Amid rising concerns over the state of the country’s elite league, the BTC Premiership, Botswana Football Association (BFA) president, Maclean Letshwiti this week accepted blame and promised swift repair works, as a restive football family keeps an eagle eye. In this interview, Letshwiti tells Mmegi Sport Staff Writer, MQONDISI DUBE, the rot at the Botswana Premier League is a culmination of a wrong approach to the administration of the league competition
Botswana Football Association (BFA) president, Maclean Letshwiti was candid in his admission in the wake of a damaging press statement, reminding BTC Premiership clubs of the absence of prize money at the end of the season.
Letshwiti has acknowledged that his administration has let the guard down regarding the running of the elite league.
He said the structure is skewed as the national association should not run the league, citing examples of South Africa, England and Zambia.
While he said he is not trying to shift the blame, he traces the genesis of the rot to as far back as 2012, or even beyond.
“We were supposed to implement the recommendations of the Bosele Declaration. We should have started this process a long time ago. To transform will take two or three years, but you have to take the necessary steps now. My expectation is that by the start of the next season, we should have transformed the structure of the teams, and formed a company to run the Premier League in a professional manner. The clubs which are serious about transformation, agree with me. The people who are making noise, are the ones who are not ready for Club Licencing,” he said.
He said there was a wrong expectation that the mother body should fund the clubs.
“It is the Premier League that funds the mother body, and not the other way round, and that the mother body is not responsible for funding teams. That’s where the problem is. That is wrong expectation. Before you go into the league you should be able to sustain yourself. The grants are a bonus.
The money from the sponsors is for prize money, it is not for grants. When there is excess, then we give grants, but money is for competition, and competition is about prize money. That’s how sponsorship works. We are wrong to give grants at the expense of prize money. It is wrong, because teams are wrongly structured. That’s the problem and it has nothing to do with Letshwiti. The problem with Letshwiti (and others before him), is that he took too long to implement club licencing.”
Letshwiti said the challenges arose due to a five-year broadcasting rights deal signed by the previous administration with Botswana Television.
The last two years of the deal were cashless, meaning the league continued to spend money, which it didn’t have, Letshwiti said.
Ahead of BFA elections later this year, Letshwiti said there is no reason why he should not be given a fresh term.
“When we came in, we only had two partners, but now we have other partners like Choppies, FNBB and Absa. All our junior teams are sponsored. Women’s football is flourishing, it’s not all about the league. We are about to build an academy. We are going to have more qualified referees and coaches, to assist in the production of players,” Letshwiti revealed.
He added that there was now a new constitution in place, which is the instrument of development.
“The only thing that I think I have not achieved, is the professionalisation of the league, but we are working on it. That is our only failure, but we have a process in place.”
On the promise of 5,000 jobs, Letshwiti said it was a process that can be achieved through structures being put up.
Letshwiti anchored his campaign on development, and promised to create 5,000 jobs. This week he said, when football is fully developed, it would create the jobs.
“That is not to say we have not created the jobs, but jobs come from structures that you develop,” he said.
Letshwiti had also said he would look to export players to Europe, as opposed to the well- trodden South African route. He admitted that this has not moved at the pace he would have liked, but is hopeful that with the addition of an academy, the dream would be realised.
But what role did he play, as he is a BTC board member and BFA president, simultaneously.
“It is always difficult, but when such matters are discussed, you recuse yourself. But when people say there is a problem, first you have to look at the problem, and admit there is a problem. We have to admit that we failed. But that is in the past, we now look at how we manage all our sponsorships, so that we do not lose them.”
He said they had not opened new talks with BTC, but are in contact with other potential partners.
“But the future lies in us creating a league that can attract sponsors. When you have an attractive product, sponsors will put money in.”
Letshwiti said the employment of a chief executive officer at BPL is not a priority at the moment, but what is key is to put in place the right structure to make the product attractive.
On the dwindling number of fans at stadiums, Letshwiti said if the product is not attractive, supporters will stay away.
“Why do people attend Kaizer Chiefs games, is it SAFA? No. It’s because of Kaizer Chiefs itself, how they run the club. The clubs have to be attractive themselves. The answer lies with club licencing which will enforce to the T,” he said.
What new campaign message does he have?
“The focus is still the same; our full development plan is from 2019 to 2022, we want to complete it. We have a new constitution that we have to roll out. We have an academy that we need to complete. So do you want me to leave? I might have said (I will serve) four years but maybe I didn’t know. I am not going to campaign on anything new, but something that I have started.”
He said when he came in, he was a greenhorn in football, but has garnered sufficient experience through his appointment to regional, continental and global bodies.
What’s the financial status of the league, as Letshwiti said there was a negative balance at both the BFA and BPL when they took over?
“From 2012, there were running on a deficit. In business it’s called reckless spending, spending money that you don’t have. They spent the money from the television deal in advance, and when it entered the cashless phase, the financial crisis of the Premier League became more pronounced, and then it became worse when there was a reduction in the sponsorship.
What made it worse is that from 2012, they were not making money and yet they were spending more than they were having. The chickens have come home to roost. The problems didn’t start now, but in 2012.
What should have happened is that they were supposed to increase the revenues, but they didn’t. In my administration I said, we stop, we don’t spend. I said the money we get, we reduce debts, and that worsens the situation. We are saying we can’t give you money, which we don’t have. In the past, it looked like they had money, when they didn’t. This became pronounced after the cashless deal and the sponsorship reduction, and bang the reality hits.”
“It’s not that we don’t have money, but we are now prioritising. The money is there but we are not using it recklessly. I am not trying to push the blame, but these are the facts.”
Another way to ensure an attractive league, would be to reduce Premier League teams, Letshwiti said. A UEFA delegation who visited the country last year, recommended the trimming of the league from the current 16 teams. A leaner league would mean more resources to teams.