Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Is the circus over? Now let’s play ball

This past week, the Botswana Football League (BFL) elected a new old Board of Directors to lead it to the promised land. The new board is led by Gaborone United (GU) financier Nicholas Zakhem and has Jagdish Shah, Njabulo Gilika and Kagiso Mogocha as Board Directors.

the election of Zak and Shah brings full circle the circus that has been the BFL. Six months ago, the two were part of the Board of Directors who gave way to a new committee led by Aryl Ralebala. At the time, Shah was the chairman and Zak was one of the Directors.

As things would turn out, Ralebala never had a good time in office, thanks largely to the raucous noise around him caused by some shareholders led by none other than Zakhem himself. In fact, things got so out of hand some teams, led by Zakhem financed GU and Shah financed Township Rollers were threatening to boycott the league if a league sponsorship of at least P15 million was not put on the table.

Now the onus is now on Zak, as Zakhem is called around football circles, to take the ball out of the board room to the field of play, where it rightly belongs. and for a man who talks big like him, he may be living on borrowed time. Luckily for him, the start of the league, which was expected five days from today on Friday 22nd October has been moved to the end of October, giving him some time to get his house in order.

Like Ralebala before him, the GU financier will be expected to move mountains. Top on his to do list will be two unenviable tasks. The first one is making sure the P15 million he and others demanded before they could kick ball is available. The second one is making sure that all players in the elite league are inoculated to control the spread of the Covid-19 vaccine.

According to the BFL Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Solomon Ramochotlhwane, the postponement of the start of the league came about as they sought to ensure all players in all the 16 premier league teams can be given covid-19 jabs.

“We requested from the government to have all our players inoculated. The reason is that testing our players fortnightly will be a very costly process for our teams who will have to use approximately P28 000 a month on tests. Our teams do not have sources of income at the moment,” he explained.

The BFL CEO went on to add that while the request to the government was sent two months ago, they are still waiting for a reply. Despite this, he said they are still hopeful their request will be acceded to and the vaccination of players will start this coming week.

But what happens if the request is not quickly acceded to and players are not inoculated? This is the question that Ramochotlhwane chose not to answer but this can only mean the problem will be awaiting Zakhem and his new old committee to find solutions for. They will have to negotiate a quick vaccination of players to cut costs for the teams and ensure the league starts.

On sponsorships, Ramochotlhwane said they are still hard at work talking to potential sponsors. While no one is on board yet, he was optimistic something will be on the table when the league resumes.

The BFL CEO’s optimism is however not universally shared by those within the BFL corridors. A source informed this publication that the sudden departure of Ralebala, as was with his predecessor Shah, has set back the sponsorship negotiations. Now it will be up to Zakhem to revive all sponsorship negotiations and conclude some in time for the league to start …, in a fortnight’s time!

Speaking to Sunday Standard, Zakhem was optimistic that his committee will be able to find the P15 million needed to kickstart the league. “It is very achievable. We are almost there. This process has been ongoing for a while with the previous committee and the committee before that. We are 80% there,” he said.

The new BFL Board Chairman said he is aware of how difficult it is for teams to start the league without any financial help but said they will be fighting to at least get something to cushion teams from financial hardships. He however said though they may not get the big money league title sponsorship they sorely need, they will not be closing the doors on finding it.

On the issue of player testing, Zakhem reiterated the words of his CEO that the BFL is looking to vaccinate all players ahead of the start of the new season. He said they expect the process to start and complete this coming week. He said if all goes well, the vaccination of players will start on a Monday or Tuesday and conclude within three days.

He said even if the process can start this coming week as they hope, there is no guarantee that the league will resume as planned. He said this is because players may react differently to the vaccine, something which can make some of them unable to play a few days after vaccination.


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