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The battle to rescue Constituency football

It all started on one good afternoon in the last week of August when Kgosana Masaseng, a highly regarded football analyst and Players’ Union spokesperson, made a call to FIFA development officer, Ashford Mamelodi.

Masaseng wanted to meet with Mamelodi to discuss the future of Botswana football in the context of the controversy-ridden Constituency football tournaments. The two would later meet in a Portuguese restaurant at Gaborone’s Game City shopping mall.

As they dined, the hotly debated topic of Constituency tournament was discussed. More was to follow. Little did Masaseng and Mamelodi realise that by starting discussions around this issue, a solution to the most troubling football matter was in the offing.

Mamelodi left the meeting with an assignment to think about a solution that the Botswana Football Association (BFA) and Government could easily agree upon. A new date for the second round of discussions was later agreed on and secured. This time, the plot thickened. Masaseng was tasked with coming up with a list of key strategists to help fast-track the discussions to break the constituency tournaments stalemate.

Politicians from across the spectrum were at the time at each other’s throat especially after information spread that FIFA had given the BFA until September 22 to come up with convincing answers to the issue of Constituency tournaments. The BFA, according to those close to the game, had written FIFA in Zurich, complaining about the impact of Constituency tournaments on mainstream football in Botswana.

FIFA swiftly sent a two-man delegation to Botswana on a fact-finding mission to assess the impact of constituency tournaments, which were introduced in 2008 in an attempt by Government to address youth unemployment, among other thorny issues. It was called the constituency sport tournament programme as it coincided with the political constituency boundaries for its implementation and administration.

The FIFA delegation after meeting both Government officials led by the acting Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture, Vincent Seretse, and the Tebogo Sebego-led BFA, wasted no time in giving feedback to key stakeholders. In no time, the mission was completed and a report compiled for the world governing body.

It was not long before word was out that Botswana risked suspension from the world soccer governing body. In trying to address the problem, the BFA met with the Botswana National Sports Council (BNSC) to find a common ground on this hotly contested matter. Apparently, their proposal was shot down by Seretse, who is said to have maintained that his Government would not back down even in the face of a FIFA sanction.

Opposition politicians took to the freedom squares, pointing accusing fingers at the ruling party for bringing the country’s football into disrepute. However, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) – through the then Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture, Shaw Kgathi – was steadfast in its response to its critics, accusing them of reporting the matter to FIFA before it could be fully dealt with locally. As tempers flared, President Ian Khama probably delivered a sucker punch to the BFA when he declared that if FIFA insisted on a suspension, his Government would withdraw resources and hand over the tournaments to the BFA for administration. It was at this stage that the battle lines were drawn. On the sidelines, the Masaseng-Mamelodi project was slowly taking shape. Soon a meeting was arranged with a Member of Parliament (MP) for the now Bonnington South, Botsalo Ntuane, at the Botswana Craft.

His role was to try his best and pass the message onto the country’s top leadership about the prospects of a compromise. Ntuane was convinced that a solution was within reach and that all it called for was a platform where the issue could be thrashed out in greater detail. Predictably he was to make it happen within the shortest time possible.

It was in his interest and that of his party to act on the matter as it had by then become a political hot potato. By late evening, Ntuane contacted President Khama’s senior private secretary, George Tlhalerwa, who promised to escalate the matter further, or at the least, try to secure a meeting for Mamelodi. The political side of the business was in top gear.

After three days, the President was still not available for a meeting as his schedule was jam-packed. Whilst in Jwaneng to provide lectures for Jwaneng Galaxy FC, the Masaseng-Mamelodi axis developed and secured another route that could get the country’s top office to at least spare a minute or two for a briefing.

 Jwaneng-Mabutsane parliamentary hopeful, Mephatho Reatile was the next target. He was seen as a close ‘chess icon’ that could reach the Office of the President (OP) much quicker in an effort to parry the political pressure from opponents. Indeed, the choice turned to be spot on.

On the eve of BDP’s fund-raising dinner featuring renowned South African business magnate Patrice Motsepeld at Boipuso Hall, Reatile met Masaseng and Mamelodi who were arriving from Jwaneng to make a follow-up to their previous call. Although Reatile was for a minute glued to the couch at the Cappuccinos, he was equally in a hurry to attend the fund-raising event. The constituency tournament solution would, in the remaining three weeks ahead of the elections make life much easier for the ruling party. His interest was now in the “three weeks”.

The meeting ended with yet another assignment for the BDP spin doctor. Whilst attending the dinner, Reatile could not afford to take his eyes off the ball. In between activities, he found his way to Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe’s ear and whispered the “good news”. That very night, a decision was made to secure a meeting for Monday and suddenly the gigs-saw puzzle pieces were falling into place.

Ntuane on the other side had also secured an appointment for Mamelodi to come for a brief presentation. Monday was turning into a D-day. Through the efforts of Reatile, the vice president finally met the former BFA strongman for a meeting at the OP at 1200hrs. Victory was imminent. 

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Sport

Two of a kind emerge

1st March 2021
Letsile Tebogo and Maungo Matlhaku

Events that recently unfolded in the athletics world locally point only to possibility – Letsile Tebogo and Maungo Matlhaku are well groomed to receive the baton from Isaac Makwala and Lydia Jele respectively.

The two athletes sprinted to new local track records, smashing those set by their seniors.

As it is the norm in athletics, the biggest mistake these two athletes could make is to drop the baton. The two youngsters must not look back, they must steeplechase – clear all the hurdles so they may surpass the feet achieved by their seniors.

Letsile Tebogo announced his arrival in scintillating fashion recently. Barely two years after smashing Thebe’s 200m national record of 21:25 during Gaborone Games in 2019, this past weekend the young lad obliterated yet another 100m national record of 10.20 seconds. For a long time the record was held by the country’s iconic athlete Isaac Makwala.

Tebogo set a new record, completing the race in 10.14 seconds. Tebogo, who is currently under Lefika Athletics Club, came into the meet, organised by Sports View Runners Club, with a personal best of 10.49 seconds.

However, the new national record was not good enough for Tebogo to qualify for the Olympic Games as he needed to clock 10.05 seconds; which is the Olympic qualifying entry under the 100meters category. For his efforts, he received P1 000 cash and a trophy.

Under the women’s category, Leungo Matlhaku also stole the show after clocking 11.24 seconds to replace Lydia Jele’s national record of 11.39 seconds which she set in May 2019.

When speaking to local media after the race, Matlhaku assured the nation to expect the best performance at the upcoming events as she aims to qualifying for Tokyo Olympics and World Championships.

The sensational 100m sprinter said: “Even though after almost nine months without training, performance was testimony of the fact that the best was yet to come.”

Matlhaku noted that setting new national records was an indication that athletes were at their peak performance and that the upcoming national meets would be appetizing with the positive performance.

This week WeekendSport caught up with Tebogo, who expressed his gratitude to the national team athletes as the pillar behind his strength since they encouraged him to work hard. He agrees that he needs to habituate himself to hard work.

He said Saturday’s performance helped him realise his dream of qualifying for the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics which was postponed last year due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

“For me to qualify for the upcoming Olympics under 100 meters category, I will have to clock 10.05 seconds which is qualification entry while under 200meter is 20.24 seconds,” he shared.

When quizzed how Covid-19 has affected his preparation he said: “It has affected us badly as preparation training for the competition was halted, but the lockdown imposed was however useful as I used the period to work out on my strength which are necessary for a sprinter.”

Tebogo started seriously taking part in athletics in 2016 when he was still at primary school. At the time he was under the guidance of former national team coach, Mogomotsi Otsetswe.

In 2016 during Botswana Primary School Sports Association (BOPSSA) competitions, he won three gold medals in 100m, 200m and 4x100m relays.

Despite not winning anything the previous year, 2018 saw him come back well prepared and went on to win two gold medals under the 200m category and 4X100m relays. He also won a silver medal after a sterling performance in the 100m race during the Botswana Integrated Sports Association (BISA) national finals.

Tebogo went on to win the gold medal after clocking an impressive time of 21:12, qualifying for under 20 World Athletics Championships which was to be held in Kenya last year but was postponed yet again due to corona virus.

Over the last 10 years, Botswana Athletics Association (BAA) has been famed for its consistency when it comes to producing the country’s top athletes, who are dominating and widening the competition gap with other sporting codes.

The code success expresses itself in elite talents the likes of Baboloki Thebe, Nigel Amos, Amantle Montsho and Karabo Sibanda to mention but a few.

These top talents made sure athletics remain at the top in this country.

 

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Sport

P120m BFA Academy dream shattered

1st March 2021
Jim James Ratcliffe - Ineos Group Ltd

Botswana Football Association (BFA) leadership is devastated after Ineos Group Ltd, a British multinational chemicals company, somersaulted on their initial promise to build a multi-million Pula football academy and instead travelled up north to pitch camp in Ivory Coast.

This publication has learnt that Ineos Group which had signed contracts with the association was at a very advanced stage to erect a P120 million state-of-the-art academy in a plot located behind the national stadium in Gaborone.

According to close sources, Ineos however grew frustrated by Botswana’s lengthy and haphazard processes and procedures that led them nowhere and only served to waste more time. Ineos were reportedly irked by the delay and dumped BFA before the end of last year.

Things took a nasty twist in April of 2018 when Botswana leadership reshuffled the cabinet. Ministry of Sport faces therefore changed as Thapelo Olopeng was replaced by Tshekedi Khama.

It is said that under Olopeng, processes were fast tracked as the cabinet was briefed, and endorsed the development. Things started moving at a snail’s space after Khama took office. It emerges that the then Minister had to freeze every move after reports came thick and fast that some National Executive Committee members were almost secret shareholders of the academy.

The matter was so volatile that it reached the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) offices for further investigations.

While that seemingly turned off Ineos group, the straw that would broke the camel’s back was the realisation that some appointed architects had dragged the association to court for failing to adhere to agreed terms.

However, one high ranking BFA official said that indeed Ineos group has abandoned talks and have up and left.

“I do not want to dwell much on the story of corona virus effects, but what I can tell you is that there was a lot of petty talks surrounding this academy, and this was never going to take us anywhere. We were dealing with professionals and they are gone,” the NEC member said.

It was indicated that BFA was at a stage of re- engaging the British chemical engineer turned financier and industrialist, Sir James Ratcliffe to start pumping money into the project that was to run for a period of two years.

Ratcliffe had frequented the country on three occasions, precisely at Lekidi Football Centre, since MacLean Letshwiti assumed the BFA power seat in 2016.

The main reason for the visits, WeekendSport had learnt was to discuss setting up the academy as well as to assess the possible piece of land where the academy would be set up.

The state-of-the-art facility, according to the site layout included-among others-accommodation for up to 80 people; indoor training facility; fully equipped gym; Restaurant for both academy and public meals. High tech media conference centre that can seat 80, 3 x full size top of range FIFA approved turf fields, artificial turf 5-a-side fields, boardroom and office space and on site medical services (doctor and physiotherapists).

In addition, the project will help upgrade the netball facilities as well as install a multi-sport zone for public use.The facility was not only to be used for football but was to be a commercial structure which would be used to generate money to run itself.

BFA said the objectives of the academy was to provide young footballers from Botswana an opportunity to transform into better footballers at a world class facility in their home country.

Furthermore, it was to allow the best players to travel to Lausanne, Switzerland- a country that also houses the FIFA headquarters- to complete a further two years of academy training and education that will eventually avail them the opportunity to become professional footballers in Europe and elsewhere.

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Sport

Nijel to sell Olympic medal

1st March 2021
NIJEL AMOS

Botswana Olympic medallist, Nijel Amos has written to the Botswana National Sport Commission requesting permission to sell the silver medal he won at London 2012 Olympics.

BNSC is currently seized with the request and contemplating the best solution. According to sources at BNSC, the sports organisation is unwilling to give in to Amos’ demands of selling the medal as they believe it is a national treasure.

It is the first medal the country won at the Olympics- a major sports competition.”They have turned him down and are planning to find ways of assisting him as he said in the letter that he is selling the medal to raise money for his charity and also to raise money for himself,” said a source.

“They have been in contact with him to see how they can assist him in that regard and should he turn them down they plan to buy the medal from him and put it either at the museum or somewhere where people can come and see the medal just like in other countries.”

The 27 year-old 800 meter athlete clinched Botswana’s first ever and only Olympic medal at the Summer Olympics in 2012 held in London, United Kingdom.

Amos confirmed to this publication that he has written to BNSC but he is yet to receive feedback from them. “I have to get permission before selling it. I am now waiting for them to give me feedback. I cannot tell you why I want to sell the medal out of respect because the matter is still being discussed,” said Amos.

Acting BNSC Chief Executive Officer, Tuelo Serufho confirmed that they have received the letter and are still finding possible ways of dealing with the issue since it is the first of its kind.

“We have not yet finalised on how to best deal with the issue as you are aware it is a very delicate matter and needs serious attention. We will find the best way to solve it and we hope to soon meet with the athlete and engage him on how to deal with it,” said Serufho.

Botswana made her Olympic debut in 1980, Moscow, Russia and only managed to get a silver medal in 2012 through Marobela born Amos who was a teenager at the time.

Amos clocked 1:41:73 seconds, behind Kenya’s David Rudish. The time turned out to be a set-up of some fierce competition between the two athletes since then till to now.

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