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Punch drunk football sings the blues

Local football is feeling the full brunt of unrelenting punches, from all angles. The rearguard action is failing as blows rain unabated, be it at club or national team levels. The beloved sport, feeling the full impact of the blows, is staggering close to hitting the deck, unable to rise on the referee’s count, observes Staff Writer, MQONDISI DUBE

Football’s burst of optimism has been crudely punctured in recent weeks. The smell of defeat is overwhelming and evenly spread across pitches, from the Stade Olympique in Mauritania, across to the Kamuzu Banda Stadium in Blantyre, spilling across to the Nkana Stadium in Kitwe.

Setsoto Stadium in the heart of Maseru and the 48,000-seater Estádio 11 de Novembro in Luanda, also bear the scars of local football’s documented struggles.

Defeats have come thick and fast, with the Zebras setting the ball rolling after a barren run in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, stretching back to June 2017. The national side has managed just one point and one goal in 450 minutes of football, a dismal return for a side that appeared to be on the ascendancy after rubbing shoulders with the continent’s finest at the 2012 tournament.

Zebras’ last outing saw modest Mauritania inflict a 2-1 defeat at the Stade Olympique on November 16. The previous day, their junior counterparts, the Under-23 had been harangued by Malawi in the Olympic Games qualifiers, which saw Botswana go out 3-2 on aggregate.

The contagious losses moved to the Under-20 side, who went down 2-1 to Zimbabwe on Monday in the opening match of the ongoing COSAFA Cup in Zambia.

The following day, Township Rollers, who reached the group stages of the CAF Champions League last season, sang the blues against unheralded Lesotho side, Bantu FC.  The Blues were surprisingly stretched by the team from a small town, Mafeteng, west of the capital Maseru, who dumped the Botswana champions 4-2 on penalties. The poor run cascaded down to Orapa United, who trotted out of the Francistown Sports Complex dug-out on Wednesday, looking to reverse a 4-0 spanking received at the hands of Angolan side, Atletico Petroleos De Luanda in the first leg.  Instead, it was the Angolan side who emerged 2-0 victors, to record an emphatic 6-0 victory on aggregate.

It means Botswana was left without a representative in the next round of the Africa club competitions. Rollers had pushed expectations high when they reached the group stages of the Champions League last season, but of all teams, Bantu were the side to quickly banish any hopes of a repeat. For Orapa, it was a case of de javu as they went out at the same stage last season, the only difference being the meek way they surrendered this time around. Last season, Orapa matched the more wealthier Mbabane Swallows counterparts, and gave them a mighty scare at the Somhlolo Stadium cauldron.

After the Zebras’ 2012 heroics and Rollers’ firm foot forward in the Champions League last season, there were expectations that Botswana football would move on to a new, higher pedestal.  But instead, football fans are now sifting through the rubble of a mangled wreck in search of answers. Sport consultant, Comfort ‘Big Fish’ Ramatebele says the starting point towards reversing the rot, would be to develop

a sport culture.

“We lack that as a society, I am still to see a President of the republic leading that. We need to thoroughly review budgets committed to sports and long term goals in football,” argues Ramatebele. He says the league is not competitive enough, and needs more financial resources to ensure efficiency. “The league cannot, for example, run on P10 million per season.

It should run on a minimum of P30 million to help teams with monthly grants of no less than P100,000. This has to be backed by deliberate efforts by the government to help football establish junior development structures for teams from Under-9 to Under-23.”

He argues the money is there but has been channelled elsewhere, like constituency tournaments. Ramatebele says the league is being let down by the Btv broadcasting deal, which is cashless. He points out that in some countries, broadcasting rights deals generate a lot of income for teams.  He is of the view that a football indaba must be convened as a matter of urgency to map the way forward.  “We need a long term master plan and the situation cannot be solved by the BFA in isolation,” says Ramatebele.

He also notes that “negative energy” within football teams has the potential to retard progress. “There is so much negative energy and people who personalise things to a point of hatred for each other because of football. There is mediocrity in certain aspects of governance at team and national level. The bad faith has become a tool of governance by some quarters within our game. Some people run teams and associations for fame and not football.”

Football writer and analyst, Tshepo Molwane says he was not surprised by the turn of events.

“At Rollers, it was bound to happen, especially after their exploits in the last (CAF Champions League) edition. The players gave everything from the preliminary stage to the group stages. Fatigue caught up with Rollers. The change in the coaching personnel affected them also,” argues Molwane.

Regarding Orapa United, Molwane says the diamond miners were not adequately prepared.

“You can see by the players they brought during the transfer window. Remember last season, they were knocked out by Mbabane Swallows. I think the management need to have proper planning.” On the national team, he says there was hope when coach, David Bright was appointed last year, but it has all been downhill.

“There was lot of hope considering that he knew the strength and weakness of the players. I must say that in the end, it proved that he did not have a proper plan.  He has so far lost three and drew one and his team is not scoring goals. I had thought that since we have more players in the South African league, the Zebras would perform better, but that is the opposite,” says Molwane.




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