While many abhor the brutal winter, it is the most exciting season in the calendar of Botswana Softball Association (BSA) and many sports enthusiasts. This is the time the chosen congregation descends to their sacred town of Selibe Phikwe for their annual pilgrimage, the softball extravaganza due to take off these President’s holidays.
The tournament which is dubbed the annual Phikwe Softball Extravaganza has grown in leaps and bounds ever since its establishment, and this year, sport diehards are sure of more thrills and spills. The teams that have qualified in both categories have the magnetic power to pull multitudes to the copper nickel town to witness the crème de-la crème of softball which rouses the nostalgia of days when softball was the in-thing.
The men’s bracket has pitted big cats against each other. The defending champions BDF IX, the hosts Comets, the determined Dinare side and Scramblers who are the only northern side to win this tournament will battle it out in pool A, which is arguably the toughest. Jwaneng duo of Gatalamotho and Wells International will face off their diamond brother, Carats from Orapa and Rebels. As for the ladies, Comets, Panthers, Scramblers and Dinare will sweat it out to see who will be queen of the bet. Motlakase, Police, Rail Giants and the new kids in the blog, Titans will rumble on to complement the other two from pool X.
The return of the Francistown based Scramblers who endured a torrid time after sponsors, BDF ditched them in 2014 after winning the same tournament have created much fanfare even before the first whistle blows, more so they eliminated the defending champions, Rail Giants in the preliminaries in Maun. Both the men’s and ladies’ teams have qualified for the tournament. Already, they are seen as the Goliath who needs to be toppled.
“We are promising fireworks at the tournament but we are not going to put any pressure on ourselves, in two years we will certainly be on top of the game,” team manager, Bobbie Khupe said.
Dinare Men’s team which has been failing to qualify for the three day extravaganza have also set their eye on the coveted prize as they have been in rigorous preparations for the spectacle. The youngest team in softball, Titans from Gaborone West will also make their maiden appearance in Zana as the town is fondly called by its dwellers. Having left many in awe in the preliminaries by defeating the likes of Wells International and BMC, more upsets are expected from the team that was established in May 5th this year and officially affiliated on the 16th.
“We are going to fight with everything but we know that it is going to be tough. But our team is made up by youngsters who are very determined, vibrant and have a winning attitude so we are going to give them a run for their money,” team manager, Tshepiso Ramolapong said.
The team is banking on the experience of their captain and ex Wells player, Kefemetswe Selepe to carry them on.
The popular tournament which is hosted by Comets is powered by BCL, Komatsu, Bridgestone, Letshego, Puma Energy, Momentum Health, Bamangwato Toyota and AT & T Monnakgotla Travel & Tours. The winner will walk away with P 75, 000 in both categories while the runner ups will take home P40, 000.
Meanwhile the young Under 19 team will be in USA for the under 19 world championships. The team will in their first game play against the hosts America before taking on two time champions Argentina.
“We are confident that we can bring the medal home, we have been preparing rigorously hence this optimism. We know about the teams that we are going to face so I am assuring Batswana that we will fight with everything to make them happy,” 17 year old Masunga Senior School pitcher, Lebogang Sedibelo who is part of the team said. The team has been encouraged to go there and learn. The team will return on August 1st.
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.