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Football may never return

In a country battling the spread of corona virus from all angles, the football fraternity in Botswana is however, nearing cross roads. Indications are that the popular sport might not return anytime soon given the high standards of health guidelines the game has to satisfy.

Since the beginning of last week, health officials, Botswana Football Association (BFA) and Footballers Union of Botswana are engaging in protracted deliberations of kick- starting the football leagues around the country.

The game has gone into lockdown since early March as the country went into curfew to curb the spread of the pandemic. However, this week administrators of the game have needed to outline their plans for the future, and its proven easier said than done.

Conditions in Botswana and by extension Africa are peculiar. Teams, prior to the spread of the virus, were struggling to make ends meet and given the expectations facing them, it is highly unlikely that the game will return soon.

Sources highlight that, as part of the preparatory guidelines, clubs are anticipated to conduct tests for their players, a task too difficult to execute.

Public health authorities world-wide have been concerned that given the players direct contact with each other and the close interactions with the general public, in addition to their regular travels, they have been super accelerators of the virus.

In the eyes of health authorities, part of the impetus for testing players is that they are quick spreaders who unknowingly spread to people.

However, BFA and other state holders are mindful of the scarcity of corona virus testing equipment in the country. They believe that this will need government buy-in as priority is given to those who came from highly infected areas and those showing symptoms.

Clubs are also expected to use two sets of similar kits for the entire 90 minutes of the game. One kit for the first half and the other in the second stanza. As things stand, no team in the elite league can manage the situation. As if it is not enough, players are expected to stay in one place until the league comes to an end.

Botswana clubs have failed dismally to cater for players who are in camp and the looming expectation from health specialists is too much to bear. Before lockdown, there were 10 games left to play. The Unions Secretary General, Kgosana Masaseng says their input is dependent on the advice of health professionals.

We are in the process of sharing notes with the association and health authorities, but bear in mind that our contribution will also be guided by what health authorities want, he shared. It is said that BFA is looking at three options currently on its table. Each decision is informed by facts and scenarios and one is independent on the other.

The first option, BFA says is to stop the league where it is and crown the team that occupies the first place, which is Jwaneng Galaxy. Furthermore, three teams lying in the bottom of the table will be relegated and teams on pole positions from Debswana First Division north and south will be promoted.

By all accounts, the association feels it is a controversial option to undertake but also equitable for the sake of progress. The second available possibility is 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.

This therefore means that football might have to wait until the end of state of emergency and later be stretched to the February-November calendar. This football season was considered also because of adverse hot conditions unfavourable to the playing conditions in Botswana.

As things stand, a country like Zambia has kept CAF posted that they are likely to return to this football calendar after the virus subsides.

The last possibility is to nullify all the leagues. This was – and continues to be – the last resort. Across all the global leagues, the domestic campaign has only 10 matches left, which could, in theory, be completed in a space of five weeks.

Given that backdrop, why would anyone – ulterior motives accepted – want to get rid of the work put in over the previous seven months and pretend it never happened? It is a question BFA should ask themselves as they ponder on the future.

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