Thursday, February 22, 2024

For how long must lower division teams play for crumbs?

In 2014 the lower division football league was rocked by a clash between the Botswana Football Association (BFA) and the government over constituency tournaments which were more lucrative.

Constituency tournaments were introduced by the government, as a pet project by former President Ian Khama in 2008, intended to combat social ills through sport but the gesture was found wanting as it competed with lower division football teams.

The BFA appealed to the government to terminate the tournaments as many First Division players were deserting their clubs to take part in the tournaments for a quick and slightly higher payout, violating the BFA regulations.

The issue of lower division players going to easy cash through football dates back, and it has been a worrisome issue for those involved in football. The lower division football in Botswana is in a sad state.

Noticeable are players moving from one team to the other because the other team has found a job for them, or they are willing to pay them better, or greener pastures are promised for them in that particular team.

A typical example of moves made by players can be found in former Mochudi Rovers defender, Last Tapela, who moved to a second division team in Gaborone.

The lower division team got him a job, hence he needed to take their offer as it was a better incentive than the current one on the table. When a team is willing to empower their players financially without paying them monthly, they might as well as get them jobs whilst they pursue their football dreams.

Tapela said: “Although it is always for the love of football, we cannot surpass the fact that we have needs that we cannot afford ignore, hence the need to have a job on the side whilst playing football.”

“People asked me how do I move from a first division team to a second division team, I always tell them it is not about the division, it is about showcasing my skills whilst meeting my needs at the same time. I love football and I hope one day to grow into a better team where I will focus on it alone,” Tapela opined.

Local football analyst, Jimmy George, said logically players in lower divisions aspire to play for big teams, so it is expected for lower division teams to lose players.

He said: “It is also an incentive for these players to be spotted by bigger teams. Tt is a win-win situation. The only problem arises when the timing is not favourable to the smaller team.”

“Teams in the lower division cannot do much to support their players because there is little money at their disposal, the noble thing to do is to encourage players to go to school and find jobs while they play football,” George opined.

He further added that since big teams are better resourced should be at the forefront of development, hence they should shape players at a young age to suit in the playing style and culture of their club.

“Top clubs should be encouraged to partner with small clubs to ease the pressure and costs of developing players, I advice players experiencing any difficulty of their club not getting financial assistance to never give up on their dream, “he added.

He said: “If players are going to be after money than after pursuing their dreams, it may not go as they anticipated and this may shutter their dreams, hence they need to be patient within their club boundaries and focus on developing their football skills.”

He concluded by saying: “I advice the players to climb up that mountain, find the road beneath or simply stay and turn it into a gold mine, go to school and get your degree whilst playing football. For those not academically gifted they can get jobs and still play the sport they love than sticking to social ills which do not go hand in hand with football.”

Mochudi based second division football club Mario Fighters said it is very difficult to keep players motivated but they try by all means to keep them focused. He said “It is important for our association to help these lower division teams because that is where grassroots’ development begins, that is where even bigger teams get players from, hence the need for better structures and resources for the players.”

“Normally football players lack self-belief, at times we need to change their mindset, football is not only about money especially at lower division, when one is focused and willing to learn they can easily get identified and nurtured by a bigger team,” Seleke noted.

Moreover, Seleke noted that most teams use out of school players.

He said: “It is difficult to for lower division teams as most of them are unemployed; I just wish we looked into football with better resources. That could be helpful as they will be enticed financially hence we empower them to try look for jobs to sustain their needs.”

“I have two national under 17 players out of school in my team. It is difficult to keep them focused let alone to keep them out of social ills. However, we try so hard to keep players focused and not only look to the financial aspects, but also to work hard so that they can play professional football in the bigger league, hence achieving their dreams,” Seleke opined.


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