Whither sport: Football fires blanks

Zebras have struggled of late and are placed at number 149 in the FIFA rankings PIC: BFA
Zebras have struggled of late and are placed at number 149 in the FIFA rankings PIC: BFA

It is the country’s most-followed sport, with the largest funding and sponsorship. Football has never struggled with facilities or personnel. But the Botswana Football Association (BFA) is missing gilt-edged opportunities, observes Mmegi Sport Correspondent, KABELO BORANABI in this third instalment of Wither Botswana Sport

Last week, the Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Tumiso Rakgare reiterated the country’s intentions to bid for the 2027 AFCON. It is now nine years since that AFCON appearance in 2012 in Gabon, which was the Zebras' first and only. This is only a highlight of how sorry the national team’s performance is. The Zebras have failed to qualify for any continental competition since their first dance in 2012. Only recently the team was battered 5-0 by reigning African champions, Algeria in an AFCON qualifier.

The group also had neighbours, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The team also failed to jump over the first hurdle in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers as it was eliminated by Malawi in the preliminary round. Africa’s second tier tournament, CHAN has also eluded the Zebras. The team has never gone past the second round of the qualifiers. Two appearances in the COSAFA Cup finals should not be a reason to celebrate, bearing in mind that most teams use second stream teams for the regional tournament.

At the moment, the Zebras are without a head coach as the Botswana Football Association (BFA) seeks Adel Amrouche's replacement, who left in June. The team is ever dropping in the FIFA rankings as they sit at 149th in the world. The same goes to the junior teams. It has been eight years since the Diamond Zebras played at the Africa Under-17 Cup of Nations. Since then it has been a dry spell for the Zebras as the teams have missed out on continental and world tournament spots.

The same goes for the women’s teams. Since its international debut in 2002, the Mares have reached the COSAFA Women’s Championship final just once in 2020. It has been ever improving performances by the team over the last few years under coach Gaolethoo ‘Ronaldo’ Nkutlwisang. They went a step further in the 2020 Olympic qualifiers with a famous win over Banyana Banyana but went down to Zambia in the third round of qualifiers. The junior teams have also shown good performances but have not borne fruits yet.

The Under-20s are in Angola in a bid to qualify for the 2022 FIFA Under-20 World Cup to be held in Costa Rica. As poor as the national teams’ performances are, the state of the domestic leagues has not been pleasing to the eye.

Since March 2020 local leagues have not played. Domestic football was halted due to the outbreak of COVID-19 18 months ago. The leagues have failed to start despite several attempts.

The Premiership is outside the top 20 leagues in Africa, according to a CAF five-year study released in 2020 that looks at the infield performance, sponsorship and administration. The elite league, which is the poster tournament for domestic football, is struggling to secure financial backing and it is in a desperate search for P15 million for it to kick off. There was to be a development league with a sponsorship and was to be called the Bonnita Cup but the ball has never rolled. The women’s leagues are still played at regional level since the disbanding of the then Super League in 2016.

It was thought that the leagues will help form First Division leagues that would enable the establishment of the national league but five years later there has been little improvement.

The Lekidi Football Centre has never been far away from boardroom squabbles. Just recently five Premiership clubs appealed the decision to boot them out of the league after they were adjudged to have failed to meet club-licensing requirements.

The protests have been and come in different forms, to name but a few the Ofentse Nato saga, the Police XI and Security Systems debacle and the issue of then Mochudi Centre Chiefs captain, Pontsho Moloi playing while he was under suspension. This is a red flag on the game’s administration both at club and national level. In the last decade there has been not less than 10 chief executive officers at the BFA.

Mfolo Mfolo is the longest serving as he was at the Lekidi Football Centre for three years. However, there is pleasing improvement in the coaching and refereeing education from grassroots to elite football. A high number of local coaches have enrolled in the CAF A license course, a qualification needed for the elite league.

But all round the country’s dear sport has failed to bang in the grace saving goals.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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