Monday, December 11, 2023

BPL prize money … A storm in a teacup

I have been involved in both international and local football for some time. I have experienced and worked in both worlds. I know a bit. Please note that this is my view, therefore in no way do I wish to be paragon of virtue. It is simply my observation.

Allow me, therefore, to respond comprehensively and authoritatively to reports making headlines regarding BPL Prize Money in the football season currently underway.

We are told that an unfortunate statement came out through BPL desk unauthorized, purporting to be leadership position and facts. I understand that the BFA swiftly and promptly acted on this unfortunate incident by instituting an investigation into the matter.

Before I address the matter regarding BPL Prize Money, it would be prudent of me, to underscore a few important facts and circumstances which obtained in local football before the current regime assumed positions of responsibility as an Executive Committee.

It is on record that the BFA had been in a gross financial mess. There was very little attention to corporate governance. Factionalism was rife. It was scandal after another. Consequently, allegations of corruption emerged. 

When the current regime took over, Botswana Police Services, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) and other law enforcement agencies were called in to deal with some of these matters. Some of the matters have been decided in court. Some are still in court while some remain with investigating agencies. The current regime has largely managed to root out corrupt culture.

Before they took over, the BFA had never had a highly structured, well organized and aggressive development agenda such as the one we have now. We have become quite competitive at all levels including women’s football which was almost nonexistent before. The composition of BFA technical team, with advisors and top European coaches and medical experts is authoritative.

From a development perspective, women’s football has experienced rapid growth with the Senior National Women’s Team now competing against the best in the Continent. The BFA has previously set up camps in Europe for exposure, training and conditioning purposes.

These ambitious efforts have proven to be worthy initiatives. In this regard, the President should personally and officially continue to engage several partners and stakeholders including FIFA, to assist further on this.

A good number of the Zebras players, has found clubs in professional ranks in Europe, and a few are plying their trade in the PSL. This is a good improvement largely due to the unorthodox marketing of our talent and the President’s great network with the outside world.

Under Letshwiti, the BFA has engaged various stakeholders from coaches, administrators and media through deliberate empowerment initiatives such as training and workshops. They have undertaken an aggressive and deliberate program to equip our referees further. These initiatives have been led by various leading experts on multiple disciplines. These have proved to be important for the future as more local coaches continue to be given an opportunity at Premier League clubs.

For the first time in a long time, one of our local coaches was given an opportunity to coach the Senior National Team.  The BFA has also made a deliberate plan that emerging local coaches be deployed strategically to all other Junior National Teams to expose them to international football for future possibilities with the Senior National Team. In the meantime, they acquire the requisite skills, confidence and to gain experience to coach at the highest level.

The BFA has also put together an enterprising proposal and focus on soccer development. This is the first of its kind in Botswana. This extensive program will transition into a state-of-the-art academy which should create sustainable jobs for industry experts.

This is a partnership with INEOS led by an illustrious British entrepreneur who understood our vision and empathized with our vision first as the BFA, and also as a country. In this historic and ambitious plan, government has been fully engaged, to facilitate land amongst others, to make sure that this state-of-the-art facility becomes a reality.

I raise these matters, importantly and deliberately to educate and remind the football industry where we come from, what we have done, and where we want to go. The BFA as it is, has successfully executed its regulatory mandate quite competently. They have embarked on a radical football development throughout the regions.

The new Corporate Social Investment Programme is the best in history of the BFA. The BFA has proactively engaged the private sector particularly in far flung areas previously marginalized. Our national teams from Under 14 to the Zebras are actively playing. They have organized, played against and continue to arrange international matches with top African teams. These further develop our players and encourage competitiveness amongst players.

As a regulator, the BFA admits its obligatory duty towards the BPL. However, we must note that the BPL has a set out mandate to deliver Premier League football amongst others. The BPL has a duty to sell a palatable product to sponsors and supporters. Let us agree that the biggest problem that has plunged us into this impasse is the cashless deal by the BPL with BTV. It was not only cynical; it was tragic contract of self preservation and convenience.

The BPL further has a duty to attract television and supporters. The BPL has a 16 member board which runs operations through a management team. This board should help BFA move football to greater heights, together. Unfortunately, the BPL is the only struggling arm (aspect) of the BFA. The question is why? What needs to be done? If the BPL fails, the BFA should put it under business rescue; this is a temporary management and supervision of a financially distressed organization with a view of rehabilitation. This, the BFA NEC would do exclusively to fix the BPL.

Ideally, the BPL is strictly the commercial wing of the BFA. It therefore has a duty to be aggressive and enlist sponsors, television and supporters to the game. These are the three most important revenue avenues for any league in the world. In all its mandate, the BFA seems to be winning everywhere except on the BPL aspect.  I know MacLean Letshwiti, he has done wonders in his private business exploits, he will not leave the BFA without fixing this aspect.

I understand that the BFA has never left the BPL behind in resource mobilization. The truth of the matter is that BPL has a poor business case to make, as it is. Understandably so.

Consequently, the BFA has resolved that it is high time that the BFA, on behalf of the BPL took pragmatic and corrective steps of self reproach, blanket introspection and answered important questions such as the high number of clubs in the League.

Whether these teams add value, and if the BPL Board itself has the ability to run league operations independently from the BFA as is often requested and recommended. They therefore need to ask whether we have sufficiently reciprocated the return on investment of the sponsors, and if not, why not?

To act on these, the BFA put a few local and international experts into seeing to it that the League mandate and professionalism are achieved. We have done relatively well with Club Licensing, with a few clubs either struggling or generally defiant. Now the BFA needs to speed up efforts to comply with FIFA rule book on this matter.

However, I must hasten to add that this is possible if the Board, the League office and everybody exercised caution and restraint in what they do and say, publicly and internally. What the Board says, or does, unadvised, individually or as a whole, could compromise the league, the BPL brand, ultimately compromising the BFA, the country and the beautiful game as a whole.

It was my expectation that when intervention mechanisms are deployed to radically and revolutionize, and to fix and improve football, a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty would creep in.

Let me remind you. The South African Soccer leadership took a decisive and progressive decision in the 1995/1996 season to play the National Soccer League (NSL) under the guise of a Mini League with very little or no prize money at all, this being a progressive stop gap measure in transitioning into what would become the richest football league in Africa by revenue, now under the banner of the PSL. During that process, players’ fitness levels, financial income and activity were not compromised. Supporters were still treated to a beautiful football season.

Whilst the above NSL/PSL scenario may not be the exact position of the BFA in the current League season, it could very well be the required transition into what could become a strong and competitive league in the coming season in September 2020.

In conclusion, the BPL Prize Money issue should be concluded sooner than later. The BFA and the BPL have undertaken to do what is absolutely necessary, and in the best interest of football, which was to continue the League season and not halt it as was the case in Namibia for three consecutive seasons when there was no Prize money, consequently compromising fitness levels of players, and National Team competitiveness.

Therefore, the BFA must continue to have engage and interact with our clubs for a speedy, fair and just solution. Let us hope that MacLean Letshwiti would make appropriate announcement at the right time, hoping that him and his Executive’s concerted efforts would have proven to be fruitful.


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