In the build-up to the 2016 Botswana Football Association (BFA) elections, the BTC Premiership was in tatters. The smoke of anger could be seen from a distance, as clubs were seething after the league had dragged for eternity owing to countless protests. There is a sense of déjà vu as the Botswana Football Association (BFA) approaches its August 8 plebiscite, observes Staff Writer, MQONDISI DUBE
The Botswana Premier League (BPL) offices are barely noticeable. The door to the office that houses a product once valued at more than P15 million, are to the extreme right of the entrance at Lekidi Centre, with big brother, the Botswana Football Association (BFA) occupying the more prominent space.
It is an understandable arrangement, as the BPL remains an organ of the BFA despite years of calls for autonomy.
Despite its small physical stature, the BPL can be a deadly assassin, as the 2016 BFA elections proved.
When former president, Tebogo Sebego looks back on that fateful night at Tlotlo Conference Centre (at the end of Block 5), he would know the telling blow the BPL dealt his campaign.
After a typically long day of football deliberations characterised by daggers, Sebego slowly walked away from the ‘crime scene’, with the BPL complicit in the commission of the defeat.
A few steps behind him, wild celebrations from the victorious Maclean Letshwiti camp erupted.
Then, the Premier League programme had dragged into August, as the BPL struggled to deal with protests. Mochudi Centre Chiefs were initially installed as champions, before their perennial rivals, Township Rollers were confirmed, summing up the anarchical nature of the season.
The BPL as part of the electoral college, carries 16 votes. Each club is allocated one vote. The First Division, both North and South, has eight votes, while the biggest share goes to the 17 regions. Two members of the committee vote, making it 34 allocations for the regions.
Two votes come from the women’s football.
The battle usually appears to be won and lost in the regions, but despite being the second biggest constituency, the BPL is known to carry lethal influence.
Sebego’s downfall was likely the BPL, with Letshwiti capitalising on the swelling anger from the clubs. Fast forward to 2020, the BPL still stands out like a sore thumb. By Letshwiti’s own admission, the BFA should have long been weaned off the BPL, to hand it the long awaited autonomy.
The announcement that the teams would not receive prize money accelerated resentment, and a controversial move to declare the season complete, was the further fuel on the fire.
Some had argued the season could have been declared null and void, but Letshwiti and his committee, made a brave decision to end the campaign with the standings determining the final positions.
It remains to be seen if Letshwiti has acquired sufficient insulation to withstand the volatility of the BPL’s 16 sides.
Sebego is part of the voters as the head of Notwane. Letshwiti is confident of sailing through on the back of the support of the regions, the largest voting constituency.
But there are a lot of possible swing voters, which lays the foundation for a tight contest.
The winner on August 8 would look to accelerate reforms, and move to push for BPL’s autonomy.
The BPL has largely stuttered and failed to reach its full value, despite the numerous growth opportunities. At the moment, the BPL is on a cashless broadcast deal, signed under the previous administration, while title sponsor, BTC, slashed the sponsorship amount, meaning clubs would not get any prize money.
It is expected that it would get worse for the league next season as the COVID-19 impact continues to bite, unless a vaccine is found.
If the ‘new normal’ persists, teams would play in front of empty stadiums, while the broadcast deal has expired.
The BFA contest would hinge largely on how the BPL and the regions vote, with an added tilt to the race. Maokaneng Bontshetse, a key former Letshwiti ally, has crossed the divide, after he failed to get his wish to contest for the second vice president post.
Instead, Letshwiti has gained Masego Nchingane, who was previously with Sebego’s Friends of Football. However, Bontshetse is seen as a person prepared to get his hands dirty, a typical freedom square politician, while Nchingane is a much more reserved ‘diplomat’.