It is the summery evening of Tuesday 9 August 2016. The place is Jessy’s Bistro at ITowers in Gaborone’s Central Business District (CBD).
Standing to address a gathering of well-wishers, potential voters and the media is the then Botswana Football Association (BFA) presidential hopeful MaClean Letshwiti.
In his address, he promises football will have created 5000 jobs by the end of his four-year tenure if voted to lead BFA. His take on football is that it ‘should be an industry’ which creates employment.
Six years on and two years into his second tenure as the BFA president, Letshwiti’s promise is yet to come to fruition. The promised 5000 jobs are now a thing of ridicule, a stick used by his detractors to beat him.
Despite all the ridicule, the BFA president still believes the jobs are possible and the association is on course to make them a reality. The only thing standing in the way, he believes, is the clubs slow buy in.
“For the jobs to become a reality, there are processes that need to be put in place and followed. There is a need for professionalisation and commercialisation of the game,” Letshwiti says.
His take is that if these two are achieved, the jobs created will far surpass the ones he promised. As he says however, professionalisation and commercialisation of the game are ‘a hard sell’ for local clubs.
“My belief is that if we commercialise our game, 5000 jobs are an easy target. That is why I expressed my dissatisfaction with the premier league during their recent assembly,” he says.
To drive his point home, he points to VTM football club as an example of what happens when teams commercialise. Aside from hiring players and technical staff, they have also hired people to work on their stadium on daily basis. If all the big clubs commit to such, they will also hire other people aside from players and technical staff.
“All the efforts being undertaken to professionalise and commercialise the game are geared towards creating jobs. But this is a hard sell. Like they say, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink,” Letshwiti says.
This does not however mean he is giving up. This will be a long process. With some emerging clubs at the lower divisions already buying in on the idea of commercialisation, he believes ‘we may not be too far from professionalisation and commercialisation.’
“What we as the BFA will continue to do is to put in place the processes necessary to make football commercial possible. This will enable football and the league to create the promised jobs,” he explains.
Some of these initiatives to commercialise have seen the BFA engage both FIFA and UEFA to facilitate commercialisation. In line with this, FIFA undertook a survey of the landscape of Botswana football. following their report, the 12 rules of transformation for Botswana football were formulated.
When UEFA came, they then used the FIFA survey report to come up with the four pillars to commercialise. The pillars include governance, club development, league development as well as commercialisation and sponsorship.
Interestingly, he says the BFA has even sourced funds to help the Botswana Football League (BFL) establish. Unfortunately, the BFL has not followed the roadmap set for them by UEFA. As a result, the BFL is struggling to become commercial and has to rely on BFA.
He says the reason BFL and elite clubs are still struggling is because they are not transforming. They are always embroiled in controversy. As such, they are not attractive to suitors.
“It is a toll order. But ask yourself; why is football in the world employing many people? What is different about Botswana? It is the transformation of the clubs.”
“Zambia is getting there. They started this process after us and now they are ahead of us. What delays us is the speed or lack of at which the process of professionalisation at clubs is being undertaken,” Letshwiti says. All said and done, the BFA president still holds on to his belief. For him, the jobs are a possibility. They will come. This will however be a process. It will take time.