A mouthwatering 2016/17 First Division North (FDN) is in store for football lovers up north. The icing on the cake is perhaps the fact that the dusty league is dominated by teams that have previously traded in the elite league, an addition expected to heighten the rivalry at the grounds.
For many years now, the FDN has been rated lower than their southern counterparts – last season though, the northerners broke the norm and promoted two teams to the premier league.
However, the campaign which takes off this afternoon (Saturday) is tipped to be as good as elite football, much like in the past. The league leadership is also busy negotiating with the business community to come to the party and partner with them at this opportune time.
As for the teams, they have made their intentions clear that come next season they want to be among the crème de la crème at the premier league. But of all the titans who is likely to master the art and win the championship next year May?
ECCO CITY GREENS
Mamoja-Diskie is one of the heavy-weights in the league, having failed to gain promotion only by a whisker last season. However, this time around the green machine is well oiled and ready to conquer.
“We have no excuse, our team has been rehearsing well for the campaign and we are glad that we retained the core of the team together with the coach hence we expect continuation to lay the golden eggs come end of the season,” said the team’s communication head Gift Keaitse.
The Francistown side begins their quest today by visiting Real Movers of Selibe Phikwe. “We just want to take-off on a high because if you do so chances are you can go all the way, and today re letsa thupa hela,” Keaitse said. As part of the preparations, the former premier league champions have opened food stalls around the city to raise the funds, and they have also released a document to lure investors to their side in their efforts to bounce back.
The reds are fresh from a 3-0 win over rivals Tasc in the Independence Cup and the momentum is expected to continue until they reach their destination. Last season, Tafic dreamt in vain of a premier league comeback, they still harbour the same dreams, and it remains to be seen how things will turn out for them, especially with the heightened competition. Apart from the independence tournament the team has been on silent mode, but they remain a threat that could win the league in May, efforts to understand how the team has been preparing were not successful.
Sowa could have qualified for the premier league last season, but administration goofs saw them failing to maintain their pace. This time around the team is under the pragmatic Enos Mmesi who has immense experience. “We have been sweating out preparing for the season and we managed to better the players’ condition though it wasn’t easy, but I’m confident we will gain the promotion we aspire,” club chairperson Bashi Joseph said. The team has managed to attract talents from Sankoyo Bush Bucks and Kazungula Young Fighters to help push the agenda. Their financial strength is also expected to give them a slight advantage over other teams.
The ambitious Palapye side will have to show their worthiness this season when they battle it out with other titans. Just like Satmos they also relegated last season and it remains to be seen if they can make the much anticipated return. Having lost three of their regular players last season Chouka has the potential to electrify their competitors with the available arsenal. The presence of the team will give the likes of Ecco necessary competition that fans are itching for.
FC Satmos who were relegated last season have the means to surprise many more so they never lost any of the prized assets. TASC, who played at the final of the independence cup, could also be a dark horse, they have the experience but their quality is not convincing. The other team that has made waves is Morupule Wanderers under the eye of Oris Radipotsane; with money power to pull the players they want “Wandi-wandi” could be the surprise package in the league. They have made their intentions clear that they are eyeing a premier league return. Great North Tigers is another team that cannot be overlooked since they have been in the premier league and it is always fireworks when they play rivals (Ecco, Tasc &Tafic) but of late the team has been on low profile leaving many wondering whether they would pull the show expected.
The Botswana Football League (BFL) house has never known peace since its establishment in 2020. The company’s directors and shareholders, built to professionalise the elite league, are seemingly in a wild goose chase, leaving footballers’ dreams to shatter amid ‘man-made’ sporting adversity.
The BFL titanic has hit an iceberg, and the stewards and captains of this ship are struggling to bring it to calmer waters. This infighting and militancy have attracted the eye and wrath of the Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Tumiso Rakgare, whom sources say is readying himself to prepare a tell-all meeting with the 16 premier league clubs chairpersons in the next coming weeks.
It is said that the Minister is concerned by the lack of progress at the league that should be ordinarily a flagship of Botswana football. As the Minister of Sports, Rakgare is disappointed by the crusade of blames and figure pointing at the boardrooms while essential issues like sponsorship and safe return to play are not adequately addressed.
It is said that the Minister has silently observed that the league house is moving in circles, and time wasted never returns. He is shocked that these chairpersons are incurring unnecessary costs paying players, yet they delay the return of football. When approached for clarity, the Minister could only say he is on leave and will only talk about sports matters when he resumes duty.
“I am not going to comment on anything concerning sport; for now, I am currently on my leave days to charge my batteries; talk to me after two weeks or so,” he briefly commented via a telephone interview. To this date, the BFL board has had two chairmen in as a space of seven months. Township Rollers boss Jagdish Shah was its maiden chairman during its formative stage, and Nicholas Zakhem assisted him.
It said significant progress was made to source sponsors, but what later led to factions and divisions inside the board is not adequately established. When Shah was removed, Aryl Ralobala was installed as the second chairman, but his stay has been rocky right from the beginning.
He was confronted with taxing sponsorship and broadcasting deals but what would later complicate his tenure is the burning issue of a mooted loan agreement with the Botswana Football Association(BFA). All these combined were complicated by the inability of the previous board to proceed with a smooth handover.
The BFL structure was first established in August 2020. One of its mandates was to divorce itself from the football association and negotiate key sponsorships for itself. This autonomous idea was rubber-stamped at the previous BFA general assembly.
Once the BFL fully gained independence, BFA was to give it a playing licence, and the FA will have a minor share of the profits made within a football calendar. In this company, all the 16 premier league clubs have equal shares. But at the end of every season, relegated clubs transfer their shares to newly-promoted clubs.
The spirit of brotherhood at Lekidi Football Centre has indeed fallen apart. Evidence of this development emanated at the recent National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting where the Botswana Football Association (BFA) is reported to have repeatedly fluffed lines to bring football’s most shrewd schemer, Nicolas Zakhem, to book for what they term ‘undermining leadership.’
The association is said to have noted with utmost concern that Zakhem, the chief investor at Gaborone United, has on several accounts, poured scorn over BFA leadership for failing football and went on to call for their resignation as things continue to fall apart.
Moreover, the Lebanese business mogul has come out from the shell and punched holes on the administrative head of the newly formed establishment, Botswana Football League (BFL), arguing that, they too, have fallen by the wayside while attempting to professionalize the local football.
Wary of these continuous onslaughts by the Zakhem, BFA feels the man is out of order and ought to be hauled before red burning coals for undermining leadership. Sources say the association wants the ethics committee to apply its mind over Zakhem’s previous uttering and tame him for good.
Zakhem, whom football observers agree was the kingmaker as MacLean Letshwiti, and his troops triumphed over Tebogo Sebego’s allies at BFA general election held in October 2020, is believed to have fallen out of favour with the Letshwiti regime. The proof of the pudding was when he ate up Letshwiti administration during an interview on Gabz FM roughly two weeks back.
However, the association’s NEC is said to be torn apart as relationships continue to decay. Reports suggest that quite a handful of them are not entertaining the idea of reprimanding Zakhem, and even if push comes to shove, it is not the mandate of the NEC to spell a final determination on him. At the same time, judicial bodies of the association are available and functioning.
The Zakhem issue, burning as it is, saw Letshwiti’s troops coming face to face with him for the first time since assuming office. Sources claim that the members were not coy about calling a spade a spade that the BFA boss is also out of his mandate by ruling with an iron fist and should try by all means to uphold the constitution of the association. Indications are that the members are not impressed by the current state of football affairs and want a plethora of issues to address other than tailing and chastising other football administrators in the name of ill-discipline.
However, sources say there is strong determination to bring Zakhem to book by hook or crook. Meanwhile, the BFA has allowed their legal advisor to study the matter and advise on the way forward. When approached for comment, BFA legal advisor Pako Moakofi said he was not able to speak as he was still attending to his health issues.
The issue of Zakhem is also said to have lifted the lid off another NEC member’s matter. Last year, Carlos Sebina, former Tafic Chairman, was relieved of his duties after being accused of conniving with the enemy to betray and sabotage the association. The decision came when Botswana was preparing to play a crucial tie against Zimbabwe in AFCON 2021 qualifiers. Sebina was the medical committee chairman and had previously won the NEC seat as the only member from Sebego’s side.
Zakhem himself is out of the country and cannot be reached to provide further clarity, but sources close to him told WeekendSport that he is fully aware of the ongoing matter. It is no longer in doubt that BFA elephants are fighting, and it is the football grass that will suffer the most.
Botswana Football Association (BFA) contends that football is an industry that employs everyone from different sectors of the economy and will argue this point until the COVID-19 Task Force fully comprehends it.
The move comes to the fore after the association, this week, held an emergency meeting with Botswana National Sport Commission (BNSC) to deliberate on possibilities of allowing footballers to resume training. At the same time, sporting activities remain suspended as a COVID-19 containment measure.
The BFA, BNSC held a meeting to establish the impact of suspending sporting activities on football. The BFA argues that considerable effort was initiated to return to play. Although sources say it was the first phase of deliberations, another meeting is scheduled for Wednesday with the Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport, and Culture Development, Tumiso Rakgare, to further find a common understanding.
Sources contend that although the atmosphere was a bit tense at the beginning, discussions were fruitful, with the Ministry of Sport promising to discuss the matter with the Coordinator of the Task Force, Dr. Kereng Masupu.
The uptight mood cascaded when Rakgare complained about the leakage of confidential information to third parties, especially the media. It will seem the minister was not happy at how the BFA meeting together with theirs was to be known by outside parties before a conclusion is reached. The ministry expressed its frustration concerning the slow progress of BFA as far as the resumption of football was concerned.
A senior administrator in the ministry complained that BFA was dilly-dallying even before the government suspended sporting activities. When asked to give clarity, the BFA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Goabaone Taylor said it would be remiss of her to talk about the details of the meeting, especially when the time was not right.
“Even the ministry had to gag us because we find our confidential information littered everywhere. I am afraid that is not right, and should it persist, it can damage the confidence and the talks we are having with our partners,” she said when asked about her presence during the Wednesday meeting.
BFA, in the meantime, says their position paper does not change. They have argued that football is the only code that employs masses, and the continuation of sports ban hampers and jeopardizes contracts with various stakeholders, including players and sponsorships. Moreover, BFA says companies are reluctant to commit to football because the ban brings much confusion on the way forward.
Furthermore, the association argues that football is the biggest revenue spinner, estimated to be around P55 million. They say the game employs over 3 000 people directly and provides over 9 000 indirect jobs countrywide. Over the years, when football was in full flight, the game raked about P 26 000 000,00 in sponsorships while 4 000 000,00 came from broadcasting deals.
BFA will therefore play a waiting game while the suspension comes to an end in a week and will hope the game will never be clamped down again, which will allow the 2021-22 season to commence.