Mmegi Online :: Overgrown BPL due for 'haircut'
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Last Updated
Wednesday 19 December 2018, 16:17 pm.
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Overgrown BPL due for 'haircut'

The decision to increase teams from 12 to 16 in 2004, was largely seen as a benevolent measure, meant to rescue two ailing giants, Township Rollers and Gaborone United, who were then, knee-deep in the dusty grounds of First Division. But that decision, after serving that cosmetic purpose, has now turned into an unwanted baggage, as a 16-team league has become increasingly unsustainable, writes MQONDISI DUBE
By Mqondisi Dube Fri 27 Jul 2018, 12:40 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Overgrown BPL due for 'haircut'








After Nico United’s Leagile ‘Ziza’ Mogwera winner condemned the country’s most successful team, Township Rollers, to a painful relegation in 2004, there was immediate soul searching.

It spread from Mma Masire, the club’s base, and contaminated other teams who were sympathetic to Rollers’ cause, amongst them, Gaborone United (GU). The Reds had been wallowing in the First Division for five uninterrupted seasons and Rollers were about to join as a partner-in-crime.

It shifted the balance of power, as most community teams advocated for the two sleeping giants’ return. There were threats to break away from the then Super League to form the Botswana Soccer Association (BOSA) as they felt institutional teams, such as BDF XI, Prisons XI, Police XI and Mogoditshane Fighters had an unfair advantage.

A deal had to be struck to avert a catastrophic situation and clubs agreed to increase the league from 12 to 16 teams, which saw the re-entry of both Rollers and GU.

Three years later, in Selebi-Phikwe clubs, agreed that the bloated league was proving unsustainable for a country with a population of only two million people.

After the craving to force back Rollers and GU had been satisfied and had naturally subsided, sanity prevailed, and everyone agreed the 16-team league was too big for a small population. The little that the league got from sponsorship, was quickly gobbled as the family was too large.

The Bosele Declaration, crafted in Selebi-Phikwe in 2008, recommended that the teams be trimmed to 12.  However, a decade later there has been little movement, despite several new voices being added to the debate, all in support of the motion. Botswana Football Association president, Maclean Letshwiti supports the trimming of teams back to 12.

“My view is that, yes, they are too many. We should promote quality as opposed to quantity,

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but the congress and the Premier League have to debate this issue. It’s a challenge to spread the resources,” he said in a previous interview.

BFA chief executive officer, Mfolo Mfolo also believes that, if the BPL is to be competitive and attractive to fans, a 12-team league is a must. However, he said other compliance issues, including the Club Licensing, have to be satisfied first, before moving on to the cutting of teams. “We have to apply our minds rationally. The vision should be about a competitive league that keeps supporters on their toes. But first, the BPL should tighten on club licensing, and address issues of professionalism, then we can move on to other matters,” Mfolo said.

Former GU general manager, Olebile Sikwane said the issue of trimming clubs was now non-negotiable if the BPL was to retain relevance. “We don’t have the requisite population to drive merchandise sales. There is no qualified personnel, and the infrastructure is still third class. With a leaner league, competition will be stiff and the product becomes attractive. Sponsors would become amenable to discuss possibilities with clubs as private entities,” Sikwane said.While talks over reducing teams have progressed at a snail’s pace, the number of Botswana Premier League teams wasting away on the deathbed, might finally twist authorities’ hand.

Up to 10 clubs took out their begging bowls and approached the BPL for advances on their prize money, way before the 2017/2018 league season concluded. The majority of the 16 clubs failed to regularly pay players’ salaries, sparking drawn-out disputes. Some countries in the region, and in Europe, with far higher populations than Botswana, have leaner leagues. That 16, instead of 10 or 12, clubs are forced to crowd for a P13million sponsorship, should force an immediate re-think.

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