The Premier League resumed on Friday with a thick cloud of uncertainty still hanging heavily over the start of the football season. Just two days since the league sponsor Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) and Botswana Premier League asserted that it was all systems go for the league to commence, one thing is now clear – never believe what they say.
While Orapa United were clobbering Miscellaneous 4ÔÇô1 at Itekeng Stadium to mark the start of the 2016/17 season on Friday night, both BPL and BTC, as well as Botswana Football Association (BFA) were still sweating over non-payment of premier league teams’ late grants as well as referees allowances. This was despite the fact that just two days earlier on Wednesday, both BTC and BPL, through their respective representatives, Tiro Kganela and Thabo “Styles” Ntshinogang had insinuated that teams had been paid their grants and referees pays were due any time.
“The league sponsors have released the team grants as well as administration fees for the BPL. We are ready to start,” Ntshinogang informed journalist. The same words were echoed by BTC head of sponsorships and consumer public relations, Kganela, who said the teams’ grants would have been released before the league started.
Despite these assertions, which were then widely reported in the media, by Friday, the clubs were yet to receive their grants. In the evening of the very same day, a bitter battle was being fought at Lekidi, the BFA Headquarters, as referees threatened to down tools.
In a meeting that went well into the night, the referees are said to have given the BFA and the BPL an ultimatum, “pay up or we do not officiate”. Faced with such an ultimatum, the football hierarchy is said to have then promised that referees will get their dues on Saturday, at which some referees are said to have informed them that if the monies are not credited on the agreed day, they will not officiate.
According to a source, what made the matter even more difficult was that no monies from the league sponsors were reflecting on the BFA-sponsor account by Friday.
“They did not tell the truth when they said the money was credited on Wednesday,” a source revealed.
Left with little room to maneouver as the referees fought back, both the BFA and BPL, with the help of the referees’ commission, are said to have employed a divide and rule policy to force referees to go back to officiate. “They approached referees individually during the meeting and each was asked whether they were refusing to go officiate. Some of the referees refused to answer while some made it known they would not officiate until they were paid,” a source said.
“While the tactic had worked earlier to convince referees on the FIFA panel to go and officiate, the remaining referees were not threatened,” the source explained.
With their current plight in mind, it is now alleged that the referees have since reported the matter to the regional FIFA referees development officer to help them fight the battle. Our sources have said the regional referees development officer, Carlos Henriques, has since written the BFA a letter and has assured the aggrieved referees that he will be visiting them next week.
Reached for comment, BFA CEO Kitso Kemoeng was at pains to confirm whether any money had been received from the sponsor. “The sponsor has written to us informing us that money has been deposited into the BFA account. However, when I checked some time back, it had not reflected on our account. We are hopeful that it will soon come through,” the BFA CEO explained.
Pressed further, Kemoeng said the association had been in touch with the sponsor and “the sponsor has confirmed that indeed they have deposited the money”.
He said once the money is available they will deposit it (grants) into team’s account.