Former Council for Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) President, Ishmael Bhamjee, has come out of his shell.
Bhamjee, also a Confederation of African Football and former FIFA official, who has been quiet and not seen at many major football activities, was shown the door by FIFA following an infamous ticket scandal at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He was subsequently stripped of his Honorary Presidency status by the Botswana Football Association (BFA). This has left soccer fanatics wondering if the football guru had lost interest in the game he had cherished throughout his life and whether he would come back.
When he was stripped of the honour by the BFA, the regional body, COSAFA, nonetheless kept its faith in him, raising questions on the wisdom of the BFA’s move to strip him of the title.
Bhamjee told Sunday Standard that it was a shocking and disgusting decision by the BFA.
“I had the leverage to legally challenge BFA’s decision but I did not want to take football matters to court. An honorary presidency is in the title which one earns as recognition for his contributions to the growth of football, and you can never undo that by taking it away at the blink of an eye. And the worst part is that I was not even convicted,” he said.
At the time when the incident occurred, Philip Makgalemele was BFA President. Even the English premiership officials, with whom Bhamjee had forged a strong relationship, are said to have been disappointed by the BFA’s decision. To this day, Botswana continues to benefit from England through numerous English Premiership support programs.
It was also once leaked out that FIFA President Sepp Blatter wanted to bring back Bhamjee to FIFA. When the incident occurred, Blatter is understood to have been one of those who were shattered. Bhamjee could neither confirm nor deny the leak, referring Sunday Standard to Blatter himself.
On his long time silence, he told Sunday Standard that, although he has not been active in football matters, he does heed calls for advice by the BFA, COSAFA and Middle Eastern associations where he has been assisting administratively. He said BFA is still in contact with him, adding that he often assisted on issues such as sponsorship solicitation.
Asked whether he has any intentions of owning a team locally he said he wouldn’t as he prefers running football at national or international level only. He, however, said that his doors are open to club officials. He also called upon the government to start contributing meaningfully to the development of football, especially at grassroots level. He also decried the reluctance by local clubs to take development seriously, and cautioned that it is a fundamental route to professionalism.
Furthermore, he said that, though it’s well known that there is no money, football won’t succeed without infrastructure. Currently, Botswana football is suffering from lack of adequate stadia, since the closure of the National Stadium and others in preparation of the FIFA 2010 World Cup to be hosted in South Africa.
Bhamjee also touched on the attitude of Batswana towards institutional teams. He said that he has, over the years, watched in disbelief as they were pulled down. According to Bhamjee, institutional teams are pacesetters to professionalism and thus their derailment is derailment of professionalism in soccer administration and development. He cited the situation in Zambia where an army side used to dominate football and forced other teams to rev their gears. He said the team ended up being relegated to the lower divisions after acrimonious relationship with other teams and associations. He said institutional teams should be left alone as it is for the betterment of football.
The controversy of institutional teams in Botswana is not a new one, in fact, it once almost invited FIFA ban on Botswana following the formation of a parallel body, BOSA, who were highly critical of the growing dominance of institutional teams in the league. BOSA had threatened to take community clubs under its wings to bring the league to a stand still. Today community teams have overtaken the institutional teams, food for thought whether their downfall is an indication of growth by community teams or just the institutionals having lost touch. Their support has also reached an all time low.
Bhamjee assured the nation that he is still very much in football and will be looking to make himself more useful to all who might be willing to work with and learn from him.