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But why?

MQONDISI DUBE
Sorry sight: Rollers and BDF XI players sweat down the National Stadium stands, while handful of supporters watch on PIC: KENNEDY RAMOKONE
Football, without fans, probably tastes worse than tea without sugar. Since time immemorial, fans have been instrumental in driving teams forward. Their voices from the terraces matter, but Botswana football has come face-to-face with sobering reality, the fansí voices have died down, writes MQONDISI DUBE

Local football is hovering perilously close to a ticking time bomb. While most clubs are already battling to stay afloat amid crippling financial challenges, a fresh dilemma has emerged; fans are no longer interested in going to the stadiums to watch games. Evidence? Only 4,500 fans bothered to walk through the stadium gates when all the four Mascom Top 8 quarter finals were played.

That sent football authorities scouring for answers. The challenge is that the answers might not be immediately available.

“It is concerning that the (Mascom) quarter final games recorded some of the lowest numbers of spectators,” Botswana Premier League (BPL) chief executive officer, Thabo ‘Styles’ Ntshinogang said this week.

He promised that they would find remedial solutions to the problem sooner than later.

But a daunting task lies ahead. Not long ago, fans packed stadiums to watch their favourite teams. Along the way, seemingly, there was a disconnect.While the clubs shoulder the majority of the blame, the BPL, as the owner of the product, has a significant role to play.

Some clubs are already teetering on the brink of collapse as they feel the financial pinch, despite improved sponsorship deals over the years. BTC recently poured P40 million into football, and that is massive injection, while Mascom takes care of the Top 8 competition allocating P8 million.

The cost of running football, a very wide constituency, which virtually covers every blade of grass in vast Botswana, is high.

Clubs have continually hit a brick wall in their bids to land individual sponsors, and some have strangely managed to stay afloat in the harshest of conditions.

The disappearance of the club’s 12th player- the supporter, threatens to be the closest to the straw that might break the camel’s back.

Without fans, there is no game, particularly in a semi professional league where gate takings are the clubs’ lifeblood. In cash-rich South Africa, clubs can afford to attract paltry crowds as they rely on generous million r

and grants from the Premier League and sponsorship deals are sufficient to sustain the clubs.

Funding has been the constant thorn in the flesh that has dribbled even the most erudite administrators who came with floods of ideas and promises to turn around the fortunes of the game.Now, before a solution is found to the first equation, finance, a second, and potentially more vexing operation has been added.

The approach to finding lasting solutions to the fan stay-away, would be key. BPL and the Botswana Football Association (BFA), have a duty to assume a communication model that will suit all stakeholders.

At the moment, the

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authorities appear to have chosen the classical management approach, which excludes the critical components of the game; the fans.

This approach, used in organisational communication, is not all encompassing, but places emphasis on bureaucracy and sees the management as the ‘thinkers’ and ideas are forced from top, down.

The ideal approach, would be the human and knowledge based approaches, which recognise every stakeholders’ input as critical.

It would be suicidal for the authorities to prescribe what fans want. Fans have to prescribe the kind of product they want to watch.

Pouring millions alone is insufficient, and even playing attractive football may not be the only answer.

There are a lot of issues which appear to have been ignored-deliberately or naively. Fans have evidently grown weary due to, at times, the haphazard management of the game. They have to wait until the very last minute before they are 100% certain where and when the match will take place. The constant fixture changing does not aid a product already battling for purity.

Clubs are scattered all over without fixed home grounds and some kick-off times, are the proverbial sucker punches which turn away supporters. For instance, the Mascom Top 8 quarter-final tie between Mochudi Centre Chiefs and Jwaneng Galaxy kicks off at 1700hrs on a Sunday, 150 kilometres away from the capital, a known cash cow as far as fan base is concerned.

At times it appears the BPL is going through the emotions with the fixtures- the sole aim, to complete the league programme on time.

The BPL and clubs have also failed to incentivise fans. Besides football, there is nearly nothing to convert a non-football fan. The approaches employed are simply aimed at the old, with no emphasis on bringing new fans to the stadium.

The BPL, under Bennett Mamelodi, came up with what appeared a spot-on initiative to attract supporters, including women and children, to the stadium, under what was called a ‘11 point plan’. Football is still largely viewed as patriarchal with very little room for the opposite sex and children. The BPL and clubs have, up to now, squandered an opportunity to make ‘the beautiful game’, all encompassing as a family sport.

But in the meantime, the message is growing louder with each empty seat.

Amid the dying stadium noise, the fans have made the loudest statement. As the gauntlet lies right before football authorities’ feet, drastic -and at times unpopular- measures are needed, and the reduction of what is seen as a bloated league, from 16 to 12 teams might be the first bold step.



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