It is a blessing for any country to have its own citizen in the corridors of FIFA because he is getting all the invaluable experience that would help develop local football in the long run, writes Sunday Standard reporter, Tshepho Bogosing.
Securing an interview with him is not an easy thing because of his hectic schedule.
He is always busy and away travelling the world attending to matters of the sport he loves the most, football.
Once the chance is availed to see him, the interview is not smooth sailing as his phone rings nonstop.
That’s Ashford Mamelodi, the man in whose blood football flows. He has been involved in the day to day running of football almost all his life.
As FIFA Development Officer based in the Southern Africa region, he has to be always in touch with other world football gurus, from the World football headquarters in Zurich to the rest of other continents.
Once he is on the phone, a reporter has to be patient because the calls also need his utmost attention.
One conversation that grabbed my attention was from South African Football Association President, Kerstin Nematandani, regarding the appointment of their new Chief Executive Officer, Robin Peterson.
Such development has to be communicated to Mamelodi’s office so that the person is well trained by FIFA.
“Whether I like it or not, I have to be always in touch with various football personalities around the globe. This is one of the challenges facing my job but it is something I also love the most,” he said.
Mamelodi has been working as FIFA’s development officer for years and despite the challenges that still face them he is happy that they have made a tremendous mark in transforming World football, especially from previously disadvantaged countries to the state where it finds itself today. “The whole idea was conceived in 1999 to help develop football from all angles. In Africa we have four offices in Cairo (Egypt) Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Yaound├® (Cameroon) and here in Gaborone Botswana. We help develop football from technical, administration, refereeing, marketing and even communication,” he said.
The interesting factor about FIFA’s development projects is the fact that it is offered for free but Mamelodi is a frustrated man because countries, especially in Africa, are not taking full advantage of that.
“What happens is that football associations around the world have to just apply to FIFA for any course they want and FIFA would send its qualified representative for free, if such person is not available in the concerned country.
FIFA goes to the extent of paying $15 000 (P100 000) to cover logistical costs but African countries are not fully embracing that.
“Last time when I was at FIFA headquarters, I looked at the applications from various countries around the world. To my horror, Africa was the least and Asian and European countries were leading the pack. Imagine someone coming to you and says ‘I am offering you something very important for free and you just ignore’; it is definitely unbelievable,” he said.
Dumba, as Mamelodi was affectionately called during his playing days, says many countries are also lagging behind in FIFA’s goal projects, something he also says is very important for football development.
“Just imagine, FIFA is giving away a lot of money to football associations around the world to do something tangible for their development. Utilisation of that money should be there for everyone and should be accounted for. Once that is the case, FIFA will keep on pumping goal projects money.
Some football associations have built themselves good buildings and even rent out part of it as a way of raising money. Here in Botswana, we just finished Goal Project Two and other countries are already on Goal Project Six. There is a chance for associations to use that money and build more facilities that will accelerate football development. It’s a pity countries are not coming on board. FIFA would not come to you and say we want to help you but one has to knock on their doors and they will freely help,” he said.
Although he is happy that Botswana has finally broken a jinx and is making its maiden appearance at next year’s Africa Cup of Nations, he believes that Botswana should still do more so that qualification in the future is a norm, just like in other countries.
“All concerned stake holders of football in this country worked hard for the Zebras to qualify but we still have a lot to do. We should have strong youth structures and tap on the incredible talent in this country. It should all start from the association with policies and then clubs. Each club in this country should have strong youth teams and then regions. If we do not do that we will meet some of the players accidently,” he said.
One issue that saddens him the most is the waning of the standards of secondary school soccer that discovered many players some of who still play for the national team.
Some of such players are Diphetogo Selolwane, Tshephiso Molwantwa, Mompati Thuma and many others.
“What happened was that when I was the Secretary General of the Botswana Football Association in the mid-nineties I made it a point with the then technical advisor, Ben Koufie, to go to the regions and teach teachers the basics of coaching. It was definitely unbelievable because more teachers showed interest and instilled that into students. Since there were many teachers involved, that kind of created competition among teachers to see who was the best and it bore fruits,” he said.
Mamelodi said secondary school tournaments created so much excitement that nobody wanted to miss them.
He added that there is no way football development can be achieved at the exclusion of teachers and the current standoff between teachers and government should be amicably solved.
“Teachers are like parents to students because they deal with them on a daily basis and parents would feel comfortable if their kids play school soccer rather than being at the teams. Schools also make accessibility possible for students unlike at the teams whereby it would not be possible. As such, as a football fraternity, we need teachers the most. Even in South Africa, most popular players were discovered during secondary school tournaments,” he said.
Mamelodi also stressed that Botswana can easily close the gap between it and the rest of the world’s footballing nations once teams get more serious. He said in North and West Africa, clubs have strong youth structures that discovered many good players like Didier Drogba and Michael Essien.
“If you go to countries like Ghana, youth soccer is kind of their culture. Every weekend almost all pitches and stadiums are full of kids accompanied by their parents. Those kids want to be great players and I would like to see the same thing in Botswana,” he said.
He added that it can be achieved through training of many coaches and, in turn, local teams should give local coaches a chance to show off their skills.