In 1849, a year after the French Revolution, French journalist, critic and novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr uttered; ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same.’
When it comes to Botswana’s ugly and contemptuous football politics, these words uttered more than 170 years ago still ring more truth.
A Saturday ago, on April 10th, Botswana Football League (BFL) elected a new board of directors to lead it for the next four years.
The new board, is led by Masitaoka financier Aryl Ralebala and is composed of Jwaneng Galaxy’s Njabulo Gilika, BDF XI’s Omphitlhetse Tlhobogang and Kagiso Magocha of Orapa United.
Under normal circumstances, nothing untoward should be read into the election of the new board. But these were no normal circumstances.
According to sources, prior to the meeting, the BFL board chairmen were already hatching a plot to oust the then transition task team.
Unfortunately for them, the team, which was made up of Jagdish Shah, Nicholas Zakhem, Anthony Mokento and Kelisitse Gilika had already gotten wind of the plot.
“When my name was recommended along that of Aryl (Ralebala), we knew the underlying currents. I personally knew the underlying currents, so I said No! I do not want to continue, so let the other gentleman continue,” Shah explains.
The feeling, it seems was shared by other members of the Shah led task team including Zakhem, who also declined to stand for elections, thus paving way for the Ralebala led team to take over.
For a sport of football which has for over a year now been struggling due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the timing could not have been so bad.
Botswana football is in the midst of a Covid-19 induced crisis and domestically, no football has been kicked in the country for more than a year.
Even before then, the newly formed BFL, then known as Botswana Premier League (BPL) was struggling with sponsors.
Following Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Limited (BTCL)’s decision to cut short its sponsorship, the league found itself playing a prize moneyless league.
In the midst of all this, the BFA decided to give the BFL its long-held wish to be autonomous.
The transition team was still in the process of building a solid foundation on which the BFL, which was to be a company, would be erected on when it was kicked out.
While it had managed to do almost everything related to establishing the new BFL structure, it was still in negotiation with several potential sponsors.
Speaking in an interview, Shah said in the few Covid-19 disrupted months they were in office, they finished almost all that was required of them and were hunting sponsors.
“We had set different categories of sponsorships, title sponsorship, financial support sponsorships, referees’ sponsorships etc,” Shah explains.
“We had created different properties of sponsorship and we were approaching everyone,” he adds.
However, Shah says due to the fact that the BFA and the BFL were yet to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which would give the latter authority to sign with sponsors, they could not conclude some of the deals.
Another stumbling block, he says, was the uncertainty over when the league would start which was a question in most potential sponsors’ lips.
Among those expected to sign were ABSA Botswana and Botswana Television. With the latter, while there was a certain agreement, Shah says negotiations were still ongoing for an improved deal.
Now as they move out of office, Shah says it will be for the Ralebala led committee to complete all the negotiations and find more sponsors.
This however begs a question; will it be a wise move to have a completely new team take over ongoing negotiations with potential sponsors?
Shah says if the BFL board members believe it is the right move, then it must be. In fact, he says all along, they have been working with Monnakgotla Mojaki who he believes will get the new committee up to speed on all issues.
As to why the BFL board elected new people to lead at such a critical time, Shah points to local football politics as a factor.
“Let me tell you very honestly what the biggest problem Botswana football has, it is politics. That is the biggest problem Botswana football has,” he says.
According to Shah, ‘another big problem is that there is no trust or unity in local football which he says makes everyone’s work very difficult.’
While he believes what is happening ‘is not right and is not nice,’ he however says it is part of life and if BFL board members believe there is a member who can do better, that member should take over.
With the football season left with just about two months to start, Shah says he hopes the BFL board will unanimously be behind the new board.
As he leaves, he says his focus now moves firmly to Rollers which he had put on the backseat as he tried to help the BFL reach new heights.