Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Coronavirus suffocates football

If the Botswana Premier League (BPL) expected the 2019/20 league to be a struggle, then things may just turn ugly.

When the league started, the clubs agreed to start the season aware there would be no prize monies at the end of the season.

This came as the then league sponsors Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) slashed sponsorship from P13 million to a mere P5 million for the current season.

While ABSA bank came on board as a partner with a P3 million sponsorship, the monies were not even enough. The league was also in the middle of a cashless broadcast deal. 

The BPL had failed to capitalize and find other broadcasting partners to work with Botswana Television (BTv) as expected to bring in more cash. As a result, monthly grants given to teams were reduced. 

As if that was not enough, individual teams struggled to lure in sponsors. This left many teams with only gate takings as a source of income. 

However, with the ever-dwindling numbers of spectators on matchdays, even this was inadequate for teams to make ends meet.  

Then the BFA had to suspend all footballing activities to curb the spread of the coronavirus epidemic. This meant no income for more than half of the BPL teams.

With the last source of income now closed, various football clubs are expected to struggle. After teams had done enough to reduce cases of non-payment of players, the problem is likely to peak once more.

“Of all the 16 teams in the BPL, only eight are able to pay their players on time. The remaining eight (8) teams are struggling,” Football Union Botswana (FUB) president Onalethata Tshekiso says.

The FUB president says, the eight teams which are paying on time, include the Debswana sponsored duo of Jwaneng Galaxy and Orapa United, the trio of BDF XI, Police XI and Prisons XI who are all institutional teams as well as Township Rollers, Gaborone United and Security Systems, all of who either have investors or sponsors.

“The remaining eight teams which are struggling are reliant on gate takings and the monthly league grants to make ends meet,” Tshekiso explains. “These are the teams which we expect to struggle as the Coronavirus takes its toll.” 

The FUB president says with no other source of income aside from gate takings, the FUB expects to witness a spike in complaints of non-payment from players.

“In fact, we had a meeting this morning as the FUB executive committee to discuss this issue. We had a concern that players will struggle to get their monthly dues and we wanted to find solutions as we believe this is a collective responsibility for all the stakeholders,” he says.

According to Tshekiso, while the FUB stands for the interests of players, the current crisis needs the Botswana Football Association (BFA), BPL, FUB and all stakeholders to come up with solutions to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus-imposed league suspension on both clubs and players.

“At the moment, as the FUB, we cannot divulge what solutions we intend to propose to BFA, BPL and the stakeholders as we are yet to meet with them. We have our own ideas but it will be premature as they may not be similar to the ones the other stakeholders have,” he says.

While this is a crisis, Tshekiso says it is also a wake up call for local football and he hopes lessons will be learnt in the process.

“I believe it is a lesson for local football administrators, both at BFA, BPL and club level to start making contingency plans for crisis like these. Both the BFA and BPL should benchmark from professional leagues to see how they prepare for these kind of situations so as to cushion teams from the effects when such situations arise. The same applies for individual clubs,” he adds.

The same sentiments are shared by the BFA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mfolo Mfolo, who concurs that local football clubs are expected to struggle due to the coronavirus-imposed suspension on footballing activities.

“The majority of our teams are reliant on gate-takings and they will be greatly affected,” he says. “With the current suspension of games, their income will take a hit as the monies they would be getting in terms of gate takings dry up.” 

With the drying up of gate takings, which make the larger share of teams’ income in the local league, the BFA CEO says the association expects teams to fail to meet their monthly obligations.

“Over the past few months, we have had very few complaints from the FUB or players over non-payment of monthly salaries. However, it is now likely that we will once again experience a spike in complaints,” Mfolo observes. 

On what local football will be doing to protect players and clubs from the impending crisis, Mfolo says at the moment, there is little that ‘the BFA can do.’

“I cannot speak for the individual teams but the BFA cannot do much right now. However, there are critical lessons to be learnt from the crisis by both the BFA, BPL and individual football clubs,” he says.

The BFA CEO then continues; “going forward, the current crisis will be a lesson for both the BFA, BPL and individual clubs to put in place measures to contain these kinds of crisis if and when they occur.” 

“We need to go out and see how the other professional leagues are doing and benchmark from them if we are to be able to avert any similar crisis in future,” Mfolo concludes.

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.