Is the end nigh for societies in the elite league?

07 Oct 2018

It is a question that has divided local football administrators and followers alike, ‘should society run teams give way to companies in Botswana’s elite football league?’

For those against the takeover of society run teams by millionaire financiers as companies, the route will be akin to taking the soul out of football, chasing away the traditional supporters.

On the other side of the coin, for those calling for companies and rich financiers to take over, this is the only route to successfully professionalise the league.

With society run teams continuing to struggle under the financial burden of trying to keep afloat in the elite league, while Rollers under the help of millionaire financier Jagdish Shah glides effortlessly, the calls for teams to switch from societies to companies continue to grow even louder.

Now as Botswana’s most successful team Township Rollers edges even closer to changing from society to a company and rumours abound that Gaborone United may follow suite in future, has the end begun for societies in the elite league?

“I do not think this should be the end of society run teams,” said Rollers chairman Walter Kgabung. “However, I do not think societies have a place in the elite league. They have a place but their place is in the low tier league,” he opined.

The same sentiments were shared by former GU General Manager Olebile Sikwane, who opined that ‘the takeover of teams by private hands and companies is an inevitable eventuality.’

“The Rollers story is interesting, with due process in the entire story, all stakeholders involved, the takeover of private hands is inevitable and good for commercialisation,” Sikwane opined.

Speaking in an interview, Kgabung said as local football continues to grow towards professionalization and the costs needed to keep teams afloat escalate, societies are proving even more unsustainable.

“In the current environment, teams need to have strong financial backers to survive. In the past we could ask for donations to run the teams and the players were volunteers. Nowadays, football is a career and players need to be paid. Expenses of running teams in the elite league have also escalated, thus a need for strong financial backers or owners for teams,” said Kgabung.

He said as it stands right now, local teams need to move from societies to companies or private ownership to allow for people with strong financial muscles to help grow football.

“This however has to be done taking the supporters on board. As is with Rollers, we have taken supporters on board and they (supporters) also acknowledge and agree there is a need to move from a society to company. Supporters do not want their teams to struggle and the only thing that makes them happy is to see their teams being run well and winning,” he opined.

For his part, Sikwane said clubs will not lose their souls or supporters by going commercial. “Supporters have no interest in running a soccer club beyond sentiment, that's why we all support Arsenal and Manchester United we don't need to know who owns and what shares, our is to buy merchandise and rally behind the team at stadium,” he said.

Sikwane said following the struggles of teams like GU and the much talked about Bismark Appiah story, as well as countless reports of struggles from other teams, ‘supporters are now acutely aware of the dangers of having societies at the helm.’

Going forth, Sikwane said Rollers should inspire and aspire to carry other teams along in their journey towards full professionalization.

“No matter what Rollers do, if they don't carry with them the three other clubs GU, Gunners and Centre Chiefs - the league will never become professional. In DRC, Mazembe, a world class entity, plays in a highly disorganized league because they left everybody behind,” he said.

“When Kaizer Motaung came back from the United States and started a professional soccer club, he knew that Chiefs needed Pirates, and he took Irvin Khoza from business to rescue Pirates, and sponsors got back into soccer. PSL is an attractive product now, spinning billions,” he continued.

“The Rollers story must start at Premier League, there must be a conscious effort, collectively to change the big 5 clubs in the country, slowly the business becomes more attractive then small clubs will also transit into that space,” Sikwane concluded.