No 9/11 football return

Chasing the ball: It will be sometime before players return to the pitch PIC: PHATSIMO KAPENG
Chasing the ball: It will be sometime before players return to the pitch PIC: PHATSIMO KAPENG

Football’s long-awaited return will not happen on September 11, a day made significant by the terror attacks in the United States.

The wait will drag on as nearly 600 days later, local football has not returned. COVID-19 restrictions have shouldered much if not all of the blame.

Botswana Football League chairperson, Aryl Ralebala confirmed to Mmegi Sport this week, football return next week is unlikely.

This follows a recent decision by the government to suspend sport activities until, at least until September 3. There was measured optimism when the Botswana Football League (BFL) announced the season was kicking off in September.

There has been no local football action since March 2020, and Botswana remains one of the few countries, together with Zimbabwe, that have not kicked a ball since last year.

“All football activities are suspended until further notice as we are waiting for the lifting of the suspension,” Ralebala said yesterday. He further said even if the suspension on sports activities was lifted earlier than September 11, there were other considerations before football could resume. “The state of the players should be considered. All clubs have not been training. Football is not an on and off switch. There is a process that we need to go through,” he said. There has been no glimmer of hope football will return soon. The BFL chief executive officer, Solomon Ramochotlhwane had promised they will reveal sponsors at the end of July. But football is rumbling on in the dark tunnel with no immediate light in sight. “Sponsorships processes have been stalled pending the return of football,” Ralebala said when asked about the state of sponsorships. Botswana Television has reportedly agreed to come on board, but some of the conditions have been criticised.

There has been no word on the title sponsor after Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) deal ended last year. Football is also saddled with the unfinished Orange FA Cup, which was at the quarterfinal stage when COVID-19 played havoc. The remaining clubs want their share rather than play the remaining games at an unknown date, citing a lack of interest due to the lengthy break. A new date for the league kick-off is expected to be announced as soon as the ban is lifted.

Ralebala said administratively, BFL “has always been ready” although his statement will face an acid test post the sports ban. Lack of football action has caused agitation among local fans, but authorities argue their hands are tied due to the COVID-19 situation in the country. Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development,

Tumiso Rakgare last week told Parliament, only the decision of the health authorities counts. Equally, the Botswana Football Association president, Maclean Letshwiti said they had submitted a comprehensive plan through the medical committee for the return to play, but the final decision was with the government.

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