Sunday, July 25, 2021

INEOS academy up in smoke

Like the great fire that gutted Rome in 64CE, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravage Botswana football.

For over a year now, no football related activities have taken place, save for national team assignments. 

In the midst of the chaos caused by the pandemic, livelihoods of stakeholders who include players and coaches have literally been destroyed.

And just when everybody thought nothing could get worse, then comes the news that the announcement that the long-awaited INEOS football academy project is no more.

For the Botswana Federation Association (BFA) leadership, who like Nero have been accused of playing fiddle in the midst of the chaos, the cancellation of the project would have been devastating.

The INEOS academy project was for all reasons the cornerstone of the Maclean Letshwiti led Botswana Football Association (BFA)’s strategy to develop football.

Throughout his tenure in office, Letshwiti had put football development and in particular grassroots development as his main selling point.

The INEOS state of the art academy, which was expected to be one of a kind in the region, was then expected to provide a pathway for young footballers from the grassroots to make it in the professional ranks abroad.

Reached for comment, BFA acting chief executive officer (CEO) Thabiso Kebotsamang refused to comment on the matter, saying ‘the association will make a correspondence when the time arrives.’

If the project was to materialise, it would have been the greatest legacy left behind when the current regime’s tenure in office ends.

Now with the dreams of the academy up in smoke, the big question; can the BFA rebuild from its ashes?

While the academy would have been a huge leap forward in player development, one administrator believes it will give the BFA an opportunity to introspect and resuscitate its youth development structures.

“One of the reasons why INEOS easily pulled out of the deal was because they knew it would be difficult to get talent in Botswana,” the administrator observed.

He went on to add that big academies like the one INEOS intended to build blossom where youth football structures are in place.

“They rely on active youth football competitions to scout and recruit talent. Unfortunately, we did not already have such in Botswana. That is the reason why they allegedly moved to Ivory Coast where they know they can easily find talent,” he explained.

The administrator described the INEOS project cancellation as a ‘sad moment’ for Botswana but said the country can take the moment to rebuild and start afresh.

“Once we put in place necessary development structures, we can then approach other famed academies to partner with us,” the administrator says.

He says the current BFA regime should revisit what was done before and work on where to improve.

The administrator believes if the BFA has proper talent development structures in place, it can even look for big clubs overseas to partner with. 

But does the BFA have any plans aside from the INEOS academy? Kebotsamang argues the association has many youth football development programs to undertake post Covid-19 pandemic.

“At the moment, all our youth programmes including youth leagues have been put on hold until the situation with COVID-19 comes under control,” he says. “We cannot risk the lives of our young players,” he adds. 

While refusing to comment on issues surrounding the INEOS academy, the acting CEO however says the association has not lost any of its youth program sponsors and partners. 

“We have engaged with all our sponsors and partners in youth development to inform them of our decisions and we reached an agreement,” he says.

Kebotsamang says once the situation normalises, all programmes, including the one recently launched with Lactalis Botswana through its Bonnita brand, will be resumed. 

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper