Despite a small population of just over two million, Botswana’s Premier League (BPL) is amongst the regional league’s that have many teams. Currently, the number of Premier League teams in Botswana stands at 16. Unlike in the past when most teams were from Gaborone and some surrounding areas, currently most areas across the currently are represented, and that has in a way created balanced representation. However, Botswana’s 16 team Premier League has been under close scrutiny for prolonged periods of time.
Some experts argue that Premier League teams should be reduced to improve the standard of the league and to enable it to be run properly and efficiently. One man who has for a long time advocated for the reduction of Premier League teams is FIFA development officer, Ashford Mamelodi. Mamelodi made it clear that even FIFA is against the current number of having so many teams in such a small country.
According to Mamelodi, reduction in the number of teams will lead to stiff competition. In 2008, a high powered FIFA delegation addressed all football authorities in Botswana. The resolutions from the meeting came to be known as ‘Bosele declaration’. One of the resolutions made was to reduce the premier league teams from current 16 to 12. Although almost seven years have gone by, the resolution is still yet to be implemented.
Football analyst, Olebile Sikwane, is of the view that the current set up takes football backward and, as a matter of urgency, teams have to be reduced. “Our league is currently too big for a tiny administration that we have at BPL. In this situation we find ourselves with a league that is poor in quality of players, poor in the marketing, poor in the officiating,” he said. He also said a small league run well would attract sponsors and create competition because only the best players would play. Sikwane also lamented that some teams play almost all their matches without a doctor because they cannot afford one despite the critical part doctors play in the game.
Sikwane added that the local Premier League should consider benchmarking from league such as MLS in the USA. “Look at the MLS in the USA, it is perfectly organised. The attendance is not that big, the teams are not many but it attracts superstars and it has improved tremendously. It is the same with Belgium and India. The situation we have now is a Haphazard league, parochial display, lethargic performance of the national team and not so attractive package as an entity that is our league,” he said.
Sikwane also said by reducing the teams the league can also have quality referees who can compete on big international stage. Currently there is not even a single referee from Botswana who has officiated at big events such as the Africa Cup of Nations. They mostly feature in qualifying matches and African club competitions. Sikwane also added that it is still shocking that the so called big Premier League teams do not have basic simple resources, and as such reduction is the solution. “Our teams cannot even afford three playing kits a season, home, away and alternative. It is chaotic and no single club in this country has a fax machine of their own. Gaborone United’s one is owned by Nicholas Zakhem, Rollers is Jagdish Sha because he owns everything there and for Mochudi Centre Chiefs I am not sure,” he said.
Sikwane also emphasised that what exacerbates the situation is that there is a skewed corporate world in Botswana run from Johannesburg and Cape town and as such, soccer does not get what it truly deserves. He said much should be done in this regard in order to take football forward. “For example, in South Africa, Engen puts so much money in football, but in Botswana there is nothing. First National Bank can build a P4 billion stadium in Johannesburg, but in Botswana it cannot do more than a donation. We have no laws on corporate social responsibility that would make sure these companies invest seriously in sport. What we currently have is a charitable attitude by the corporate world and a very non-chalant government position towards sport,” he said.