In 2008 after he was inaugurated as the fourth President of Botswana, Ian Khama announced that there will be a constituency league which its aim was to promote sport among the youth especially those who are not working. Football administrators were up in arms against the league saying that it is going to kill Botswana Football Association teams. The then BFA president David Fani reported the matter to football governing body but would later chicken out.
The games grew in leaps and bounds and with the assistance of British Football Association who provided with football kits and spread to other sporting codes. Its popularity grew to the extent that even some opposition politicians saw it as an opportunity to use it to their advantage by assisting the teams with transport and other amenities. Last year when FIFA President Sepp Blatter visited Botswana, Botswana Congress Party youth led by its Mogoditshane parliamentary candidate Tumiso Rakgare presented a petition to him complaining about the games.
After some investigations by FIFA led by Ashford Mamelodi and James Johnson, Botswana was ordered to integrate the tournament into the BFA or face a ban. Mamelodi was quoted in the media saying that, "The Botswana FA needs to accommodate this tournament. There are lots of positives, but we need to regulate it as normal football." After the FIFA pronouncement, the tournament has been turned into a political campaign issue taking the center stage. BCP through its shadow Minister of Sports, Youth and Culture, Dithapelo Keorapetse hailed the decision by FIFA and urged government to immediately stop the tournament or let it run by BFA.
“The BCP also stressed emphatically and unapologetically that, not only does the Constituency League cost Botswana and the tax payer- it also attracts possible grave consequences from the world football governing body-FIFA. We have consistently said government has a duty to make resources available to sports in general. That is the role of a government that sees sport as a valuable contributor to economy,” added Keorapetse.
Umbrella for Democratic Change Secretary, General Gomolemo Motswaledi also welcome FIFA orders to stop the popular tournament and noted that it was used as campaign instrument by the ruling party.
In an interview with a weekly newspaper, acting minister of Presidential Affairs Shaw Kgathi was quoted as he blames BCP for reporting government to FIFA. He also accused the world football governing body for interfering in political issues in Botswana. He accused BCP of sabotaging sport development in the country and was supported by Bonnington South MP Botsalo Ntuane who urged the youth in his constituency not to vote for opposition parties as they want to stop the constituency tournament.
Is the tournament a political trap?
When he started the tournament, t Khama, a former military commander might have read the Art of War by Sun Tzu who once said that, “The skillful tactician may be likened to the shuai-jan. Now the shuai-jan is a snake that is found in the Ch'ang Mountains. Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail, and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and you will be attacked by head and tail both.”
The timing for the order by FIFA came at a critical time when the country is preparing for general elections and every political party uses every opportunity available to gain mileage. The popularity of the tournament which so far had over 70,000 participants since its inception could turn out to be a shua-jan snake to the opposition. Political analyst Ndulamo Morima observed that the issue of constituency tournament is going to play a pivotal role in the coming elections.
“The tournament is very popular and is used as a recreation activity by the youth and elders alike especially in villages and is going to swing some votes in the coming general elections,” he said.
Morima said that the BDP is currently using the issue as campaign propaganda and it might work to their advantage especially with grass roots voters. “Grassroots voters don’t know about the FIFA principles and BDP operatives are exploiting that informing them that the opposition is the one that want the tournament to be stopped,” added Morima. He noted that the time for the pronouncement by FIFA came at a sensitive time when the country is gearing for the general elections. Morima said that it is a terrible propaganda because FIFA never said the tournament must be stopped but only advised that by the end of September BFA and government must clear up the controversies surrounding the tournament.