In a country that places sport at the bottom of its priorities, Botswana Senior national team’s dream of qualifying to the 33rd edition of the African prestigious tournament was a misconception right from the beginning.
With Adel Amrouche, recruited and paid a staggering P 250 000 to embody the future of the Zebras squad, his buoyance and pragmatic style of coaching appeared to confuse different ideologies of the game.
Botswana’s elite league has been in chains for over a year now. Players’ fitness, without doubt took a nose dive because majority of them had never kicked the ball in a competitive game. Dangling bigger carrots by the Government of Botswana at a very crucial stage was never going to help the situation.
These stories of a disjointed association and league point rather wearily to the basic obstacle on Botswana’s own path to Cameroon games. A Premier League that refused to restart the games and many published Government Gazette that closed out sport have edged Botswana’s national team concerns to the fringes. Players are not allowed to play at club level but are expected to kick the ball and win on the international stage.
Football for a very long time has been feeding from crumps. There is no clear budget for sport and even 11th hour incentives cannot help turn the corner, only thorough preparations can.
For far too long, Botswana has become a little more than a spectator in an African Cup of Nations qualifying race. The future of this footballing nation now mirrors a tomorrow that may never come. It does not come by fluke…like many aspects of life, even in football, there are no short cuts. There is no easy way to the top. It tells a story that we are jumbling preparations of the game, no wonder we could not juggle the ball better than Zimbabwe.
But all these things come from afar. When Amrouche was employed, like many of his predecessors, he was asked to take the team to AFCON finals, but this never materialized because there is no clear road map. Some of the stories are of course his own doing. The reported fall out he had with some players and members of the technical team meant that he earned himself many enemies.
Many loved his tough nosed approach to disciplinary issues. When he came in he put his foot on the ground and immediately suspended about four players for disobeying his laid down camp rules.
Amrouche is not a man who trusts easily. He fired almost everyone he feels sabotaged him. He ultimately surrounded himself with few faces new to the game. Unfortunately, it turned out that he was doing it too much…running the show all by himself.
His prize tag was justifiable enough to qualify the team to the African show piece but little did he know that he had many enemies who prayed day and night that he does not make it.
Statistically, his coaching resume in the country does not inspire confidence. He played a total of 8 games. He won 1 game and lost 5, the other two games ended in a stalemate. This is from a man who smiles all the way to the bank to withdraw P250 000 every month.
With Amrouche, Botswana was expected to take some pride from Cape Verde of 2010 and Madagascar of 2019; they can’t just leave with crossed arms, and so followers thought this was going to be a one-on-one match.
But as fate finally proved it, Botswana is not organized in doing their things, no wonder their success, both in the region and the continent is not highly merited. A coach given blank administration duties slowly became a rolling stone.
He is allowed to recruit players and negotiate contracts for them with oversea clubs. While some see it as a good gesture, to others is a direct conflict of interest. It means players would not be picked on merit, but in line of favouritism. This explains why Tshepo Maikano, the Zebras trusted right back, was benched because he had a fallout with the coach mid-way through the preparations. He was replaced with Gape Gaogane who was being trialled in the position.
This is the reason players like Kobamelo Kebaikanye played the entire game simply because he is in good books with the coach.
Without doubt, and by his own admission, Amrouche has failed. He has sabotaged the country and he too has been sabotaged.
Striker Teenage Orebonye and midfielder Kabelo Seakanyeng could have played the Zimbabwe affair, but it turns out that some within the federation sit until the last hour to process their visas, consequently spoiling Amrouche’s plans.
These are the two players Amrouche personally ensured that they play in oversea games but he now knows that AFCON 2021 failure cannot be accepted.
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.