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The Zebras earned their stripes

The rise of Botswana football is nothing short of a revolution. Nobody fancied the tiny landlocked Southern African country to take on powerhouses such as Tunisia in the African Cup of Nation (CAF) qualifiers and win. The Zebras, as the national team is affectionately known, has already booked a place at Gabon in Equatorial Guinea in 2012.

Stakeholders in Botswana soccer don’t believe that the team’s success under the mentorship of Stanley Tshosane is mere luck. Botswana Premier Soccer League (PSL) general manager Setete Phuthego said the tremendous growth in local football was due to the commitment of the PSL teams. “Premier league teams have invested a lot in their teams. The majority of Zebras players ply their trade in the domestic league. We have players depending on football to put food on their tables. Their livelihood is playing football. The Zebras’ success can be attributed to the improvement of the domestic league,” Phuthego said.

Sunday Standard sports editor Tshepho Bogosing agreed with Phuthego, saying the league was very competitive — unlike in the past. Bogosing also said the majority of teams now had development structures and full-time offices.

But they both believe there is room for improvement. Phuthego said: “There are teams that are ahead in youth football development. Look at the Uniao Flamengo Santos and Notwane Club development sides. Their development structures are a success and we have to encourage other teams to follow that route.”

It had been made a constitutional requirement that all premier sides would have to have under 15 and under 17 development teams next season, he said. “For a player to graduate to the first team he should have gone through the youth development.”

Another success of local football was the penetration of Botswana players in South Africa’s Professional Soccer League (PSL). “Remember it is not only Botswana that has exported soccer players to South Africa. There are players from Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others, playing in competitive South African leagues,” Phuthego said.

Currently Botswana has six players in the South African PSL and one player is in the first division league. All of them play for the Zebras.
Phuthego said the adoption of the Bosele Declaration of 2008 to commercialise and professionalise football in Botswana was another reason for the country’s success. This was possible because of sponsorship for the premier league, which was P24-million (R25-million) for the 2011/2015 seasons. “There is no way the commercial value can go up if there is no quality of football. This shows business has experienced growth as far as football is concerned.”

The national under-23 coach, Daniel “Chicco Dance” Nare, also said Botswana football’s, and particularly the Zebras’, success was not a fluke. But he is one of few local coaches who attributes the national team’s success to Ghanaian Ben Kouffie, who was Botswana Football Association (BFA) technical director from the late 1980s until late 1990s.

Nare said that when Kouffie arrived from Zimbabwe, where he was the national team coach, he preached development. He also went on to produce local coaches such as Nare. The Botswana National Sports Council (BNSC), according to Nare, initiated the Reba Bona Ha project at primary schools, which, he said, was a great success. For example, the project had produced the under-23 national goalkeeper, Kabelo Dambe.

“All the success we are celebrating is due to Kouffie’s vision. It was through hard work. We know where this started and I’m very proud to have been there when this started,” Nare said.

Development was a continuous process and teams should continue building for the future. Nare said that at the BMC he had found an almost dead team, with no development, and he was starting afresh. His vision was to establish a development team that would produce quality players to feed the senior team. If he had his way the development teams would be playing in their own league or as curtain-raisers to premier league matches.

Unlike Phuthego and Bogosing, Nare did not think that sponsorship was benefiting the teams sufficiently. “The sponsors are benefiting more than 100% from mileage they get from their sponsorship, not the teams,” he said. Most of the teams in the league did not have individual sponsors and all of them needed monthly grants.

“Our expenditure is very high and teams should be given at least P40 000 monthly grants, otherwise the P1-million prize money is a joke.”

The BMC mentor said money should also be available for local teams to participate in CAF competitions to gain international exposure.
A sports analyst, Thapelo Molebatsi, also attributed Botswana’s current success to Kouffie. Molebatsi said the arrival of the elderly Ghanaian was the turning point of Botswana football.

“Kouffie had a philosophy which emphasised development. The BFA also adopted the same philosophy,” he said. And Losika Keatlholotswe, who was Kouffie’s understudy, continued his mentor’s legacy.

But Molebatsi said football structures that were needed to take the country to another level were not in place. “The structures are still frail. The way teams are run is without underlying strategy.” He also said that the BFA had not tried to understand the business of sport.

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Oarabile Mosikare
Oarabile Mosikare
Journalist at Dikgang Publishing Company (DPC)

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