of whom he said, “Compared to Mandela’s sacrifice, my own life has been one almost of self-indulgence. When I think of him, my own political efforts seem puny.”

In the early 1980s, Ashe contracted HIV. He publically announced his illness and worked to educate others about HIV and AIDS before his death from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1993.

Ashe said, “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” What a role model, what an inspiration.

I know there are many inspirational leaders in the current generation of Batswana athletes. Here with us tonight and across the country. I have met many through the United States government’s “sports diplomacy” programs. I have seen these athletes demonstrate and teach valuable life skills such as teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, self-esteem, and the value of hard work. Studies consistently show students who play sports stay in school longer, earn better grades, and have higher levels of motivation and self-esteem. We know sports matters in this country, in every country.

We know sports is an effective way to engage people on issues we care deeply about: youth engagement, empowerment of girls and women, equality and inclusion for people with disabilities, and global health.

American Peace Corps Volunteers in Botswana are making change through Grassroots Soccer, a program of soccer and life skills for youth between the ages of 10 and 19. In addition to soccer skills, the program focuses on HIV education and prevention, covering topics like multiple concurrent partners and safe male circumcision. In 2014, Peace Corps Botswana conducted 16 Grass Roots Soccer programs across the country for hundreds of young people.

I am excited to announce in July the U.S. Embassy will partner with the National Basketball Association and Women’s National Basketball Association to bring current and former players to Botswana to conduct youth outreach, basketball clinics, and motivational sessions. We previously conducted similar programs with the Botswana Basketball Association and Botswana National Youth Council for hundreds of Batswana youth.

Congratulations to all the athletes here tonight. How proud you must be of each other. We are so proud of you.

I encourage you all, and all the aspiring athletes watching from home, to remember you can be positive agents of change like Arthur Ashe. You can be role models. You can be ambassadors for this remarkable blessed country you are so fortunate to represent and call home.

Arthur Ashe said, “From what we get, we can make a living. What we give, we make a life.”

Give of yourself. Inspire a generation. Pula!