Apr 16, 2024

Sports, Sponsorships, and Events / Feature Story

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Ignite the Passion: Rebeca Andrade and Ouname Mhotsha—Young Athletes Draw On Personal Experiences to Create a Better World

When Brazilian gymnast Rebeca Andrade competed at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, it was the culmination of a story about beating the odds. Only months before, Andrade didn’t even know if she would make it to the Japanese capital in 2021, and besides that, she had overcome two major injuries. At 22, she pulled off an astonishing performance and walked away from Tokyo with both a silver and gold medal and became Brazil’s first female gymnast to medal at the Olympic Games.

Andrade recently sat down with Ouname Mhotsha, an IOC Young Leader and the first female professional golfer from Botswana, to discuss how young leaders from the world of sport can inspire people to create a more sustainable and inclusive society. Andrade talked about the challenges of growing up in an underserved community in Brazil. As the only daughter among eight children born to a single mother, Andrade showed early promise, climbing trees, and doing cartwheels at a young age. Because one of her mother’s jobs was cleaning a gym, her talent was recognized early on, but things were never easy.

The financial part was a big challenge for me and my family,” says Andrade. “It was hard to overcome. There was a moment when my mother didn’t have enough money to take me by bus to the gym. I was eight years old and had to walk almost two hours to get there to train. My brother fixed an old bike so I could get there. We overcame it because the whole family helps each other—it’s essential to have a support network.

Photo: Rebeca Andrade

Igniting passion in tomorrow’s leaders through athletic achievement

Role models can act like a spark that ignites the passion in sport, both women said. For Andrade, it was Daiane dos Santos, a Brazilian who became the first Black gymnast to win an event at the World Championships when she netted a gold medal in floor exercise at the 2003 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Anaheim, California. When Andrade began attracting attention in Brazil, she earned the nickname Daianinha de Guarulhos, referring to dos Santos and Andrade’s hometown of Guarulhos. It’s now her turn to inspire.   

I know how much my victory can inspire Black girls, because when they see me, they think, ‘If she did it, I can do it, too,’” says Andrade. 

Photo: Rebeca Andrade

Rebeca Andrade, Brazil’s first female gymnast to medal at the Olympic Games, is a Panasonic ambassador reaching out to Generation Z to leverage their ideas and passion for protecting the planet

Although she comes from a family of golfers, Mhotsha also faced financial challenges because of the lack of opportunities for female Black golfers in Botswana. Another issue was that as the only high school girl playing golf in her home country she felt a keen sense of isolation. She wants to overcome that by participating in initiatives such as the IOC Young Leaders Programme. Launched in 2016 with Panasonic as its founding partner, the programme aims to empower youth to leverage the power of sport to make a positive difference in their communities. 

Golf is not a prevalent sport in Africa—it’s not played in high schools or colleges, so there’s really no information available,” says Mhotsha. “I overcame that challenge when I learned there was more outside my country related to golf and the opportunities that come with it.

Introducing youth to sustainability as a career goal

The two athletes share another passion in their commitment to sustainability. As an ambassador to Panasonic, which has committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030 across all its operations globally, Andrade has been reaching out to Generation Z, people aged roughly between 12 and 25, to leverage their ideas and passion for protecting our planet. 

I care a lot about the world I want to leave for my children and for the next generation,” says the vault champ, now 24 years old. “If everyone does it together, imagine the difference it will make. Separate trash. Save water. Leave your car in the garage one day a week. Use electric cars.” Andrade believes it’s the little things that will add up to big change.

Photo: Ouname Mhotsha

Ouname Mhotsha, the first female professional golfer from Botswana, is an IOC Young Leader who introduces high school students—the problem solvers of tomorrow—to careers in sustainability

For her part, Mhotsha has combined her academic interest in sustainability—she earned science degrees in agriculture economics and forest resources—with her IOC Young Leaders project, Thanya Monana Projects, a series of sports and youth development initiatives focused on using golf to address inequalities in Botswana.

My role right now is workforce programs, so I introduce high school students to careers in sustainability,” says Mhotsha. “I wanted to obviously focus on golf and leverage golf, but I wanted to have different career pathways that are not usually easily accessible to young people in underserved communities, sustainability being one of them.

Mhotsha envisions a brighter tomorrow by igniting the passion of young people today. “The nice part about introducing young people to careers in sustainability is, they can become problem solvers for their own communities, since they already come from communities that struggle with environmental issues,” she explains.

Empowering young people through safe sport

Andrade and Mhotsha agreed that sport also must be sustainable in terms of its impact on the mental well-being of athletes, as seen in the “safe sport” movement of recent years. The 2016 IOC Consensus Statement defines safe sport as “an athletic environment that is respectful, equitable and free from all forms of harassment and abuse.”

Photo: Ouname Mhotsha

Safe sport means a lot to me,” says Andrade. “I have done therapy with my psychologist since I was 13. I know that it makes so much difference to my sport and my life. I learned how to deal with pressure, pain and expectations. I believe that athletes, fans, and sponsors must understand that athletes can do exceptional things but in the end, they are humans just like everyone else.” 

As the two athletes look to the future, Andrade is focused on achieving her best in the Olympic and Paralympic Games Paris 2024, which will run July 26 through August 11. She notes, “I’m so happy to be competing in Paris because I will be with all the girls on my team. In Tokyo, it was just me.

Mhotsha wants to continue to develop the Thanya Monana Projects, her IOC Young Leaders project, and have it run by young people. Her ambition can help inspire young athletes everywhere.

I think at every stage in life, a young person has something in their mind that can benefit the world,” she explains. “So, I want to be able to empower them, give them a voice while they’re still young, and know that just because they come from an underserved community or community that doesn’t have a lot of opportunities, it doesn’t mean that they’re not powerful, or they can’t do anything for themselves or their families, communities and world at large.


Rebeca Andrade
Rebeca Andrade was born in Brazil in 1999. From a young age, she showed a talent for gymnastics. She debuted internationally at the Junior Pan American Championships in 2012, and went on to become vault champion at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, as well as at the 2021 and 2023 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships. As a Panasonic ambassador, she raises awareness about sustainability. She is now preparing for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Paris 2024.

Ouname Mhotsha
Ouname Mhotsha is the first female professional golfer from Botswana, where she was born in 1995. With 16 amateur and two international victories under her belt, she completed science degrees in the United States in agriculture and forest resources. Having joined the IOC Young Leaders Programme in 2023, her aim is to inspire young girls to take up the sport and encourage investment in golf accessibility in Botswana and around the world. 

About the “Ignite the Passion” Series

This series of interviews invites Team Panasonic athletes and IOC Young Leaders to share their passions and the actions they are taking to bring about positive change on key issues, including the environment, physical and mental health, gender equality, education, and diversity and inclusion. The series will coincide with the Olympic and Paralympic Games Paris 2024, with an aim to inspire young readers to join these athletes in making changes that can help realize a more sustainable and inclusive society.  

About the IOC Young Leaders Programme

The IOC Young Leaders Programme, is a joint project between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Panasonic which aims to develop future leaders by selecting 25 young people worldwide to help them leverage the power of sport and make a difference in their communities. The programme works together with a number of initiatives in various countries to address a range of social and environmental issues, many of them focus areas of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Panasonic is the Founding Partner of the IOC Young Leaders Programme. 

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