Is this the beginning of the end of ‘Friends of Football?’ The regime that drives Botswana football has been in power for almost two years, and there is some insistency, however faint that another term is ahead. But calls are beginning to take centre stage that the regime must step down.
In the cavernous Gaborone International Convention Centre (GICC), at the elections, the BFA President Tebogo Sebego was having the time of his life.
It was July 2012 and the BFA Congress has just commenced. Sebego may as well be on a throne as delegates’ line-up to fawn over him. When a profit of thousands of Pula is announced for the previous year, BFA’s then Vice President (finance) Gabriel Ngele makes his way to the podium to eulogise BFA’s ‘miraculous’ financial results.
Then it’s the turn of Sebego, who announces a one-off payment to each of the16 assembled regions. “Are the regions happy?” exclaims Sebego, who is greeted by applause and delegates taking pictures on smartphones. Friends of Football, indeed, embraced one another.
Sebego, then in his 10th year at BFA – a career path that started as a chairman of Disciplinary Committee in 2004, then legal adviser in 2006, then, from 2012, president – has seen everything at the summit of local football. Since he joined FIFA in earlier 2000, the self-proclaimed lawyer has made the game richer, more powerful, and more widely watched than any sport in the country. As its leader, Sebego has become one of the most recognisable young men in this country.
Yet with fame came notoriety, and BFA together with Friends of Football, has suffered massive scandals. In 2012, Sebego’s campaign team was accused of paying bribes when he beat the low-lying David Fani to the BFA presidency. At the end of 2012, some of Friends of Football appeared to acknowledge that vote-buying had taken place but vehemently rejected any suggestion that the president was involved.
BFA and Friends of Football’s trusted foot soldier, Tariq Babitseng was thought to have been in ecstasy but later collapsed, leaving huge debts and a trail of allegations of corrupt practices linked to BFA officials. In the process it almost bankrupted the local football’s governing body. Lurid stories of ticket rackets from Premier League, vote-rigging and corruption proliferated.
Members of BFA Executive Committee (ExCo) seem to be typified by Babitseng, who seemed to be a close ally of the president. He has faced numerous investigations into his financial dealings but has always been cleared of any wrong doing.
Yet nothing would have prepared Sebego and Friends of Football for what was to follow at this year‘s congress when Tariq was voted his deputy in administration wing of the association, again curiously beating the most experienced man of the game, Segolame Ramotlhwa. He and his regime may now reflect that July 2012, with the realisation of his personal dream of an African Cup in Botswana, represented the pinnacle of his career; a period of calm. But sadly since then there has been a churning maelstrom of scandals.
The beginning of an end? How do you solve a problem like BFA? Part of the problem is that under Sebego it has assumed the self-importance of a nation state, with his presidency carrying all the hallmarks of a head of state, not just leader of a sport’s governing body.
Yet if you distil it, BFA’s purpose is simple: the same as it was under Sebego’s predecessors Phillip Makgalemele and David Fani: an administrator of the game’s laws, the organiser of heavily subsidised development tournaments like the defunct Coca-Cola Cup. Perhaps what it needs most is to strip itself of its baggage.
Its biggest problem remains at its summit. Because he personifies the organisation no matter what good it does, or however much it changes, it remains – rightly or wrongly – tied up in president’s public image. It matters not if the caricature belies reality; Sebego is probably the most gifted and astute political operator in global sport. But his continued support of Babitseng, where he once elevated him to the plum post of CEO, has handed him many enemies.
Yes Friends of Football's tactics appear to have worked. Much of the heat is off and the media focus has moved on. Some shrug their shoulders and say some progress is better than none.
Sebego's incremental, tortuously slow process has delivered a little progress. Meanwhile, more plausible individuals have replaced those forced out, some of whom say the right things about wanting more accountability and transparency.
However, the reform process is still hitting the buffers. The regime when campaigning promised to fight corruption that derailed Fani’s boat. Setete Phuthego was one of the long standing football administrators expelled over alleged money-laundering accusations. But how the knife dodged Babitseng even before he won the seat of the VP was one sharp question giving Friends of Football sleepless nights. Until his suspension, he was, too, a black sheep of the regime.
Botswana Football Association (BFA) arbitration tribunal is set to hear a case in which Molepolole City Stars is challenging the 2019-20 football season curtailment that led to their untimely relegation. The season was abruptly ended amid the ravaging COVID-19 scourge when the government decided to place the whole country under lockdown.
In particular, City Stars, under Somerset Gobuiwang, challenges the rationale and fairness of the association to end the league when there were several options to pursue. The club does not want to contest the authority of the national executive committee to stop the league but argues that the decision to relegate them based on the log standing was unfair, irrational and unreasonable.
Moreover, the decision was against the spirit of the game and not the most appropriate one under circumstances where they were still about 10 league games to play. As the papers were submitted, City Stars argues that the most appropriate step would have been to suspend the league and protect the league standing. “The league would then resume when it was safe to do so, as indeed it is happening now, with the log standings maintained as they were,” the court papers read.
The team, which was languishing at the bottom of the table when the decision was taken, also argues and gives an alternative that the league could have ended without relegation issues. City Stars argues, “This would be in recognition of the undeniable facts that the league was not complete and that the log standings at the time were not in any way an indicator of how they would have been had the league been allowed to run its course.”
Furthermore, Molepolole City Stars are livid that the association did not consider that the complainant had valid contracts with its staff and players and that such agreement could not be terminated abruptly. On the one hand, BFA said it was looking at three options before ending the league. Facts and scenarios informed each decision, and one was independent of the other, it was argued.
The first option, BFA says, was to stop the league where it was and crown the team that occupied the first place, which was Jwaneng Galaxy. Furthermore, three teams lying at the bottom of the table would be relegated, and teams on pole positions from Debswana First Division north and south will be promoted automatically.
By all accounts, the association felt it was a controversial option to undertake but also fairer for the sake of progress. The second available possibility was to stretch the season and consequently change the football calendar. “There has been a shelved proposal that recommends the change of our season from the usual August-May calendar to February – November because of health reasons,” BFA president MacLean Letshwiti said before making the decision.
The last possibility was to nullify all the leagues. This was — and continued to be — the last resort. Across all the global leagues, the domestic campaign had only 10 matches left, which could, in theory, be completed in the space of five weeks. In the end, BFA feels that a decision had to be made for the sake of progress. The dates of the hearing are yet to be made public.
Pontsho Moloi’s character and football standing as a young coach have embodied simplicity and hard work for far too long. Moloi is a local bred coach who has so far threatened foreign gaffers with his coaching philosophy, a style that is exciting and irking football purists in equal measure.
As Moloi is famously known in football circles, Piro has coached a few different clubs in the homeland, but his stewardship of Gaborone United last season — going into the new one- remains his best memorable achievement ever. Before the 2019-20 season was stopped because of the COVID-19 outbreak, GU was one of the league’s favourites.
But as any self-respecting purveyor of sporting cliché knows, it is never a bad idea to keep quiet and let your football do the talking. The only hanging problem for Piro is that he has often wanted to let his talking do the talking — which is a shame since, by and large, his football, both as a player and coach, has spoken loudly enough.
Piro’s coaching resume is fascinating and worth the test for a coach whose career is barely two years old. He has presided over big guns, one staggeringly good debut top-flight campaign, one freewheeling title charge, and one dramatic league season. Yet throughout, he has continued to serve as a punch line, painted by a substantial cohort.
Now, three games into the current season, his Gaborone United side sit at the top of the pile, having won all their games and remarkably keeping a clean sheet. No team has scored more goals than Piro’s side. Is Botswana football finally ready to recognize Piro as an elite-level coach? In fact, why has it not done so already?
The answer is not straightforward, regardless of what some of his harsher detractors would want to believe, although it is true that he has often failed to do himself any favours when a microphone has been aimed his way. In today’s culture, it only takes one slip of the tongue — one tiny sound bite lacking in self-awareness — to make you look silly.
Piro’s model has worked across the board: promotion-chasing minnow, sleeping giant, trophy-hovering Goliath figure, and now an aspirational upper-middleweight.
In each instance, he has found a new gear, improved his team beyond expectation and created a side better than the sum of its parts, at least for a time. Young and veteran players excel under his watch. Attackers — especially hard-running and bloodthirsty centre-forwards, Thatayaone Kgamanyane — flourish like never before. And for once, he has needed big money to make significant progress. Yet even at United, the least tangibly successful of his last three jobs and one where things went downhill towards the end, he put together sensationally exciting teams.
Now at GU, pundits still ask whether he will last longer at the top or he will soon fall. His demonstrations this season speak volumes about winning a bigger and better trophy this season. Can he deliver, or time will tell? Part of the answer will come as the season wears on.
Football giants Township Rollers and Gaborone United have emerged as early favourites to win the newly refined Botswana Football League (BFL), following a perfect start to the season.
There is a sense of relief from different quarters that this new football season, still striving to secure a title sponsor, is set to be packed with more excitement and action than anticipated. Seasons’ never-ending transfer rumour mill, coupled with half-paced friendlies, have their place in football, but they were indeed only going to be a tasty little snack before the sumptuous banquet, which is a new season.
Each team has played three games. At the time of going to print, Gaborone United, driven by local gaffers Innocent Morapedi and Pontso Moloi, remains in pole position with 9 points, maintaining an unbeaten record. The club also holds another record as only to club yet to concede. Also, on pole position is Township Rollers, who remain of the favourites to clinch the title come season end.
Languishing at the bottom of the log is Extension Gunners. The Lobatse based outfit have already pressed panic buttons by sacking their coach. It is still early days, but it appears The Peleng Boys, as they are affectionately called, are suffering early relegation season syndrome. They have played three games and are still struggling to find a win, let alone finding the back of the net.
Big guns like Orapa United and Jwaneng Galaxy have tried to bolster their squads but have failed to stamp authority in their first three encounters. Galaxy look set to be a better team, but two registered wins and a loss may as well betray this standing belief. Orapa, on the other hand, has grouped experienced players in their camp. Die-hard followers hope that this may be a fruitful season, but a midweek loss against Police XI in their backyard leaves followers questioning the readiness of their technical team as the season gets hot.
Township Rollers are breathing heavily on Gaborone United backs. The two teams now becoming rivals are equal on points, but much of the scrutiny is on GU, whose defence might be critical to this year’s championship. The need for news and views — not to mention wins in Lobatse and Francistown or wherever will once again become the all-consuming passion in many football lovers’ lives. Some had reason to be happier than most. That is why Sua Flamingoes and Masitaoka are ecstatic for their first 2021 victories.
A logical decree is that the Premier League’s usual suspects will have it all their way again. Talent galore and bottomless pockets of cash were enough to ensure yet more silverware ends up in already crammed trophy cabinets. The cream, as they say, always tends to rise to the top. Week 1 of this first half-season was the most interesting one. Eighteen goals were scored, and Thatayaone Kgamanyane of GU became the first player to score a Premier League goal this season.
Premier League Chief Executive Officer Solomon Ramochothwane believes this will be the most competitive season of recent seasons. “It is tight and competitive, and we might have a new champion at the end,” he opined. He also expressed happiness that numbers will grow at the stadiums as time goes on. But beyond the shadow of a doubt, the return of Premier League fourth round — as remarkable as the first three laps — will signal several months of nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat tension.