For a very long time, football in Botswana was seen as a part time sport but not worth making a living out of. Despite its popular appeal amongst many Batswana, parents did not encourage their kids to make a career out of it.
Even the so called Premier League teams were disorganised to the core and administration was mainly done from the boot of their cars. For the past seven years, things started to slowly change as several local players started to play professional football, especially in South Africa. However, the contentious issue among the local clubs has always been professionalism.
Adopting it would require clubs to cease operating as societies but companies that have shareholders. Most people, especially pioneers and long time administrators of clubs, feel that once clubs are professionalised it would take power and ownership status from them.
However, big clubs in Botswana seem to be pulling towards professionalism despite the difficulty that comes with it.
Gaborone United pioneered the professionalism model under the majority ownership of Lebanese national, Nicholas Zakhem. Township Rollers have also followed suit with another reputable businessman of Indian origin, Jagdish Shah, who is reported to have bought 60 percent of the shares. Mochudi Centre Chiefs are also reportedly on the verge of finalizing a deal that will see another Lebanese, Seyed Jamali, being the majority shareholder.
Iranian businessman, Esfandier Ghorati, who owns New Era School, is negotiating to acquire BMC. Having come a long way without credible financial backup, some Batswana are wondering about the sudden change of fortunes of football with money seemingly to be pouring in.
Soccer analysist, Fobby Radipotsane, told Sunday Standard that what is happening is a positive development for football. He said it shows that the business community is starting to have confidence in local football.
“This is something that is really good and I can tell you this is going to take our football very far. Our football has always had potential of attracting investors but challenges among our teams have chased them away. But I am happy now that people who are at the fore front of the teams are realizing that they have to go with the changing time or else they would not take football anywhere,” he said.
Radipotsane also added that since Zakhem took over GU, other businessmen realised that football can be used as an investment.
Radipotsane’s words were echoed by another longtime football administrator, Segolame Ramothwa who said what is happening now is what should have happened a long time back. He said, for a long time, teams were always talking about professionalism but nothing was happening.
“Once these business guys come into place and invest, they are going to demand results. As such there are going to be improvements in many areas of clubs’ structures like administration and even general accountability. Once all these are in place results would start to come in,” he said.
Ramothwa also stressed that, once businessmen come into place, competition is going to intensify and thus improving further local football.
“Once there is money there is going to be competition and competition is going to lead to improved performance of the national team. I am happy this is happening at a time when several local players are making an impact in the South Africa Premier League. Local players who are there are not only making numbers, they are making a huge impact and almost everybody is talking about them” he said.
Ramothwa also stressed that more local teams, especially those with a large following, will benefit massively. He called on other teams to follow suit.
Ramothwa emphasized that it would be very healthy for football if teams like Gunners, Tafic and Notwane immediately professionalised.