BY BOTLHALE KOOTHUPILE
When he assumed the reins at the Botswana Football Association (BFA) president almost three years ago, MaClean Letshwiti had two main promises, his priorities.
The first was football development, a tenet he has so far tried to fulfil. The second was a promise he would have created 5000 jobs by the end of his four year tenure.
Standing at ITowers’ Jessy’s Bistro on a Tuesday of August 9 three years ago, the then BFA presidential aspirant boldly informed his potential voters and the media that ‘football should be an industry’ which creates employment.
This promise would go on to be a stick with which detractors used to beat the hapless BFA president, with as many questioning whether his was an achievable dream.
But can football be a platform for employment creation? For anyone in doubt of football’s potential, a case in study should be the English Premier League club Brighton & Hove Albion.
Just recently, the team commissioned a study to see the club’s economic impact in its wider community during its first season in the Premier League in 2017/18.
According to a statement released by the club, “the study ÔÇô commissioned by the club, and carried out by Marshall Regen and the University of Chichester ÔÇôshows that the club’s economic contribution in 2017/18 to the local economy was valued at a staggering ┬ú212 million.
It also shows that the Albion has grown to become one of the top employers in the city and one of the most significant contributors to the economic growth of the Greater Brighton City Region.”
While the Premier League is flush with money and Brighton & Hove Albion’s situation far better than that of local football clubs, it however shows that football can indeed create jobs and have a great impact on the economy.
Now as Letshwiti prepares to face his electorates at the BFA Annual General Assembly (AGA), he will be fully aware the jury is still out on him to fulfil this one particular promise.
Letshwiti’s 5000 job a possibility
Just as Letshwiti boldly stated three years ago, football is a big industry with a huge potential to create jobs, both directly and indirectly.
Commenting on the matter, football administrator Gabriel Ngele is of the view that creating jobs through football is a possible dream.
“When you look at the issue of job creation, there are a lot of things that come into play. If you look at all these, the possibilities are endless,” the veteran administrator opined.
Ngele’s views are shared by another administrator. “Even though many people can doubt it, the truth is it is possible for local football to create the 5000 jobs that Letshwiti promised,” the administrator, who commented on condition of anonymity opined.
“The only question is whether he has the strategy to ensure his dream turns into reality,” said the administrator.
For both Ngele and the said administrator, any success for Letshwiti in his endeavours to create employment will be closely tied to the professionalization of the league.
“If we professionalise the league and make it a profitable, then our teams can employ and create employment. But this will depend on whether we have a league product,” the administrator said.
“Suppose our league was good, we would bargain for better sponsorship deals which would mean better monies for our teams. If the teams become competitive, they would in turn attract much better crowds and make better monies in merchandise and gate takings, meaning our players would be better remunerated,” said the administrator.
The administrator opined that if this could be achieved, it would mean teams will have to have strong administrations, which would result in further employment.
Ngele shared the same sentiments, saying professionalization of the league is where any idea of job creation should begin.
The veteran administrator said if teams are professional, they would be attractive to sponsors and that would spark job creation.
“If teams have sponsors, they can easily put in place strategies to improve themselves. This will include permanent employment for players, coaches and support staff as well as administrative personnel. If these people are well paid, they will employ agents and helpers, which would be a trickledown effect employment,” he explained.
Off the field of play, Ngele said the trickledown effect of professionalization of football will be seen in areas such as manufacturing, vending as well as facility maintenance and repairs.
“If our teams manage to attract good support base, then our local manufacturers who have been dressing the teams will experience a boon as more merchandise will be sold. This will in turn result in job creation in this sector,” he explained.
“The increase in number of supporters will also be good for the street vendors who hawk their wares at the Stadiums during match days. Without football games, these vendors suffer and their self employment is dependent on good attendance at matches,” Ngele went on.
On infrastructure, Ngele said if football was to grow further to other areas of the country, there would also be a need for improvement of infrastructure while a further number of people from the areas would also benefit through direct employment or as a trickledown effect of football related activities.
For his part, the administrator who was commenting on condition of anonymity said given the current status where the league product is losing its quality and football bleeding sponsors, it becomes even more difficult for Letshwiti to fulfil his dream.
“There was a time when teams like Sankoyo could attract crowds to the stadiums and this was a boon for vendors. Even Sankoyo managed to make around 1.9 million one season in gate takings only which showed football can be sustainable and create employment if it has capable people at the helm. However, things have changed for the worst as loyalists now sit in top positions, making it difficult for football to grow and create employment as it should,” he said.
Where should he start?
According to both Ngele and the administrator, the best place to start for Letshwiti to achieve his dream is to surround himself with good administrators who can help him execute his vision.
“If you look at Letshwiti, he is a successful businessman who brings with him good business acumen. However, we have to look at whether he has around him people capable of delivering his vision,” Ngele opined.
“Unfortunately, football administration is run by sports politicians. Sometimes when we make appointments in football, we go for loyalty and factional allegiance at the expense of quality representation,” he opined.
“I believe that when appointing office bearers in football, we should start looking at capability not factional affiliation. In cases where some people in the other side are more capable to help him, they should be voted into office to help him deliver,” Ngele said.
For his part, the other administrator said Letshwiti’s undoing was fighting political battles he found existing at the BFA and purging capable administrators in the process.
“Taking out capable administrators and replacing them with loyalists was his main undoing. If he wants to succeed, he should look beyond just factional affiliation, even if it means looking at the administrators he purged and bringing them back if possible,” the administrator concluded.