The last two weeks of May were dominated by reports that long time Gaborone United financier, Nicholas Zakhem was quitting the club. Zakhem had announced that he will soon pack his bags and leave a club he has been baby-sitting financially for a decade.
Zakhem and GU have been in a partnership for the past ten years eventually turning the club to be the shining example of football commercialization which could advise the local soccer scene in that direction.
The BFA president, Tebogo Sebego was pained by Zakhem eminent departure. He declared that if he wielded much power he could have declared a weeklong mourning for the loss of this ‘foot soldier’ (Zakhem) who was pragmatic and walking the talk of Sebego’s slogan of commercialization.
“It is a sad day for football,” Sebego had said in one of the local publications.
However when many especially the GU family were coming to terms with the reality of GU without Zakhem, fresh information surfacing this week offers a glimmer of hope.
Zack as the construction magnate is fondly referred to, is said to be having an undying love for the Old Naledi based club.
“He won’t go anywhere. It was just a gimmick, he is a GU diehard, he only wanted to shake them to cultivate the dying loyalty to him,” a source said.
Among the reasons forwarded for his threat to leave was the team’s court case expected in September which he is uncomfortable with. Zakhem is accused of orchestrating the elevation of Rapula Okaile to the GU chairmanship. Those against Okaile questioned his GU membership and alleged that he was illegitimate.
“We are currently negotiating with him and I won’t share more details because this could jeopardize the talks,” Okaile said on Thursday when contacted for comment.
When Zakhem announced his departure, GU’s fears were borne out of the heavy contractual obligations the club has with players. Most of GU’s players are housed at Zakhem’s estate in Mogoditshane.
The players are still accommodated at the Estate to date, a factor which sources say shows that, “Zakhem is here to stay.”
According to the Money machine insiders, he gave the players until next year to vacate his houses because he wanted to give them enough notice before they vacate.
While the team is currently embroiled in a tug of war against rivals, Township Rollers and South African teams over the services of the Namibian forward, Benson Shilongo, Zakhem is said to have entered the fray representing GU.
Reports indicated that this week the player and the financier were to meet and agree personal terms.
“He is sweet talking the player to sign a new contract and he promised to pay him personally because players doubt the steadiness of the team hence their reluctance to commit long term.”
These developments together with the fact that the team’s AGM is in July could help mend relations between the investor and some personalities in the team’s hierarchy.
In fact the announcement that he was quitting, according to those in the know, was an approach to appease his ego with the hope that the team will up their game more so he feels he is the same top dog he used to be when he joined the team.
“It is simple he wants more shares to run the team; and this will be on the agenda for the AGM for the membership to decide,” another source said.
Zakhem’s Soccer Dynamics which was running the affairs of the team owns 51% and the remaining 49% is for the society.
Information before Weekendsport shows that the fall out between the two allies started after Okaile assumed office and tried to balance things by consulting with other members of the society on the subject of shareholding.
“Remember Rapula was under pressure that he wasn’t the legitimate chairman of the team and he tried to engage the society a lot. The Society was concerned that it was being sidelined,” the sources added that, “But this angered Zakhem and he felt that he was not appreciated hence his threat to quit.”
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.