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COVID could delay football return

MQONDISI DUBE
Ball players: COVID-19 has delayed football's return PIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO
Local fans’ hope of an early return of their favourite sport, football, might hit a brick wall as COVID-19 shows no signs of abating.

It is almost a full year since the leagues were suspended last March, following the outbreak of the pandemic, which has vastly altered the sport landscape. The Botswana Football Association (BFA) had set February as the month football would swing back into full action. However, a second wave sweeping across the country threatens to scupper the plans. BFA president, Maclean Letshwiti wants football to return, but said circumstances could be beyond their control. “One of the challenges facing us is to start football being played in Botswana. We want to play football, but first and foremost is the health of the players,” Letshwiti said this week.

“This is going to be a big challenge for Botswana. Elsewhere like in South Africa, the clubs and the league mobilise resources. They can afford the financial burden without bothering the mother body. Here, the league is not that professional.” He said it would be difficult to adhere to COVID-19 protocols due to the costs. However, he said the intention is to start the league next month. “However, it is not my call, there is the Ministry of Health and compliance. For regional leagues, it might not be a challenge, but for the top league

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it is different as it is played across zones. The circumstances are different, we cannot just say they are playing (football) in South Africa,” he said.

Letshwiti added elsewhere, clubs make a lot of money through television rights, while in Botswana there are limitations. State broadcaster, Botswana Television (Btv) has been the main rights holder over the years, bar a brief period where Supersport came on board in a cashless deal. Letshwiti said the challenge was that Btv was a state and, not a commercial broadcaster. The number of televised games is also limited due to the nature of Btv’s programming. “That’s the bottleneck (regarding broadcasting rights). We are in discussions with all the sponsors but nothing has been concluded,” he said. Premiership title sponsor, BTC’s deal with the BFA had elapsed and negotiations are underway. The same applies to the Btv deal. The other hindrance to the start of action is that COVID-19 tests are, according to FIFA mandatory.

This could escalate costs associated with the return. When football was halted in March, a taskforce indicated that P300 million was needed for the resumption of action, with the bulk of the costs going towards testing and disinfection of venues.



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