The ‘Big Ash’ bows out

SHARE   |   Monday, 12 December 2016   |   By Mpho Dibeela
The ‘Big Ash’ bows out

He has seen it all; bore it all and now the bigger than life Ashford Mamelodi vacates the big stage as a reservoir of wisdom from which generations to come will be wise to draw. Writes MPHO DIBEELA.

Ashford Mamelodi ends his 27 years of football administration this year a very content and happy man. At 57 years, it means the man who laid foundation of soccer administration at the Botswana Football Association (BFA) as its first Chief Executive Officer had dedicated his entire adult life to the sport that he also played as a youngster. Word from those that watched him play as a youngster say he was a feared super striker that made Black Peril – a Tlokweng outfit – revered and invincible against any opposition. “I feel a sense of accomplishment. I am not young anymore,” declares the man popularised under the name ‘Dumba’ at the soon to be his former office at the Kgale Finance Park in Gaborone. Of the 27 years, 11 were spend at the BFA while 16 were at FIFA as a Development Officer based in Gaborone but serving 15 countries in the South, East and Central Africa. He bows out a proud man. While his former job at the BFA was more than a big storm – where he was thanklessly jarred at, paid very little, extremely under resourced and his philosophy barely understood – as a FIFA man, Mamelodi enjoyed vast support with resources never an issue. “It has been a glorious 16 years. It has been a rush of constant innovation and inventiveness; all aimed providing new solutions to problems and challenges of the moment. It gives one a feel good kick,” he gladly proclaims, with no sign of hidden anguish.  

Two things could have contributed to Mamelodi’s decision to draw down the curtain on his illustrious career – age and a recent health scare. In May this year Mamelodi was hospitalised in Mexico after going to that country to attend the FIFA congress. He had been diagnosed with leg ulcers locally but the infection was seemingly aggravated by the long trip to Mexico. He never entered the Congress Hall; he was hospitalised for a whole week and told to never to leave Mexico for the next three weeks as he stabilised. Luckily he recovered and was only allowed to leave and return to Botswana when it was considered safe. He retires at a time when the new FIFA administration has decided to close FDO offices and leave only two in Africa; effectively relocating the Botswana Office to Johannesburg, South Africa. While Mamelodi has been handling 15 countries, now the Johannesburg Office will oversee close to 25 countries. Mamelodi feels he has run hard and long enough. Relocating with his office is not appealing enough and he believes it is time to take things easier. “I am the longest serving FDO of all the 13 regions across the region. I have seen some of my colleagues leave for various reasons including disciplinary and non-performance. I feel I have done my part. I am the kind of person who always want to leave on a high – when my performance is at its peak and unblemished,” he insists. And hence when recently FIFA advertised the post he didn’t apply but he hopes his deputy – a Kenyan – and other staff members will be absorbed and relocate with the office to Johannesburg.    

Grassroots development
He has been employed for development of the game in the region and understandably it is an area where he talks non-stop. While there is demonstrable success in the physical infrastructure it is in the human resource area, particularly talent development area that one gets a sense that he feels a lot more needs to be done. Deep passion oozes out. He goes on and on; like a ‘fire’ pastor consumed by the spirit. One almost has to shake him off the trance. To him grassroots development and investment on it, urgently requires attention of all countries. If possible Governments that are primary funders of sport development ought to legislate on this – ensuring that over 60 percent of its financial investment is reserved for grassroots talent development. He calls for a moment when all things stop – for a National Grassroots Day; when the nation comes to a standstill and every sport field in the country has youngsters showcasing their talent for a massive selection exercise. “I feel this area has not been served well. I wish talent development could catch fire. If people understood the purpose of grassroots development then we would excel. We need to constantly unearth talent that feeds on to the senior teams. All countries that win the World Cup are massive on youth development,” he argues. While he is grateful that the BFA has introduced a Youth League he is still more concerned about the programme and system of how much younger players will be groomed before they are considered for the league.   

Club privatisation
Mamelodi blames the failure of local clubs’ privatization efforts on committees that are not genuine and honest in activating the Societies dissolution clauses. Committee members appear to be caught in selfish tendencies of retaining some measure of control even as the teams transit into businesses. This is blamed for the problems faced by local teams such as Mochudi Centre Chiefs, Gaborone United, Extension Gunners and lately Gilport Lions. If done well, Mamelodi maintains, Societies should not run alongside or be involved anymore with privatised teams. “Teams cannot keep two centres of power,” he insists, urging club officials to clean up their act. Failure to implement the Bosele Declaration that was drawn in 2008 to improve club management and pave the way towards commercialisation is seen as the main stumbling block of helping the local clubs improve their standing. “If Bosele Declaration was implemented we would not be having problems with compliance with club licensing as it called for contracting of players, and related officials while coaches were to be licensed,” he says. Mamelodi has been impressed by how the advanced leagues in Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe are run as compared to the local one.        

Win in Africa with Africa
To create a lasting legacy for the 2010 World Cup FIFA unveiled the ‘Win in Africa with Africa’ programme to strengthen the game in the continent. Each country under this programme managed to get funding to build an artificial playground. “In my region, each country can point to this field. In Botswana it is the Molepolole stadium,” he says, adding further that another addition was the development of clubs strategic pathway that came to be captured through the Declarations as the Bosele one. “We also worked with the media to train and develop some of them. It was a huge impact,” he recalls.   

Good governance
He leaves the FDO office still concerned at the challenges of governance among associations. “There is a big need for FIFA to look at the issue of Good Governance. We offer induction for new executive members for any association and have identified the need for mentoring of General Secretaries as they are the fragile species who are often victims of poor governance,” he says. He is more worried about the lack of continuity in national associations where some leaders simply collapse and destroy progress made by their predecessors.  Focus of leaders remains another big concern for him. They tend to chase quick and small victories of senior national teams without investing in lasting programmes of development. “We need leaders who will cherish and work on building solid grassroots programmes. This is where their focus should be.” 

Club versus national team – player quota
He cites an example of two of Ivory Coast’s biggest clubs. These two teams draw the bulk of revenue from the sale and resale of super stars who are currently plying their trade in Europe. This more than anything should be motivational enough for teams to invest heavily on development. He feels countries with relaxed foreign quotas are to blame for the failures of their national teams to perform well. England is one example he cites where a whole premier league team could be made of foreigners. “It hurts me most every time I see foreigners playing when Botswana players are on the bench. This is where we miss the point. Only quality foreign players must be employed. How then should we expect our national teams to perform well when local players are denied a chance to play,” he argues.