As upheavals rock Botswana Football League (BFL), a debate is ensuing on the state of local football under the incumbent Botswana Football Association (BFA) president Maclean Letshwiti.
For his detractors, a number of whom is ever growing, the BFL’s struggles which include a failure to attract sponsors should be laid squarely at the feet of Letshwiti. This is also perpetuated by his friendship with BFL Board chairman Nicolas Zakhem, an influential yet controversial figure within local football.
But is Letshwiti to blame for the circus at BFL? The BFA president says all the blame should be pointed in the direction of the BFL. He is adamant that BFL failed to run its own affairs despite all the resources it had at its disposal including sponsors.
“When we gave the BFL autonomy, they had sponsors. They had Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) and Mascom Wireless as sponsors, they lost them. When they were struggling, we went and negotiated on their behalf sponsorship with ABSA. They lost that sponsorship as well,” he says.
He says in the instances of Mascom and ABSA, negotiations were all but concluded. All the BFL had to do, according to him, was for them to look after the sponsors. “In both these two cases, BFL had an option to renew which they needed to exercise. However, when they were supposed to exercise this option, they decided to forego it and start negotiations for new sponsors,” he explains.
“The Mascom charity cup was a precursor for them to renew with Mascom. When they were supposed to sign, they queried to Mascom that they could not sign for the same amount they had been sponsored for in the past editions. Despite Mascom exhorting them to sign with an option to negotiate improvement when the economy improved, they insisted on more money. Mascom then pulled out,” the BFA president explains.
With regards to the long awaited Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL) sponsorship, Letshwiti again believes the BFL is to blame. He says after the BFA finished preliminary talks, they left all in the hands of BFL to conclude the negotiations with the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Sports. Again, BFL is yet to close the deal.
On the issue of Zakhem, the BFA president says while he is his friend, he has no influence whatsoever on his appointment as the BFL board chairman. He says as an autonomous body, the BFL elects its own board and the chairman. “I do not make any decisions about the league. The BFL board makes the decisions. I am not party to any of their decisions.”
“And again, I do not believe Zakhem alone takes the decisions for the board. He cannot take decisions alone; he is not supposed to. I did not make Zakhem the BFL board chairman. It was all the BFL board’s decision. He is the person of their choice,” Letshwiti says. “If they feel Zakhem is not doing the right thing, they can take action. He is one man against the whole board,” he adds.
Again here, one may be forgiven for feeling the BFA president’s pain. As one source in Letshwiti’s side says, the BFA president did not support Zakhem’s appointment. “He felt that the GU financier could not run the league. Letshwiti supported Aryl Ralebala, who he felt was an astute businessman as compared to both Zakhem and Jagdish Shah. Unfortunately, BFL chairpersons decided to replace Ralebala with Zakhem and that is how things went south with the league,” the source says.
In fact, the source is adamant that Letshwiti still feels that BFL chairpersons deliberately removed Ralebala from the board as they felt he was his puppet. Asked to comment on the matter, the BFA president says both the two men are his friends. He cannot interfere in the running of the BFL.
Is he so afraid of Zakhem that he cannot dare take action against him? Letshwiti says he is not. Should he feel Zakhem or anyone is bringing football into disrepute, he will take action. But here again, why did the BFA president not take action when Zakhem attacked him in the media and posited that football was dead?
Letshwiti says he did not take any action as there was no need to. As far as he is concerned, Zakhem attacked him at a personal level and never said anything which put football into disrepute. In his eyes, Zakhem only aired his opinion about him and he chose to let it go. “You cannot fight each and every battle which comes, lest you deplete your energy on unnecessary battles,” he says.
The BFA president however is adamant that if things continue in the way they are going now, the association will have to act. One of the actions, he says, will be to revoke the BFL autonomy and bring it back under the control of BFA.