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404 days and counting...

MQONDISI DUBE
Football
Today, Friday 23 April 2021 marks 404 days since local teams last kicked a ball in a competitive match.

March 15, 2020, was the last day a local top-flight football competition was played as teams battled it out in the Orange FA Cup round of 16. Only two matches, featuring Nico United and Mogoditshane Fighters took place, as the teams played for a spot in the top-flight league. Otherwise, all teams have remained inactive at a local level. Jwaneng Galaxy and Orapa United managed to test some action, but it was at a continental level when they took part in the CAF club competitions.

Since then dark COVID-19 clouds have enveloped the local game, with no clear skies in sight.

There were hopes football, by far the country’s most popular sport, would return as early as January with some comprehensive plans for a return on the cards. The FA Cup, which was halted at the quarter-final stage, was supposed to kick start proceedings, followed by league action.

However, with COVID-19 cases rising soon after the festive season break, the restart was pushed to February. But there were further setbacks when the government announced the suspension of not just football, but contact sport activities.

The Footballers Union of Botswana (FUB) accused the Botswana Football Association (BFA) of failing to make a loud enough noise to convince authorities to allow a return to action.

BFA president, Maclean Letshwiti brushed the accusation off as ‘rubbish’ and said there was a comprehensive return to action plan, which had been submitted to government.

With hopes of a returning looking gloom, the BFA confirmed over the weekend that there will be no 2020-2021 football season. It was an expected but crushing blow.

However, there are already concerns that if the COVID-19 situation persists, there will be no football for the

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foreseeable future.

“We are not ready to resume in June, there is no mechanism in place.

The leadership had to give the Premier League autonomy but they, however, still wish to rule from behind the scene. It’s very fatal to our game, our autonomy and privatisation. Ask yourself what happened to our privatisation,” a source at the Botswana Premier League said.

The BFA general assembly in October granted the BPL autonomy, which saw the formation of a commercial arm, the Botswana Football League.

The source said despite concerns over some sponsorship deals, which have elapsed, there should be partners when football return.

“Sponsorship will come, but beforehand, let’s see what the association has to help the start of the league,” the official said.

The BFL decided to cancel the season, with the BFA National Executive Committee ratifying the move.  The source said the COVID-19 protocols make a return to play impossible.

“There were restrictions and protocols to be adhered to if we were to play the game. There is cost and unfortunately, no planning in my opinion. We should present a strong roadmap to health authorities to give us the go-ahead. Going back to football after 15 months of absence will not be easy. Here we are, approaching the end of April and we are still talking theory and I see no solid plan. I foresee difficulties in restarting in June.”

In nullifying the season, the BFA NEC resolved to adopt new return to play guidelines to be submitted to the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development as well as the Botswana National Sport Commission. The BFA also announced there will be a new football tournament, although there were no further details.



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