Sunday, September 20, 2020

Batswana should rally behind the Zebras

Five years ago, rallying behind the national team, the Zebras, was like a religion for many Botswana.

The National Stadium was always full to capacity and there were always motorcades all over the country before kickoff. The Zebras did not achieve much but that did not deter Batswana as they even travelled in their numbers for away matches, especially to those countries in the southern African region.

The Zebras were then under the tutelage of Serbian born coach, Jellusic Vesselin, who has since been re-deployed to the youth development structures.

The support base of the team started to dwindle when Briton Colywn Rowe took over, despite the fact that his achievement was more or less the same as that of Vesselin.

Rowe was arrogant and unpopular with the media and he always made verbal exchanges with some radio journalists on air. By the time he left, Batswana had stopped attending the matches in impressive numbers.

Just last week, the Zebras achieved their best ever results on the international soccer scene by beating a much fancied Tunisian side 1-0 in a 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier. Tunisia has been African champions before.

The victory was especially sweet since the Zebras achieved the feat away and soccer followers wondered how Tunisia, a country that has made appearances at the World Cup, could have gone down at home.

The win, however, was not a fluke on the part of Botswana.

On Friday the Zebras played their second match, against little known Chad, at the University of Botswana Stadium and still did not disappoint as they won again by a solitary goal.
The twin results mean that Botswana is on top of the group after collecting maximum points from two matches without even conceding a goal.

This means Botswana might make their maiden appearance at the 2012 Afcon, provided they keep the momentum and win most of the remaining matches.

So far, the Zebras are left with six matches that would end towards the end of next year.
After the victory against Tunisia, Batswana came in their numbers to watch the game against Chad; this despite the match being played during the day and on a working day.

Several cabinet ministers took time off from their tight schedules to watch the match.
The person who, undoubtedly, has been the leading figure at football matches has been his Excellency, President Ian Khama Seretse Khama.

He has been to many Zebras matches even during his days as Vice President.
However, the only way for Zebras to do well is with the support of Batswana from across the spectrum.

Supporters should come to the matches in their numbers. Cabinet ministers and legislators must keep attending Zebras matches to entice more people to attend the matches and support the national team.
If they keep on coming many people who voted them into their positions would also see the need to attend.

The business community must also do something because what is already on the ground is not enough.
The incentives the players get are too little and are even lower than in some countries that are poorer than Botswana.

Already one of the finest players this country has ever produced, Mogogi Gabonamong, is on self imposed exile, citing low bonuses and a lack of insurance.

If the incentives are mouth watering, those players who aspire to don the national team jerseys would work even harder to be in the national team.

We call on the Ministry of Sports, together with companies to come together to see how this matter can be resolved.

It is very important that we treat our sports men and women seriously.
Like the saying goes, if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.


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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.