There is a critical amount of public debate unfolding on when and how the football industry should return to play amid the ravaging coronavirus pandemic.
The discussions are spearheaded by the Footballers Union of Botswana (FUB), who in a short period of time, have earned an abrasive response from the local football body, Botswana Football Association (BFA).
FUB whose primary mandate is to stand for the welfare of players in the country, are not satisfied with the state of football affairs in the country. The body has thus far sent a 16 page document to BFA, spelling out reasons why football has to return with immediate effect.
“The primary reason to return to play is economic; entertainment comes as an afterthought at this situation. Football pays players,” the document reads.
The union is steadfast on its insistency that players and members of technical staff are no longer coping without the game. It is their hope that all involved stakeholders must come together and iron out differences for the betterment of the game.
“In recent past, we engaged in several discussions with our members and the overwhelming feedback from these conversations is that players are not only concerned about their own health and safety but predominantly about their family members,” FUB argues.
The union further contends that football must return because players are slowly losing interest in the game.
According to their survey, there is an overwhelming feeling that many players would not return to the game if it takes too long to lift restrictions.
“The game is already down on its knees, some players are contemplating on quitting and by the time we return they will be no clubs to form competitive leagues, the sooner we come back to the game the better,” the union states.
The union continues to exert pressure on the association to put all modalities in place for safe return. There is a massive concern about the readiness of clubs even when circumstances are too much to overcome.
The union is worried about the readiness of the club’s medical staff to protect players and avail necessary tools in the context of COVID-19.
FUB further notes that there are problems on both sides of football. Played or halted. The union had previously conducted a survey and the results are not pleasing.
The number of professional footballers reporting anxiety and depression symptoms has risen sharply upon football career retirement, a survey by FIFPRO and Footballers Union of Botswana (FUB) has found.
Notably, the percentage of professional footballers reporting symptoms of depression has doubled. Until today, FUB conducted an extensive research on their affiliated player associations and surveyed more than 1 500 professional footballers both retired and who are still active.
It was found out that 95% of players hold BGCSE qualification, 12% have gone up to tertiary level while the remaining have only Junior Certificate as their academic achievement. This fed to the long standing doubt why players fail to make it from playing football.
This study is in consistent with the other one conducted recently after corona virus forced football to shut down where players started to fret about their future.
Twenty-two percent of female players and 13 percent of men players reported symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of depression. Eighteen percent of the women and 16 percent of the men reported symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of generalized anxiety. (In most scientific research, a higher number of women than men report symptoms of depression and anxiety.)
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.