Will Zakhem walk the talk?

At the helm: Zakhem is expected to drive the return of football PIC: PHATSIMO KAPENG
At the helm: Zakhem is expected to drive the return of football PIC: PHATSIMO KAPENG

Gaborone United director and prominent businessperson, Nicholas Zakhem has emerged as one of the current football regime’s fiercest critics. He has waged an unwavering crusade against Botswana Football Association (BFA) president, Maclean Letshwiti. This comes just 12 months after the partnership ensured Letshwiti enjoys another four-year dance at the helm of the country’s popular sport. Now the scrutiny falls on Zakhem’s lap, after he was elected the Botswana Football League (BFL) chairperson, writes MQONDISI DUBE

Zakhem has been a constant in local football for years now. In the last two BFA elections, he has been regarded as the power behind the throne, as Letshwiti took the reins at BFA. But after basking in last summer’s victory, Zakhem and Letshwiti fell apart spectacularly. This time last year, the celebrations were in overdrive as the two toasted to a successful campaign.

Fissures have fast developed to rock one of the strongest partnerships in recent years. Zakhem laid the blame for football’s decline, right at the feet of his former ally.

Zakhem was not pleased with the direction of football, with the chopping of five clubs who failed club licensing requirements, among the issues that have upset the outspoken administrator. He was also unhappy with the election of the BFL board, arguing it was unconstitutional.

BFL board chairperson, Aryl Ralebala quit under a cloud, amid reports the volatile situation had pushed him out. Zakhem has been abrasive and did not mince his words about the state of football.

He has duly been given the reins to turn the situation around. But as he sits in the driver’s seat, he is fully aware of the unforgiving terrain he has to navigate. Local football has not been played in over 18 months, and plans for a quicker return have been scuppered in the past. Football authorities dangled the COVID-19 excuse, but critics have heard enough of it.

An 18 month State of Emergency was lifted at the end of September, paving way for the return of sport. In fact, life is back to ‘normal’ and the expectation is that football will follow suit. Zakhem recently called for patience in a media interview. With another entrepreneur Jagdish Shah, who has contributed immensely to the growth of football, there is hope they can lure sponsors to breathe life into the game.

It has been a tough period where football has struggled to attract sponsors due to inactivity. The October 22 date for the resumption of local football activities appears too close, with a postponement likely.

Again, the relationship between Zakhem and Letshwiti will remain under the spotlight, as they are expected to work together to drive the game forward. Their roles mean regular interaction to find working solutions for football. Zakhem will particularly be hard-pressed to walk the talk after an intense period of airing his concerns. He promised to work hand-in-hand with among others, BFA to take football to the next level.

“Expectations are always there and we have accepted to take on this role. We will work hand in hand with all board members, shareholders, BFA and you in the media to realise our target soonest,” Zakhem said this week.

Editor's Comment
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