Thursday, January 28, 2021

Of blessers and blessees in Botswana football

By Botlhale Koothupile

America’s 34th president Dwight D Eisenhower once remarked that “Neither a wise man or a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him.”

However, when it comes to the issues of financial stability and sustainability in Botswana football, the opposite seems to be true.

Despite Botswana football littered with stories of once successful teams which relied solely on financiers fading into shadows of their past when financiers pull out, local football administrators never seem to learn.

For local football, the closest semblance of local teams’ reliance on financiers can be likened to the sugar daddy relationship culture of blessers and blessees.

The blessers, being the team financiers pay for everything to ensure the team looks attractive, but do not help them to be self sustainable.

Once the sugar daddy pulls out of the relationship, the blessee, being the team rushes into the chest of the next available sugar daddy or at times, falls through the cracks and fades into oblivion.

Teams on the other hand have developed blessee tendencies, lavishly spending whatever they get on useless vanities and not investing to secure their futures should the blesser disappear.

For those who have been in football for a long time, the phenomenon is not new. In the early 90’s, Extension Gunners, then LCS Gunners was the team to beat or to play for if you were a player in Botswana’s Premier league.

Backed by Lobatse Cash Store (hence LCS Gunners), Gunners had it all and attracted the best talent to the shores of Peleng.

Iconic local footballers such as Itumeleng ‘Tumie’ Duicker, Mosepele ‘Teenage’ Moswai, Kopano ‘Computer’ Phakedi, Peter Mabile and Solomon ‘Solly’ Moipolai, just to name a few were some of the stars who donned the Gunners ‘black and white’ in that era.

‘Mapantsula,’ as the team is affectionately known to its legions of supporters danced their way to glory, winning back to back league championships in 1992, 1993 and 1994.

At the height of such a success, the inevitable happened! After squabbles with supporters, Lobatse Cash Stores pulled back their sponsorship.

Having relied on handovers from their moneyed backers for survival, the sudden pull out of Lobatse Cash Stores rocked the once mighty Gunners to its knees.

When it came, Gunners had nothing to show for its successes, no tangible property or sources of income to sustain it. Today, the effects of such are still felt as Gunners continue to struggle.

Then there was the Ramotswa based Mokgosi Young Fighters. Backed by transport mogul Seabelo Tlhaselo of Seabelo transport, Mokgosi nearly became a household name in the mid 90’s.

At the height of their Tlhaselo backed glorious era, Mokgosi made history as they went all the way to the finals of the Coca Cola Cup and got promotion to the premier league, then known as the Super League.

When Tlhaselo withdrew his sponsorship, Mokgosi was rocked to its foundations. Having relied solely on Tlhaselo and with no other sources of income, the withdrawal would haunt Mokgosi and the team is still yet to recover.

Thereafter, came the glory laden galactico years of Mochudi Centre Chiefs.

At its height and with pockets full of money from sugar daddy like financiers, ‘Magosi’ as Chiefs is known by its legion of supporters, pursued a Real Madrid’esque approach to glory, buying all the best local footballers and paying handsomely for their services.

As with Gunners and Mokgosi prior to them, Chiefs never learnt. They spent more than they earned and relied solely on financiers and sponsors without planning for life after.

The aftermath has been devastating for Magosi. With the financiers gone and sponsorships all dried up, the Kgatleng based outfit has found itself caught between a rock and a hard place.

Bereft of its sugar daddies, Magosi is now a shadow of its former self. Instead of fighting for honours as is expectation, Magosi is fighting to avoid relegation. The problem is so acute the team cannot even afford to pay its players.

It could be the same for Gaborone United (GU), but thanks to finding back love from its once estranged millionaire financier Nicholas Zakhem, things are going back to ‘normal’ for ‘Moya Go Leele.’

When Zakhem suddenly ditched GU a couple of years back after solely shouldering its expenses, the team found itself sinking into a financial quagmire.

Left with swelling debts, GU found solace in the presence of its then chairman Rapula Okaile, who battled, albeit with limited success, to finance the team.

When Okaile finally called it quits, GU found itself in an unfamiliar position, having to fend for themselves to pay for expenses.

As with other teams prior, it was an exercise in futility as the team’s debts soared, forcing it to part ways with the talented players it had to defray costs.

Luckily for GU, Zakhem extended a proposition for back love, in his own terms and GU had no other option but accept. Since coming back at the beginning of this year, Zakhem has paid GU debts and life is rosy all over again. Whether GU would do things differently this time around is yet to be seen.

The examples are endless .., BMC, ECCO City Greens (now City Greens), NICO united, FC SATMOS, just to mention but a few, have faced the same fate. Once their sole sponsor went, the teams folded as they had no other income aside from financiers.

Currently, the hottest property in Botswana football, Township Rollers is at the mercies of its own sugar daddy millionaire financier Jagdish Shah.

For someone looking through the perimeter fence, Rollers have it all. The most talented squad which is well paid and all resources it wants at its disposal.

“If Rollers were to lose Shah today, they will fall in the same predicament as all the other teams in the league. They would find themselves with only a table and a chair and would not even manage to pay their first monthly wage bill,” one observer noted.

As Mochudi Centre Chiefs General Manager Zaahid Jalal succinctly framed it when interviewed, ‘the problem is that even when our naivety had led us into trouble, we never learn.’

“As club administrators, when we approach potential financiers or sponsors, we do not have proper models that cater for the future of the club in place,” he opined.

According to Jalal, teams should have structures in place to ensure that when they get financiers and sponsors, there is a plan or structure in place to ensure it can invest to cover itself on ‘rainy days.’

“Unfortunately, most of the time, teams do not have investment blueprints in place and they therefore do not accrue any long term benefits when a financier or sponsor comes on board,” Jalal said.

“In the end, because we also do not know the value of our brands, we sell ourselves so cheap and when the financier leaves or the sponsorships end, we have nothing to show for it,” he explained.

He said as most teams are societies, going forth, it is imperative that clubs can ensure they have an income going into society coffers during a time when they have financiers or sponsors on board.

“These monies can either be invested or saved so that when a team parts ways with financiers, they have some working capital to keep them going,” he said.

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