On September 11, 2001, Americans experienced one of their darkest days. Two planes ploughed into the Twin Towers while another hit the Pentagon.
From what happened on what is now infamously referred as to 9/11, nothing positive is expected on this day. And nothing positive in terms of local football return is expected on September 11. In July, as new optimism rose that football is finally on its way back, the Botswana Football League said all the right things to a thirsty fraternity.
The good news was that football will return on September 11 and new sponsors were to be revealed at the end of July, BFL chief executive officer, Solomon Ramochotlhwane said at the time. Before then there were several false starts where COVID-19 restrictions appeared to rear their ugly head, as football prepared for a return.
Some not too convinced critics argued COVID-19 was then being used as a scapegoat. On September 11, it will be 545 days since football ‘shut shop’ rendering scores dependant on the game jobless.
Most clubs started slashing salaries but the majority have since stopped paying their personnel. No one could begrudge them. The wait has been agonising and there is no immediate sign of a return. It is unfathomable football, by miles, the country’s most popular sport, is fast becoming distant memory.
Stadia are losing meaning, and in a significant photo captured recently, birds even have the audacity to fix their nests on crossbars with the full knowledge that nothing hits the nets. “It is not practical to start on September 11 after the interruption. The lifting of the suspension will inform us when we will be starting,” BFL CEO, Ramochotlhwane said yesterday.
He said sponsors want a schedule in order to commit. “Our fate lies with the lifting of the suspension,” he said. It is news players and all those involved in the game do not want to hear. As of yesterday, it was unclear when a ban on sport activities would be lifted.
The lengthy football absence has seen some players, particularly in the lower league, forced to prematurely retire.
A football career is short, and more than one season lost is too long a time. Some players are reportedly battling depression. There is no food on the table and there is no hope for the future. As Zebras defender, Thabo Leinanyane recently said, lives have changed.
“We no longer work, we no longer have income. Okay, most teams in Botswana do not pay that well but the little that we got made a difference for us and our families. I wish there was a way we could find help,” he said. “We tried our level best to voice our concerns but it all vanished into thin air. We wish and hope one day we can get back to work and feed our hungry families,” Leinanyane added in an interview.
Footballers Union of Botswana secretary-general, Kgosana Masaseng said players are not immune to the considerable stresses and challenges arising in their employment as well as in their personal and family lives during the pandemic.
“In order to address such challenges, we have been able to actively support player development, well-being and education programmes that are most effectively developed and implemented by the union.
You will note that we have secured scholarship opportunities for these players as a way of mitigating the challenges they faced in the last 19 months and we hope to maintain and expand resources for player development, well-being and education programmes,” he said.
He said the FUB will soon launch yet another agreement for scholarship opportunities. To mitigate against mental breakdown, the FUB has offered mental health support skills, Masaseng said.
“From our immediate interactions with the players, we have realised that the specific consequences of the crisis felt by players is huge and can best be addressed by a broad-based psychosocial support system,” he said. It is for this reason that the FUB medical committee has organised one-on-one sessions with players under distress.
“The biggest challenge is when there are movement restrictions and we hope that once training resumes, a lot of these service will reach a good number who are in need.
Lack of physical activity has really hampered the players’ well-being.
We got some positive feedback when teams returned to training, it was a huge relief for those who wanted to get out of the dark holes,” Masaseng added.