AFCON 2021: Will the Zebras gallop again?
For far too long, Botswana has become more of a spectator in the African Cup of Nations qualifying race. The future of this footballing nation mirrors a tomorrow that may never come. Ever since the remarkable and buccaneering record set during the wonderful reign of coach Stanley Tshosane, The Zebras has been nothing but dull.
Four AFCON finals passed without hearing anything from this country. Other than hiring and sacking coaches, Zebras has struggled to find its way out of mediocre zone. Just a year after returning from their maiden AFCON 2012, The Zebras drew the Eagles of Mali and entered immediately into a cul de sac. The Zebras were hammered 7-1 aggregate in a preliminary stage as 2012 accolades began to fall apart.
That feeble performance was never tamed but spread dangerously into the 2015 qualifying campaign. The team, under the stewardship of Peter Butler, managed only a point after six outings. While it is harsh to condemn the Butler assembled side, it is also apposite to accept that the Zebras was drawn in a rather difficult group that consisted African heavy weights from West and North. There was Egypt, Senegal and Tunisia. Between 2015 and 2017 qualifiers, the pattern never changed. The Zebras struggled to break psychological barrier, playing 6 games and scoring only once.
But as the Zebras begin to prepare for fifth AFCON finals since 2012, having drawn tougher opponents that includes African champions Algeria and perennial campaigners Zimbabwe and Zambia, the contrast with these nation’ squad buoyancy could not be starker.
For Algeria, the 2019 edition has been a wonderful, hard-earned moment of sporting grace for a nation once riddled by political instability. They turned the corner on the back yard of their neighbors, Egypt to win their second cup in 20 years. Therefore, The Zebras could be haunted by their failure to tame the North African giants as well as their own neighbors in Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Zambia, like the Zebras, is in the rebuilding process, but they have never endured a torrid time whenever they took a Botswana assignment. According to the history of the African football, the two nations have met 17 times, with Zambia winning 1o games. 5 games were played to a draw and Botswana only won twice. There have been glimpses of excellence in a team that has looked energized, and won the 2012 AFCON finals when nobody expected it. No doubt that Zambia’s revolutionary results are coming to play after winning the COSAFA cup edition at the mercy of the Zebras.
As for Zimbabwe, time is evolving and many had hope that, as one of the most successful sides in Southern African football, the Warriors would now be at the summit of the region, but it seems to them that even in football, there is no easy way to the top. They have played in two consecutive AFCON finals but were embarrassingly knocked out of group stages. All the while, Zebras has to understand that it will take greater leap of faith to down the Zimbabweans who remains the only country to have handed them an embarrassing defeat of 7-0 in 1990.
Botswana is expected to take some pride from Cape Verde of 2010 and Madagascar of 209; they can’t just leave with crossed arms, and so followers think this is going to be a very one-on-one match. Quite a number of South African sides are seen to be organized in doing their things, no wonder their success, both in the region and the continent is merited. And Botswana as an upcoming footballing nation is not far off the mark.
However, in reality, these two South African countries have never proved to be dangerous opponents whenever they faced The Zebras. Of late, they have been busy luring some of their naturalized players in Europe to come and play for the country of their origin to re awaken their dominance.
However, stories of a disjointed association and league do point rather wearily to the basic obstacle on Botswana’s own path that for so many years of separation of ownership and club control, with many investors coming to the game and now the Premier League edging Botswana national team’s concerns to the fringes.
They intend on bringing psychology and massive training to the game, but it also seems that, as much as they want to copy the style of other countries, basic skill is still a needed requirement. To date, Zebras loss is based around a diligent, muscular defence and a fast-breaking, penetrative attack by opponents. Coaches from these South African sides now know a 2021 failure will not be accepted when the campaign begins in October. It is safe to forget about Algeria, but for Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana, patience is fast running thin.
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AFRICA’S RECOVERY: Sports as game changer
The year 2022 witnessed unprecedented phenomena. Several Africans- Gotytom Gebreslase, Sharon Lokedi, Victor Kiplangat, Tamarit Tola and many others- swept the World’s marathons records.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting control measures implemented in several countries, led to many high-level sports competitions being cancelled or shelved, the Dakar 2022 Youth Olympic Games was moved to 2026.
Founder and Executive Chairman, African Sports and Creative Institute, Will Mabiakop, says the inability to hold traditional and amateur sports events have had a serious effect on public health overall, including mental health, sparking a revolution whereby athletes began to talk more openly about stress, mental overload and performance anxiety.
“Africa is home to the fastest growing economies before the crisis, no longer on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). COVID-19 deepened interdependence between SDGs, making them harder to achieve, especially SDG 10 (reducing inequality) and SDG 5 (gender equality_ as the pandemic had a disproportionate impact on poorer countries, and heavier burdens (such as care work) fell to women.”
Mabiakop stresses that as policymakers contemplate actions to speed up recovery and build resilience, they must argue that sports and creative businesses should play a central feature in this effort.
“The sports economy worldwide is estimated at 5% of GDP, but only 0.5% in Africa. If exploited, Africa’s sports and creative industries can offer policymakers innovative solutions. Especially, as regards job creation, and providing employment to the 15 million people entering the job market annually.”
HOW CAN THE INDUSTRY DO THIS?
By leveraging the two-for-one concept: past studies shown that a 1% growth in the economy delivers a 2% job increment in this sector (these ratios are calculated using data from 48 African countries and adjusted to the reality of the sports economy in Africa by the authors). There are between 30 and 50 job types, in sports and creative industries, respectively. These jobs do not fade away with the first major shock.
Mabiakop indicated that policymakers can use these industries to tackle multiple crises- jobs, poverty, and climate risks. Sports diplomacy- defined as communication, representation and negotiation in or through the prism of sports- has proven effective in building inclusive and cohesive societies. Moreover, sports and the creative industry can support better mental health and well-being, both important for productivity.
“Policymakers can also be true to the game by leveraging culture and tradition to celebrate identity and reap commercial value in sports, textiles and jewelry. Creative sectors allow deeper connection with culture, are not easily copied and provide great economic potential.”
He said supporting grassroots sports has powerful distributional effects. “Fortunately, technology has made reaching wide audiences easier, generating higher rates of success when talent is discovered.”
However, Mabiakop held that potential pitfalls must be highlighted. “First avoid build it and they will come policies with infrastructures denuded from the rest of the ecosystem. Like the many sports stadiums left largely unused.”
“Policymakers must remain mindful of how these sectors move the needle in human capital development. Also, align the requisite public policies needed for progress from grassroots participation to professional sports, and even to international sporting events. They should also support investment instruments to render these sectors performant.”