Wednesday, September 23, 2020

BFA off the rails?

It has since proven difficult for Botswana to export soccer talent outside the country unlike other neighbouring countries. Most countries in Southern Africa easily find ways of selling players outside their borders where they get invaluable international experience that, in turn, helps their respective countries to excel.

For Botswana, that seems to be a tall order because in the past several local players who tried their luck outside just came back after a short stint.

Diphetogo Selolwane and Mogogi Gabonamong are the only exports the country prides itself in. The two players are based in Cape Town, South Africa, where they are doing exceptionally well and have been there for more than two years now.
Obviously, Botswana needs to send more players of Selolwane and Gabonamong’s calibre to enhance competition for the national team jersey. On the other hand, Gabonamong and Selolwane did not just come from nowhere; it was mainly due to the tireless efforts of the Botswana Football Association (BFA).

Currently, however, such efforts seem no longer to be there. Way back in 1994, the BFA assembled an Under 17 team to compete at the African youth championships in Mali. The road to the championships was tough and few people gave Botswana a chance to qualify. But Botswana ended up making history by qualifying for the first time after beating Malawi following the suspension of Zambia, which was reported to have used over-aged players. At the tournament, Botswana fared badly and only managed one goal. Several promising players that would eventually be the pride of the country emerged from the tournament. They were, among others, Selolwane, Tshephiso Molwantwa, Lesego Moeng, Thero Gaadingwe, Seabo Gabanakgosi, Barnes Maplanka and others. Although others fell by the wayside, the whole country can see the contribution made by Selolwane and Molwantwa.

After the 1995 tournament, the BFA realised the importance of youth tournaments and lobbied for another one in 1997 which they eventually hosted. Despite being the hosts, the road was not a smooth sail and Botswana lost all the three opening games, managing to score only one goal. The humiliating defeat was against the Ivory Coast which hammered Botswana 7-0.

Players like Gabonamong, Mompati Thuma, Mpho Mabogo, Tiroyamodimo Mohambi, Pius Kolagano, Mompati Banda and Bankemetse Edwin Disang made the nucleus of the team and emerged as stars. It might be only Thuma, Gabonamong and Mabogo who are still in the national team, but the contribution of others, especially in the Premier League, has been immense.
Meanwhile, the BFA has been lobbying to host Africa’s prestigious tournament,
the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), but were not successful after failing to get
government backing.

Nevertheless, even if the BFA were to get government backing to host AFCON, it was not going to be a guarantee for the country to host it because the competition for the tournament is always immense. Also, hosting a major event like AFCON needs a well built team with exceptional talent compared to the youth tournaments. The two Under 17 youth tournaments in both 1995 and 97 have
proven to the country the value in developing a talent.

AFCON has, on the other hand, shown that it is mainly for well established
countries that make their mark. BFA’s Chief Executive Officer, Mooketsi ‘Tosh’
Kgotlele also believes in the importance of hosting international youth tournaments. He said, as the BFA, they are not just overlooking the matter.
“There is no doubt that youth tournaments are important, especially for a country like Botswana. Currently, our national team is doing well mainly because of the youth tournaments we once participated in. As the BFA, we know the importance of hosting and we are not just overlooking the matter. Lobbying to host bigger international events is not as easy as some people would like to think. There are lots of consultations to be made and that takes time, especially in a country like Botswana,” he said.

Kgotlele also said they are not only looking forward to hosting continental youth competitions, but regional ones like COSAFA and Zone VI.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.