Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Sport in Botswana should be seriously transformed

‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is more serious than that elsewhere’

Recently, I had an opportunity to visit Kaizer Chiefs at the invitation of the club marketing division, whereat I met the club’s management, staff and toured the club facility.

The facility was officially opened by Dr Nelson Mandela in 1998. Situated in the Southern side of Johannesburg, Kaizer Chiefs boast a world class infrastructure; their village is headquartered in Naturena, indeed is a world away from imagination.

Kaizer Motaung, a Sotho speaking soccer legend who traces his roots in the Free State, but grew up in Orlando, Soweto, styled his clubhouse in a model that exudes sophistication and glamour; it is a true depiction of elegance and phenomenal vision by the former Orlando Pirates and Atlanta Chiefs marksman.

My mind quickly rushed home thinking of my own home town club Mochudi Centre Chiefs. I thought of trendsetters Township Rollers, my childhood club Extension Gunners, another historical giant Gaborone United. I almost cried for there is a common enemy against sport in Botswana – my government!

If it were not for the tough laws on corporate governance in South Africa which relate to corporate social responsibility, Kaizer Chiefs would not be where they are.

The palpable influence of Primedia is obvious; this media giant has hitherto been a 40 percent shareholder of the club. The Motaung family now, through Kaizer Holdings, owns the club 100 percent.
My heart beat profusely hard as Kaizer’s youngest daughter, Kemiso Motaung, and club’s Media Liaison Officer, Luthando Zibeko, took me around the world class facility where I was shown the board room, the full to capacity trophy cabinet, PR office, the Retail and Photography offices, including the museum and the training fields. Their parking lot displays the smallest luxury toys mainly the German sedans such convertibles, the big machines like Range Rover’s of this world in which both the stars Itumeleng Khune and Simphiwe Tshabalala cruise.

In the executive parking is a Mercedes Benz s500 belonging to the Chairman, while a Messerati apparently owned by the Football Manager, Bobby Motaung, is also on the side. The common money problem in football is absent here. My aides told me the only office I would not have the luxury of seeing is where contracts and business deals are signed, the Chief’s office. It is on the 2nd floor; Kaizer Motaung makes the most difficult decisions from this office. They say the Chairman, as Kemiso repeatedly called, the idea is to see the club on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, the immediate dream is to have a stadium, a dream for all African clubs.

In Africa, there is no single club which owns a stadium. Chief refers to Kaizer, as his extra ordinary Mercedes number plate indicates. The magnificent cyber centre where players and staff study computers, where visitors like me can sip caffe latte whilst on internet-the players have their meals on the other side before and after training. It is a spectacle.

Truth is that Kaizer Motaung has built a majestic football empire, whose facilities are un-matched on the African continent.

Kaizer Chiefs boast over 14 million registered supporters, many of us (Botswana citizens) not included though we have supported the club since we started following football. Chiefs are miles ahead of many clubs in Africa and compete fairly well with the giants of Europe in terms of assets.
In football, clubs are measured by fan base, Chiefs is unmatched here, competing only with the Springboks. Chiefs have also won more silverware than all other clubs combined in the South African Premier League.

In Africa, only Platinum Stars, Ajax Cape Town, Asec Abidjan and Al Ahly are close in terms of infrastructure. Ajax Cape Town partnership with the Dutch parent company has done wonders in Parow, but their world class facility is not close to Chiefs majestic facility.

Platinum Stars through their parent company Royal Bafokeng Sports have set up an incredible R500 million Royal Marang hotel, an amazing sports campus which was used by England National Team during the 2010 world cup, and Zebras and Ghana during their Afcon preparations recently.

Al Ahly, Africa’s most successful club, boasts of a traditional club house which has recently undergone renovations. Also at Naturena, the academy of Kaizer Chiefs is directly opposite, also on the radar. This is where sponsorship comes in, the legacy left by several sponsors such as Iwisa, Nissan, Standard Bank and Nike have done wonders for the Soweto giants.

Whilst Botswana fans would love their clubs to own such infrastructure, I do not think they would like the bureaucracy synonymous with such. It would mean they don’t rock up at training, training is private and the media is also not allowed unless on accreditation or on media day. But such is professional football, gone are the days when a girlfriend would rock up to demand something from the boyfriend during training, when club coach would be playing hide and seek with his sheriffs under the pretext that he’s busy with training. The club Head coach has got his own office here, and Sadaam Maake is higly regarded as evidenced by the large posters of him on the walls.

The club’s greatest sons Doctor Khumalo and Pule Ntsoelengoe also dominate the walls of the club. It’s the cleanest place of football I have ever seen.

The staff, which includes a cleaner from Manamakgota in Mochudi is too friendly; she recognises my surname with nostalgia. The security detail is no longer as big as when I first entered, probably because Kaizer’s youngest daughter Kemiso has really been nice to me.

The chairman and his son Bobby shake hands with me and leave swiftly for a meeting. I realize after that, that the appointment of Primedia’s former CEO Bheki Shongwe as Managing Director is a move to relieve Kaizer off some duties of running the club on a daily basis, though he’s still involved with player signings and giving direction, the Chief is slowly taking a rest with regular golf sessions in Rooderport and Magaliesburg.

I think back knowing that Botswana football dreams to get to this level, the question that arises is whether we have the right people at the helm, do we have the resources to achieve this, or we simply can go the TP Mazembe way, look for the richest man in the country and focus on one club, the one that would feed the National Team as is the case with the arrival of billionaire Moise Katumbi, a Congolese of Greek descent who is Governor of diamond rich Katanga region.

Katumbi through his massive diamond network and arms empire now owns TP Mazembe, Africa’s most feared club rumoured to be 2nd to Sundowns in terms of annual budget. Mazembe dominates continental football without many resources in the Congo, but operate from the greasy hand belonging to Moise. He has refused to let go Africa’s best find, Tresor Mputu, and matched salaries offered by the European teams to keep the player on home soil. Do we need to go the Kaizer Chiefs way or go the Congolese way.

The big problem is in Botswana football is viewed as a sport, a pastime and a sport for the disgruntled while in South Africa they have created multi millionaires from Cape Flats as is the case of Allan Donald and Benni McCarthy, superstars from Diepklof such as Lucas Radebe and Makhaya Ntini in the Eastern Cape while in the DRC the likes of Dikembe Mutombo and Tresor Mputu are great examples.

My question is do we not see Dipsey Selolwane as an example of a young GSS student who rose to fame and fortune? I had hoped that Amantle Montsho example would inspire both government and the private sector to lead the way.

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