Legendary football administrator and former Botswana Football Association (BFA) president Ishmael Bhamjee is no more. The former BFA president allegedly succumbed to Covid-19 this past Friday.
Bhamjee’s contribution in local football and in the region is immense and he pioneered reforms in an effort to transform football both administratively and in the field of play. The sentiments were shared by former colleagues who administered football during his era.
Starting his career as a referee, Bhamjee grew up the ladder to serve as BFA president, COSAFA president, CAF member and FIFA executive member. His career took a fall at the 2006 FIFA World Cup when he was implicated in a ticket scandal. Bhamjee had allegedly been caught selling match tickets at inflated prices, resulting in him being sent home by FIFA.
In the aftermath of the scandal, which many believe he was framed for by top high ranking FIFA officials to kick him out of FIFA, he retired from active football.
According to those who worked with him, Bhamjee’s untimely passing is devastating news for the local sports fraternity.
“The passing of Ismail Bhamjee has been devastating not only to his family but to some of us who knew him well,” former BFA Chief Executive Officer Ashford Mamelodi says. Mamelodi says the former BFA president was one of the few sport leaders ‘who saw a potential in him to lead football and sport in some capacity and pushed him hard.’
“Whatever achievements, albeit modest that I have had in the world of Sport and football, Bhamjee’s contribution and support was beyond measure,” he says.
Apart from serving as BFA President a few times, Bhamjee was a founder member of COSAFA. He was also the first Motswana and a football official from Southern Africa to serve on both the CAF & FIFA Executive Committees. He also served as Vice & President of the Botswana National Olympic Committee.
“He has left an indelible mark on matters of football in this country and the sub region,” Mamelodi observes.
“He was a very likeable gentleman who had a huge sense of humour. I am truly grateful and proud to have known and associated with Bhamjee,” he concludes.
Mamelodi’s sentiments were echoed by Bhamjee’s predecessor at BFA David Fani who says his passing ‘is a loss not only to football and sport in Botswana but the African continent as well as the world at large.’
Fani, who is now the FIFA Regional Office Development Manager says Bhamjee ‘contributed to the effective development of refereeing in Botswana to the level where the world’s trust in Botswana’s referees was a given.’
“His leadership of the Botswana Football Association and Botswana National Olympic Committee left an indelible mark on the development of sport in Botswana,” Fani says.
He says through his leadership of BFA, Bhamjee ‘was instrumental in the setting up of structures for the development of the game, thereby laying the foundation for those who came after him to take football to the next level.’
“Bhamjee was the founding President of COSAFA and played a significant role in setting up COSAFA to be what it is today, the best zonal association on the African continent,” he says.
“It was through his influence that the first COSAFA secretariat and FIFA regional offices were based in Botswana. There is no doubt that the role Bhamjee played as COSAFA President and a member of the CAF and FIFA Executive Committees as well as the International Olympic Committee cemented the world’s trust and confidence in the capability of the people of Botswana.”
“As a nation, we owe Bhamjee a debt of gratitude for putting our country on the international map and his family for allowing him the space to serve in pursuance of his passion,” Fani concludes.