Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Continuity, restoration or transformation? …, Botswana football goes to the polls

After many months of fierce campaigning, manifesto launches, debates and of course, ‘propaganda,’ all boils to a single day at the polls.

Three camps and 22 candidates, including one independent candidate, going head to head in what is expected to be the closest elections in a long while.

This coming weekend on October 10, 2020, delegates will, through a vote, decide the future of local football.

For the incumbent BFA president Maclean Letshwiti and his executive committee, or at least those who remain from his committee, the mantra for this election is continuity.

When elected to the BFA presidency four years ago, Letshwiti had made it very clear he wanted only a single term in office to set local football on the pathway to growth.

Four years later, the former Mochudi Centre Chiefs financier has changed his mind and wants to lead the association for a further four years.

His reasoning is that he found the association in a bad shape, both financially and administratively. He alleges he found the BFA in the red financially and he spent his past term trying to correct the wrongs of the past while also trying to pursue his mandate.

Letshwiti in his election manifesto proclaims that he and his team have brought ‘financial stability, governance, improved stakeholder relations and professionalization’ into the local game.

Now after toiling with ‘cleaning the mess at BFA,’ the incumbent is seeking to press ahead to fulfil his promises, promising ‘aggressive implementation of the good changes that we have developed.’

Having promised a creation of jobs within football, Letshwiti and his team believe that with the current financial stability and improved stakeholder relations, they have what it takes to deliver and ‘put bread not only on the players’ table but that of officials too.’

According to Team Letshwiti, when they arrived in football, they realized there was an anomaly in that the on-the-field aspect of the game was given more priority than off-the-field side, mainly the administrative side.

This anomaly, they believe, compromised the quality of the on-the-field performance, hence their camp fought hard to bring the two in par.

Another aspect where the Letshwiti regime is seeking continuity is the grassroots development of the game, an objective which was the cornerstone of his ascendence to the BFA presidency.

Having tried out with various grassroots development initiatives, the incumbent and the regime believe it is now time to now roll out modified ‘youth football development plan.’

The plan, which is fully funded by FIFA, was allegedly ‘about to kick off in April this year but had to be shelved due to COVID 19 pandemic’ and the regime seeks to restart it ‘once it is safe to do it.’

Also, there is the unfinished business of the proposed INEOS Academy, a partnership between the BFA and INEOS which the current regime says it wants to see through.

At the other end of football development is the women football, which the current regime says it wants to invest in.

Having allegedly found the association in debts, the current regime alleges that it therefore failed to give women football the attention it needed.

Now that it believes ‘it has transformed its financial position for the better,’ the BFA believes it now has an opportunity ‘to explore the possibility of investing financial and human capital more on women football.’

For Team Sebego, under the leadership of Letshwiti’s predecessor Tebogo Sebego, the election is about restoring local football to its previous glory and to transform and grow it.

According to its manifesto, the team’s mission is ‘to restore the beauty of Botswana football and improve the standard of play through full participation of all BFA structures.’

Having led at a time when football sponsorship was growing exponentially, Sebego and his team feel they have what it takes to once again lure the sponsors back in the game and ‘improve the quality of the game in Botswana.’

In their action plan, Team Sebego says it is aiming to re-enhance the image of the BFA, ‘leading to restoration of corporate sector and general stakeholder confidence in Botswana football.’

With a stern belief that any improvement in local football is measured by the performance of the national team, Team Sebego says it aims for ‘an improved rankings of Botswana football.’

“In our pursuit to restore the game to where it deserves to be, we also have a responsibility to significantly grow it in areas that include women participation, inclusivity, commercialization, declaring national leagues as autonomous, setting up the Players Welfare Fund, governance as well as leadership credibility,” the team manifesto reads.

On women football, Team Sebego says it seeks to enhance ‘participation of women in football, and their empowerment and appointment in key decision-making positions.

The team says it also aims to empower the women’s Committees into semi-autonomous entities.

If elected into office, Team Sebego also says it will work towards the development of infrastructure and improved access of football facilities across the country.

Team Sebego also promises to establish ‘playable grounds for every region over the period of four years.’

On the football development side, the team says it aims for enhanced participation and empowerment of youth at all levels of Botswana football.

Meanwhile, Team Malesu, under the stewardship of former BFA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ookeditse Malesu is promising to transform local football.

Considered the dark horses in the race, Team Malesu says it wants Botswana football to catch up with the rest of the world in turning the sport into an industry.

As a team, it says it offers local football ‘the opportunity to rethink, channel and drive football to greater heights.’

Among its priorities, Team Malesu is promising to enhance the Regional Football Association Structures ‘through the immediate and eminent establishment’ of regional secretariats.

This, they say, is driven by their belief that ‘the hub of football development and majority of activities are at the Regions.’  

Through partnerships with various training institutions, the team is also promising to capacitate regional structures with full training. The team believes this will develop sustainability and retention of personnel with expertise within the structures.

On the football development side, Team Malesu says it aims to develop and implement robust football development programs and structures ‘through equal distribution of resources and programs across the regions.’ 

Among the programs the team seeks to develop and implement are grassroots development or mass participation in football, youth development through the Centres of Excellence, regional academies, holiday camps, elite youth leagues and regional football leagues.

Team Malesu also promises to improve the game through proper governance, product development and research so as to attract missing stakeholders.

During the four-year tenure in office, the team says it will also ‘redefine all sponsorship deals across the leagues in order ‘to give sponsors and investors a ‘Return on Investment (ROI).’ 

The team says to achieve this, it will seek for new television deals and broadcasting rights for the Botswana football properties.

On the league front, Team Malesu is promising to pursue the professionalization of the country’s elite league.

As a means to achieve this, the team promises to commercialize the local game with the whole belief that it ‘will in turn contribute to Botswana’s GDP.’

…, But Who Will Win the Race?

With the elections just days before us, the smoke seems to be coming clearer of who might be crowned the next Botswana Football Association (BFA) president.

Even though there are three candidates locking horns for the presidential seat, Mclean Letshwiti, Tebogo Sebego and Ookeditse Malesu, local football commentators and analysts believe the real battle lies between Letshwiti and Sebego.

The two, are quite familiar with the running’s of the association as they are fighting to sit on the throne for the second time.

Sebego is seeking a return to the seat he occupied from 2012 to 2016 before he was dethroned by Letshwiti, who is the incumbent.

On the other side, Malesu, who was the BFA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for a brief period under Letshwiti, is seen as a dark horse who cannot just be dismissed.

While he believes all the three candidates have what it takes to win, local football administrator Bogadi Rathari strongly believes the competition lies between Sebego and Letshwiti.

Rathari says while Malesu is an outside ranker, he however could not be entirely dismissed.

Looking back at the history of elections, Rathari says the history of BFA elections shows incumbents never successfully defend their positions.

With these elections, he says history is likely to be rewritten as Letshwiti is likely to be the first incumbent to successfully defend his presidency.

Rathari says as far as he can tell, local football delegates are tired of the chopping and changing of the BFA executives, which hinders continuity and development.

“One question that has been top most in the delegates’ minds is, ‘does the chopping and changing work for us?” That’s what you hear in conversations with delegates,” he says.

Rathari says with such, football administrators now seem to be willing to try to give continuity a chance to see if there can be any changes in local football.

He however says even then, it is not very clear as to who will win as delegates are very guarded with information on who they will vote for.

“This year’s elections are a bit tricky and it is somehow hard to identify who will take the seat unlike the previous elections when people spoke out loud, this one is a secret election,” he explains.

He says this was also not helped by the postponement of the elections, which has seemingly given some a chance to re-evaluate.

“The delays in hosting these elections has led to people changing their minds on who they want to vote for,” Rathari says.

Rathari says these elections will be do or die for Letshwiti, as he will never get another chance to lead the association again if he loses.

While the BFA constitution dictates a person can occupy the office for two terms only, it also has age restriction, something which is not on Letshwiti’s side.

He says unlike Letshwiti, Sebego and Malesu still have age on their side and will get the opportunities to try again.

For his part, local football analyst Monty Gagomokgwa says local football should expect the repeat of the 2016 elections, with a run-off needed to elect the new BFA leader.

While he does not entirely dismiss Malesu, he says the latter may drop at the first hurdle of the polls, leaving Letshwiti and Sebego to slug it off for the presidency.

He however says while both Sebego and Letshwiti are neck in neck in the race, the latter has an edge and looks likely to win what he believes will be a very tightly contested race.

Like Rathari, Gagomokgwa says the buzz word for this year’s elections has been continuity, something which he believes points at Letshwiti retaining his seat.

He says another selling point for Letshwiti among candidates is how much they hold him in regard.

“Letshwiti won the hearts of delegates through his professionalism drive, he is business minded and many say they have learnt a lot on finances through his regime. With others saying time has come came to stop chopping in and out,” he said

Even though he believes Letshwiti is the favorite to win, Gagomokgwa says he only holds a slight advantage, something which makes this year’s elections difficult to predict.

Meanwhile, one administrator, speaking on condition of anonymity, says he expects Letshwiti to win many of the regional structures votes which will help him win.

The administrator says of the 34 votes from regional structures, he expects Letshwiti to take at least 24 outright, with the remaining 10 votes being split between the three candidates.

Whereas Letshwiti won the last elections by winning almost all of the 16 premier league votes, the administrator says he is not sure how the premier league will vote this time around.

On the other side, another administrator with close ties to Sebego predicts the latter will win the elections.

The former administrator says he expects Sebego to take most of the premier league votes this time around.

He also says he expects Sebego to retain most of the regions which have always been loyal to him, thus giving him an outright chance to beat Letshwiti.

The administrator says given that Letshwiti has failed to fulfill his promises to the local football community, he expects him to lose.

On Malesu, the former administrator dismissed him outright saying he is not in contention and no surprises should be expected from him.

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