Wednesday, October 4, 2023

How a billionaire’s chance encounter is likely to change the face of youth sport

A chance visit by one of United Kingdom (UK)’s billionaire industrialists and financiers is threatening to completely alter the face of Botswana football, all for good.

Hearing the story of Botswana Football Association (BFA) and the impending construction of an INEOS academy (should BNSC grant land lease) feels more like a fairy tale, if nothing else.

If ever there was a story more closer like it, it will be a Cinderella story. However, instead of a fairy godmother in some fairytale, this one is about a real life fairy Godfather coming to give Botswana’s young talent a chance at earning a living from the sport.

According to BFA Chief Executive Officer Mfolo Mfolo, it all began while billionaire financier James Ratcliffe visited Botswana as a tourist.

“The story goes that as Ratcliffe was driving from his destination, by chance, he happened to come across some barefooted kids playing football on a patch of a dusty ground. He was struck by the passion he saw on these kids,” Mfolo explained.

The BFA CEO continued; “As he returned back to his country, one question lingered on his mind, ‘What can I do for this country?”

Perhaps still with the vivid imagery of the excitement he had witnessed in the barefooted kid footballers, the question lingered on the billionaire financier’s mind, at least until the moment he heard the BFA president Maclean Letshwiti was in Switzerland.

“When he heard the BFA president Maclean Letshwiti was in Switzerland, he extended an invitation to meet him. At the meeting, he asked the BFA president if there was anything he could do for Botswana football,” Mfolo said.

Being keen on football development, the BFA president is said to have answered that ‘a football academy would be more appropriate for us.’

“That is when the negotiations started evolving. Ever since, then, his INEOS representatives have been ever present here. They have even made presentation to the Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC) on everything they intend to do in Botswana,” he explained.

According to Mfolo, spurred by the passion he saw from Botswana’s kids’ footballers, Ratliffe’s vision is ‘to give young Batswana footballers an opportunity to become better footballers at a world class facility in their own country.’

Ratcliffe’s INEOS facility is expected to include an accommodation block onsite to cater for kids who do not live in Gaborone.

“Eventually, the plan is that these kids be schooled and fed within the facility. It will provide them with a combination of sporting excellence, education and social opportunity,” Mfolo said.

As the fairytale Godfather like figure of Ratcliffe waits on the sides for a chance to transform Botswana’s Cinderella footballers into princess and kings, the association now waits with baited breath for the powers that be to lease out the land.

The fairy Godfather is waiting, a charming pair of golden slippers in hand and a grand coach to transport Botswana’s talent to the ‘real (foot)ball. All that is needed is an invitation from Botswana to come to the ball.


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