Mali presents formidable opposition for Butler
Two games and two wins in the Francistown Stadium mean celebration time for Botswana soccer fans. A 2-1 win over lowly-ranked Eretria nudged the Zebras of Botswana into the knockout phase of the world cup qualifying campaign against Mali who are firm favourites against Coach Peter James Butler’s men in November.
Butler, though, will not want his players to think too deeply about their highly-rated opponents, reminding his players that big does not mean better. He will point out to them that in the 2011 campaign, Botswana beat Tunisia, Togo and even held Egypt to dominate African soccer.
The feeling grows that Zebras is more likely to soar against Mali in their November clash and go on to even conquer Ghana. To some, this comes over as wishful thinking but Botswana's campaign has come alive while Mali has hit turbulent times on the soccer field.
Botswana seems to have recalled who they are on the field of play and have certainly grown in confidence – enough to challenge the best on the continent. But, in fairness, a reality check shows that Mali is the better team in FIFA rankings and on the field of play. Experience comes in handy, too; no wonder they are not part of the early qualifying rounds in this particular tournament.
“It was a great performance after an epic trip,” gushed Butler. “We passed the ball well but the finishing could have been better, but that's a country wide problem. But after winning 5-1 on aggregate, let’s stop looking at the negatives.”
Butler urged Batswana not to focus on the negative side and thanked the Francistown crowd for enthusiastic support.
“They have been fantastic tonight,” the coach said after the game.
Not long ago, the chorus was: sack-the-lot-of-them. Today, the mood is upbeat and echoes the famed slogan: yes-we-can. Botswana confronts opponents who have built a national tradition in quietly advancing through early rounds but the players are not scared.
“We just wanted to win the game and show some passion and aggression," Captain Joel Mogorosi said.
In other words, apathy was off the menu.
On one hand lay the minimum acceptable outcome: qualification to the group stage. On the other, lay failure and on the other, the end of Botswana's credibility in continental football, having failed to reach the final of the tournament countless times.
Botswana is upbeat and there is, once again, reason to believe in the team. They are beginning to rouse themselves from slumber and the results are beginning to register.
Butler's choice of a better-balanced team, with Joel Mogorosi at his best and Ofentse Nato complementing the mobility of Tsotso Ngele and Kabelo Seakanyeng on the right.
The positioning of the players was the foundation for the escape.
However, beyond the vuvuzelas in Francistown, a more terrible prospect looms: that of Seydou Keita of Mali, the brilliant striker who, three years ago, left Modiri Marumo wondering awaits.
But our youngsters are geared up and stand as equals in this quest for supremacy.
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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.”