With the Botswana Premier League (BPL) reaching the halfway mark this weekend; four teams have emerged as relegation candidates. It is with certainty that at least two of the four will drop to the First Division by the end of this season. KETUMILE RAMATITI explores the reasons behind the dismal showing of the unlucky four.
It has been a norm in local football that those teams that gain promotion usually retrace their steps back to the dusty divisions when the season ends; this has been linked to tight or nonexistent budgets. However, this past season odds were defied with the likes of Orapa United, FC Satmos and Police XI proving that they are here to compete, which ultimately saw Satmos and Police feature in the Mascom Top 8.
Can the new boys emulate what their brothers did last season? The answer is certainly no, the new comers, Letlapeng and BR Highlanders future in the be-MOBILE Premier League seem to be in jeopardy together with perennial strugglers Notwane and former league champions Ecco City Greens. Records reveal that for a team to be safe from the relegation it should have accumulated 35 points or more, Uniao Flamingo Santos was dropped after collecting only 30 points last season.
LETLAPENG IS JUST NOT PREPARED Ramotswa based Letlapeng who started the league like a blossoming flower walloping Orapa United 2-0 has wilted off, registering losses every weekend. The team’s preparedness for top flight football has always been in question after gaining promotion to the premier league amid controversy as the second placed Black Forest appealed a matter in which they contended that ‘Rock of ages’ fielded a defaulter in their Division encounter.
This took away the concentration of the team from premier league and by the time the case was over, the league was calling. By then they haven’t made any notable signings to bolster their relatively inexperienced side, things were made miserable when they lost the services of four key players including prolific goal scorer Sadat Sinare and Tshiamo Moreetsi.
Letlapeng however, was able to rope in former BMC defender Patrick Mathaba, Emmanuel Machinya, Thabang Dira and Michael Pillar to strengthen their side, the quartet cannot offer that much as the team is currently languishing at the bottom of the league table with only eight points.
The team has so far conceded a whopping 26 goals while scoring only 16, their defense marshaled by Mathaba and Mompoloki Rangwang is always a suspect more especially that their goalkeeper Tumiso Mashakola is new to the stage. The team has also parted ways with the mentor who stirred them to premier league elevation Thaloba Nthaga, and brought on board Nelson Olebile to take charge, this could have also contributed to their poor showing.
The team’s top goal scorer Koketso ‘Shikabala’ Mokgantutswane has netted three goals; this has prompted them to look for an experienced striker in the coming transfer window in January.
According to the club Chairman Sidney Magagane, they will be active in the market as they are also looking for an experienced defensive and attacking midfielder in a bid to bring stability in the team and to guide the youngsters. However, the team was able to convince Seabelo Express and Temo holdings to help them financially at the beginning of the season and thus far despite being newcomers the team has handled players’ welfare issues well. Chance of survival: 3/10
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE FOR BR HIGHLANDERS? Another side that is possibly left with only 15 games in the top flight football is BR Highlanders. They are not totally new to this level of football as they featured in the 2012/13 season after entering through the backdoor following the infamous Police XI, Security Systems and BFA debacle.
The team has made a return to the be-MOBILE premier league. Just like their peers, Letlapeng, the Mahalapye side have parted ways with their former gaffer, Paul Moyo and replaced him with his former assistant Tebogo Mokute. The team chairman, Lucky Buisanyang said ever since the sacking of Moyo the results are now coming to the team.
Stimela as they are affectionately called, shocked many when they beat Nico United before downing championship chasers BMC something which gave them hope that ‘everything is possible’.
They are currently sitting precariously on position 14 with 11 points. It is the most conceding team in the league after collecting 32 balls from the back of the net, they have a negative 19, and they scored only 13 goals, an unsatisfying number of goals for a team that is new. The team’s top goal scorer, Lucky Vundla has only scored five goals.
Chairman, Buisanyang said they will look for a striker in the coming window because their main undoing is the frontline. In terms of finances the team is not struggling that much despite playing their home games in Serowe. Botswana Railways provides transport for them; they only spend P4, 500 for their camps. Chance of survival: 4/10
ECCO CITY GREES EMBARASSING FTOWN Francistown’s only remaining premier League side could kiss the premier league goodbye. The 2006/07 league champions, Ecco City Greens are currently embarrassing the second city citizens week in and week out. Ever since they were dumped by BMC, the parastatal butcher, life has never been easy for Mamoja diskie as they endured a mass exodus of players before the commencement of this season. The players went for greener pastures.
Zecco Makafiri, Emmanuel Nlu, Gosaitse Manuel, Tendai Nyamuzi, Keabetswe Jenamiso are some of notable players that left the Francistown side. Currently the team’s core players are students and the reason why results are not coming is because they usually busy engaged with their academic work and some football pundits have attributed the current Ecco resurrection to the youngsters’ availability owing to school recess.
The team is banking on the experience of Malepa Bolelang to turn their fortunes around. They have also parted ways with their gaffer Aupa Kowa. They have given the reigns to Junior Molapi the younger brother of their former mentor Atshele Molapi. The team is sitting uncomfortably in position 15, after accumulating nine points from 14 outings; Ecco’s defence is also cited as a cause for concern as they have let in 28 goals.
Their frontline is not that bad as both Bolelang and Kebaatho Omaatla have scored four goals apiece, but Mamoja can always survive the chop provided they utilize the upcoming window. But some pundits wonder if they have the muscle to bring players they want. In the past Ecco spokesperson promised that they will partner with certain investors in Francistown. But to this day they are still cooking something! Maybe Ecco will be refurbished side next year. Chance of survival: 5/10
NOTWANE: PERENNIAL STRUGGLERS The perennial strugglers, Notwane could also make history by playing in the unfashionable lower division next season for the first time since its formation 59 years ago. The past three seasons have been ugly ones for the side. They depend mostly on rejects from other teams and youngsters from their development structures; this has not been fruitful in the past as the team has emulated what Extension Gunners used to do, without success.
Notwane has come up with a Metropolitan Insurance initiative to try to raise funds for the team but surprisingly the team supporters have rejected the idea which makes their financial life very wobbly. Understandably, Sechaba is in position 11 with only 12 points; the team is the third highest conceding in the league after letting in 26 goals and scoring 17. Their top goal scorer Emmanuel Masisi has scored three goals, a sign that the striking department is also poor.
To make matters worse the team’s executive committee is said to have been torn apart after rise of club chairman, Arnold Somolekae to chair the Premier League board which has not been given blessings by other committee members. This again is expected to push the team further down the log as administrative issues always impact negatively on team performance.
Fortunately the team will play only one game before the Christmas break and expectations are that the team will be a rejuvenated side next year. Chance of survival: 5/10
Meanwhile Motlakase Power Dynamos is also not safe from the relegation as they rooted in position 12 with 12 points. But they are not new at this dog fight.
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.