Monday, October 26, 2020

Footballers Union working to prepare footballers for life after football

By Patience Lephogole

When the Bible’s ‘Convener,’ often referred to as King Solomon warned that ‘time and unforeseen circumstances befall us all,’ in his famed Ecclesiastes, he must have had his eyes trained on pro athletes.

For athletes at the end of their career, life after retirement from active sport can be very daunting.

Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard once said about retirement: “Nothing could satisfy me outside the ring. There is nothing in life that can compare to becoming a world champion, having your hand raised in that moment of glory, with thousands, millions of people cheering you on.”

While for Leonard it was the adrenaline of performing in front of a million crowds, for other retired athletes, it may be an uncertainty over finances and careers.

Former Heavyweight champion George Foreman falls under these. After retiring from boxing in 1977, a financially broke Foreman made a comeback ten years later and went on to win the heavyweight title again at the age of 45 years. When he finally retired for good, the former heavyweight champion successfully transitioned into a successful entrepreneur. A lesson well learnt!

In Botswana, we have all heard of athletes living in poverty after curtain come down on their career, either due to injuries or old age.

Former Zebras Mosimanegape Ramoshibidu will surely be the quickest to come to mind for many local football followers.

After a serious car accident left him wheelchair bound, the former Zebras defender went home and is now scraping through life, with no source of income or a career to fall back on.

With all this in mind, questions have always been asked as to what happens to athletes when Ecclesiastes ‘time and unforeseen circumstances’ force them to bow out.

What happens to an athlete when the music finally stops, the applause ends and it is time to leave the stage? How are athletes prepared for life after football?

Footballers Union of Botswana (FUB) secretary general Kgosana Masaseng said they have developed a player development program whose purpose is to promote player personal and professional development and wellbeing through empowering them to take ownership of their own development both on and off the field.

“The program assist players to transition successfully into the sport at young ages help them to manage various transitions during their time in the sport and to transition out of the sport and into their next career,” he said.

Furthermore, Masaseng said they are looking at a communication and support network that delivers maximum player engagement, delivering career, education and personal development initiatives prior to, during and after their professional careers.

He said “It is through this initiative that develop well rounded people, build player confidence and self-esteem as well as help players create their own identity outside football. “

“As part of our effort to assist players to develop a passion for learning and education, we provide practical advice and assistance for them to gain educational qualifications where appropriate. We also facilitate various workshops that would further develop them on their day to day lives (e.g. financial literacy program),” Masaseng added.

Moreover, Masaseng noted that they have a database of retired players and the recruitment is an ongoing exercise. He added that most of the recently retired players, who ventured into coaching as an example, were fully supported by the union through sponsorship to such training courses.

However, Masaseng expressed deep concern that the league and its partners do not want to get involved in helping their members’ transition into their second careers. He said “We had proposed to them to use funds generated from the charity cup to support this cause. Regrettably, we were told that they have identified other needy causes as beneficiaries.”

“Our question was very simple, how can football claim some morality when they are a charity of note? When are players going to be respected in this country since they are the ones who generate so much money for football? Do these officials care about players’ welfare or they just want to use them to gain positions and power to stay relevant? We condemn this type of hypocrisy and demand that players are given their rightful place in football and not be used to generate money that they don’t benefit from,” he added.

Masaseng further expressed players’ troubles. He said “How do you explain a situation where players go for months without salaries and when an opportunity comes up to raise money using the same players, you take the money they generated and pretend to be father Christmas?”

However, he told this publication that they highly discourage such behaviour. “We condemn the actions of the league, its partners and club representatives who are hell-bent on giving players the middle finger every time they ask for what is lawfully theirs,” he added.

Masaseng also said they will not be derailed from their agenda, hence they will continue fighting for the player’s welfare. “We are happy that FUB has sponsored a number of former players who ended up as coaches in the league and all we ask for is that as stakeholders, we can do much more for these players,” he observed.

“From where we sit, we believe that even after playing, these former players can continue serving the game in different capacities provided they are developed accordingly. The sponsors of football can at least look at this initiative as a legacy programme,” he concluded.

Botswana Football Association’s Public Relations Officer (PRO) Tumo Mpatane highlighted that they do have an input in footballer’s lives after retirement. He said “We encourage clubs to facilitate players to investing and ensuring longer run in the future hence getting ready for life after active sport.”

“At BFA we do not have a strategic plan dedicated to that, BNCS and BNOC offers opportunities for athletes as such we always encourage players to apply for such,” he added. Moreover, Mpatane further said during national camps they facilitate motivational talks and life coaching speakers to hep in the transit of athletes.

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