By Botlhale Koothupile
The imposition of a transfer ban on clubs with due payables by the Botswana Football Association (BFA) is a long overdue and necessary evil.
While the world’s largest union for professional footballers – the F├®d├®ration Internationale des Associations de Footballeurs Professionnels (FIFPro), released a damning report on footballers’ welfare two years ago, nothing seemed set to change, until now.
In what was a damning report back in 2016, FIFPro discovered that 41 percent of players in the Botswana Premier League (BPL) often went unpaid.
While there is no official report on the number of clubs in debt, sources say more than half of the BPL teams are in debt to players.
Sources say Township Rollers, Security Systems, mining teams Orapa United and Jwaneng Galaxy, institutional teams of BDF XI, Police XI and Prisons XI and lately Gaborone United, who have welcomed back millionaire businessman Nicholas Zackhem are the only teams with no player debts, while the rest are struggling.
With the BFA now under pressure from FIFA to ensure players’ welfare is now made a priority, the association acted decisively to protect its biggest stakeholders, the players.
While the move may in the short term be seen to disadvantage some clubs, as is the argument of some administrators, for players and agents alike, this is a move long overdue.
It is also a move that may prove beneficial for teams as it will force clubs to live within their means and also address the escalating debt problems incurred by clubs.
As the BFA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mfolo Mfolo explained, ‘while teams may feel hard done by the decision, it was a ‘necessary evil’ done to protect the welfare of players and teams as well as shield the association from attracting the wrath of FIFA.’
Following the high profile case of Gaborone United versus Bismarck Appiah, which was resolved by FIFA, BFA had been under close watch and the association had no option but to act.
“We were facing a lot of pressure from FIFA and any more cases of similar nature to that of Appiah would have set FIFA on our course. We cannot allow that,” Mfolo explained.
“With this ban in place, clubs will not be able to offload players they owe. They will be forced to pay players before they can part ways or sign new ones,” he explained.
According to Mfolo, for a long time now, ‘we (local football teams) have been cutting our cloth not to fit us’ and this has to stop.’
“We have to recognise that football is a career to players just as administrators have jobs. Just as everyone should be paid their salaries, so should the players. They need to be paid,” he said.
Mfolo’s sentiments are echoed by local football intermediary and commentator Monty Gaomokgwa.
“As an intermediary, I agree with the imposition of the ban in its entirety,” Gagomokgwa opined.
“We have for a long time been struggling to get teams to pay players and this will go a long way into correcting this anomaly whilst also helping teams to live within their means,” he said.
He said for a long time now, local football teams had been signing players on fees beyond which they can afford to pay in a bid to snap them from other teams seeking their services.
“Now, if a team deliberately promises players fees they know they cannot afford and end in debt, they will be forced to pay. In short, teams will now learn to live within their means and players will be protected,” he explained.
With the teams now facing the harsh reality that they cannot afford to spend more than they earn, hope is that they will now be forced to find solutions and also have working budgets.
Perhaps as is the norm in most footballing nations, the local teams, along with local football governing bodies, being the Botswana Premier League (BPL) and BFA, will finally sit down and thrash a payment structure to suit local football economic conditions.
In Spain, the La Liga sets the minimum wage and the same applies in countries like Germany and Australia where the league sets the minimum wage. The La Liga however goes as far as determining which players each team can be allowed to sign, looking at a team’s budget.
Mfolo is of the opinion that, ‘there is now an urgent need for Botswana football to also have economic controls in place,’ while Gagomokgwa says ‘there is a need to have payment structures’ for local football teams.
“We can tailor make our own salary structures and I believe this should include a set minimum wage for a player. However, if there is a need to have salary caps for teams based on their budgets, then maybe we should have it to ensure teams don’t spend beyond what they have,” he said.
He said while this will not address or level the playing field, it will however ensure financial stability and a team’s overall stability.
Gagomokgwa on the other hand had this to say; “The truth is there will never be a level playing field in terms of player salaries and quality of players, but I believe we can narrow the gap and ensure clubs do not get in debt.”