Three months into his regime, the Botswana Football Association (BFA) President Maclean Letshwiti and his executive committee may find themselves having to navigate past local football’s political minefield, the constituency tournament.
Ever since the tournament was conceived by the government a couple of years ago, it has put the BFA and the country’s leaders at loggerheads with the football’s World governing body, FIFA.
Three BFA elections and three BFA presidents later, the issue of constituency tournaments is still unresolved and the government is seemingly not amused.
The tell-tale signs of the government’s impatience over the delay in resolving the matter became visible in an address by the Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC) Chairman Solly Reikeletseng during the launch of the BFA’s youth development programme.
While welcoming the BFA’s youth football development programme, the BNSC Chairman called for the association to “infuse’ the government initiatives, including the constituency tournament into their programmes.
“There are fundamental things that I want to talk about and I am going to keep my statement very short. We have government programmes, we have got Re Ba Bona Ha, we have constituency tournaments, which we have fought about for many years, we have centres of excellence, and these are government programmes that are geared towards youth development and also engagement of people,” Reikeletseng said.
“The big question remains, because we have debated about this for quite some time: “Are you in or are you out?” the BNSC Chairman asked rhetorically.
“That question is very important. When we talk behind closed doors, we get informed that Botswana football is very interested in those programmes and some even come with so many ideas about how they are going to be getting engaged,” he said.
Reikeletseng continued: “But I think we need a pronouncement that is followed by action, rather than just talking behind closed doors. Is football in, or is football out?”
“Clear question, simple question, and I am hoping that in the next few months we will see something happening with these programmes infused with this noble project we are launching today. And I am happy that the President (Maclean Letshwiti) speaks with so much passion when he talks about youth development. That is what we want to hear.
“But I still insist, are you in or are you out?” Reikeletseng asked.
“Re lapisitswe ke go phosha ka kgang e (loosely translated, “we are tired of courting you over this matter”). Akere go phosha (when you are courting) you are always waiting for a middle ground answer. This one is just clear, whether it is a yes, or a no,” he said.
Then came a thinly veiled threat from the BNSC Chairman: “Out of all the 42 sporting codes, we invest more money in football than any other sporting code … And the majority of the sporting codes are saying, ‘why are we giving football so much money, when we also have programmes and we are winning something,’” he said.
Now with the government, through local sports controlling body, having put their cards on the table, and made it clear that they are “tired of courting BFA over the matter,” it remains to be seen how the Letshwiti regime will deal with what is potentially a tricky situation.