Football maestro, Ofentse Nato is the face of Botswana football’s growing pains. To legal eagles slugging it out across the BFA DC boardroom table, he is just a name on the complaint sheet. To naysayers, he is a soccer star who may soon find himself down on his butt after the welcome mat has been pulled from under his feet. To switched on football pundits, he is a hero who went out to conquer the world and came back home to a football regime still trapped in a time warp. In the larger scheme of things, the Rollers midfielder may be a pioneer who stands at the end of an old tradition and the beginning of a new one in Botswana football.
When the BFA DC questioned the legality of Nato’s move outside of the transfer window, the football body was simply restating learnt wisdom: When the transfer window closes those who are in are in and those who are out are out. There was nothing pioneering about the decision.
Nato and Rollers’ next move, however, may prove ground breaking. When the legal battle is finally lost and won, the Township Rollers’ maestro will either be a martyr to a lost cause with his magic soccer boots gathering dust somewhere in his shoe closest or he will be the cutting edge of a ground breaking move, beating a path that unemployed professional footballers in his situation would walk through with ease.
It is still early days. So far the DC has ruled that as Nato’s ITC was issued outside the transfer window and his contract signed when the window was closed, he should not have been registered as his application for registration also fell outside the window. Thus, the BFA DC ruled that the 26 year old was a defaulter. As if that was not enough, they also called for the revocation of his ITC, which was issued by FIFA. Footballers Union of Botswana (FUB) Legal Advisor, Puso Motlhabane described the BFA DC decision as ‘going overboard.’
The DC’s ruling that application for registration of all players including unemployed professionals can only be done within the window period, has left many wondering if the DC ruling does not offend the FIFA Regulations of the Status and the Transfer of Players (RSTP).
“Players may only be registered during one of the two annual registration periods fixed by the relevant association. As an exception to this rule, a professional whose contract has expired prior to the end of a registration period may be registered outside that registration period. Associations are authorised to register such professionals provided due consideration is given to the sporting integrity of the relevant competition. Where a contract has been terminated with just cause, FIFA may take provisional measures in order to avoid abuse, subject to article 22,” so reads Article 6.1 of the RSTP. “Players may only be registered ÔÇô subject to the exception provided for in article 6 paragraph 1 ÔÇô upon submission of a valid application from the club to the relevant association during a registration period,” the RSTP continues on Regulation 6.3.
Commenting on the issue, legal expert Neelo Keneilwe Sechele, who is also a football commentator, said Regulation 6.3 does not determine that unemployed players cannot be signed outside the window. “Regulation 6.3 is simply procedural, that is, it provides that for registration to take place, the club (to which a player is being registered) has to submit a valid application during the registration period. However, the article is subject to Article 6.1, meaning that where registration is being carried out outside the transfer period, the application may be submitted then,” Sechele opined.
The ruling also seems contradictory to FIFA’s circular number 818 of September 2002. “The strict application of the transfer registration periods would cause serious inconvenience to such players still looking for a club to sign them on, since on the one hand they would have no income and on the other they would not be allowed to register either domestically or internationally for a new club when the official transfer window has already closed.
The aforementioned situation involves significant social and sportive issues such as a player’s fundamental right to employment, his right to set forth his football career, and the need to protect players from facing financial hardship. These aspects are particularly relevant in our present world economy that is currently going through a difficult time, the consequences of which are also directly reflected in the world of football.
In view of the abovementioned circumstances we hereby authorize the national associations to register outside of the established transfer registration periods all football players who were not bound by an employment contract before the expiry of the registration period, in the event they have ultimately found a club to register with. It falls within the purview of the national association to keep vigil over the maintenance of the integrity of the ongoing championships and hinder any potential abuse,” part of the circular reads.
For his part, Motlhabane said the ruling was a reflection of the current status of local football where the Rules and Regulations do not cater for professional players. “As a movement for players, we have always maintained that our regulations are leaving out professional footballers. Local football has not aligned itself to the changing environment and it seems like people who drafted the regulations never believed we will have professional footballers,” the FUB Legal Advisor opined. “Going forward, as the FUB, we want to engage the BFA to urge them that as professional football is upon us, there is a need for us to align our rules and regulations with that of FIFA to accommodate our professional footballers,” he concluded.