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LOBAMBA – It will be business unusual as Eswatini Olympic and Commonwealth Games Association (EOCGA) shifts from infrastructure into athletes’ development.

This comes after EOCGA initiated the Youth Scholarship Programme, which is the first-of-its-kind. It will benefit seven young athletes. It is expected to run for 15 months, starting from October 1, 2023 to December 2024. The scholarship, which is the first-of-its-kind is worth E950 000 as announced by the EOCGA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Maxwell Jele yesterday. The announcement was made at the EOCGA offices in Lobamba.

“We have been exploring various strategies on how to close the gap between our athletes and other international athletes. One of these strategies  is  putting together the Youth Athlete Scholarship Programme, whereby we have undertaken a process to identify some top youth athletes from our associations and assist them. We are going to make an amount close to E1 million in the next 15 months starting in October 1, 2023,” Jele said.

The beneficiaries are seven young athletes form five sporting codes. Cycling was added to the four being athletics, swimming, boxing taekwondo that were beneficiaries from the senior athletes Olympic Solidarity Fund. It sponsors six senior athletes among who include Bongiwe Mahlalela, Thabiso Dlamini and Sibusiso ‘Swazi Bolt’ Matsenjwa, among others.

“We are going to be launching this scholarship in the next two weeks, where we will also reveal the names of the athletes. We are confident that the athletes will startworking and training towards the 2026 Senegal Youth Olympics,” he added. Notable is that there will be contracts that will be signed between EOCGA, parents of the beneficiaries and their associations after a meeting yesterday. The meeting was aimed at agreeing at areas of responsibilities expected from the parties involved. The CEO said that the fund was introduced after they noted some light improvements in terms of the performances of some of the athletes on scholarship.

“They start this scholarship late in their sporting careers and a lot of time is needed at foundation level. This scholarship is targeting young athletes to give them an opportunity to start getting into professional sport at a tender age,” Jele added during the press conference. The scholarship will assessed over this period and stand to be renewed as the young athletes build up towards the 2026 Senegal Youth Olympics. Meanwhile, Jele also confirmed that the country will participate in the Youth Africa Games slated for March 8-23, 2024. He said EOCGA Treasurer and the Chef de Mission, Zakhele Zulu, will depart on Saturday for a preparatory seminar scheduled for next week.