For the love of the game
Last August, local business guru, Maclean Letshwiti became the President of the Botswana Football Association (BFA).
In a closely contested election, Letshwiti defeated his predecessor, Tebogo Sebego by just four votes (32 to 28); thus began one of the most challenging chapters of the Mochudi-native’s career.
Tasked with saving the sport’s ailing governing body and improving its blemished reputation, Letshwiti admits to being shocked at the state he found it in.
Indeed, in this brutally honest interview with The Voice’s Portia Ngwako Mlilo, the former Mochudi Centre Chiefs Chairman reveals he made a mistake and regrets taking on the role.
Despite his reservations, Letshwiti’s competence and impressive administrative skills have seen him appointed to serve on the FIFA Disciplinary Committee, as well as the CAF Reforms Committee.
A year into his BFA presidency, a reflective Letshwiti dissects his footballing journey to date before outlining his intended targets for the rest of his five-year reign.
Q. What inspired you to stand for the BFA presidency?
A. Football is in my blood, I love it! I tried playing at a tender age but I was not that good so I decided to be a football administrator.
I was requested by other football officials several times to stand for the elections but it was never my intention to do that.
People were worried about the football situation and thought I would make things different.
If I had known the state of football I found it in, I would not have accepted.
Q. What state did you find it in?
A. When they requested me to stand, they said they needed someone with good leadership and guidance and promised to do the work.
It turned out to be different in that I had to do the work.
I found the secretariat was bankrupt and the association was in the red – there was a debt of P10.5 million.
There were many cases before court against the BFA that I had to deal with.
The league was not complete, the recordkeeping was in a mess and the secretariat was not functional.
It was just a very challenging environment that I did not expect.
Q. Did you manage to solve all those problems?
A. We managed to conclude the 2015/16 season.
We are busy trying to negotiate and settle the case.
The association is trying to overcome its debt so that we can run it smoothly.
These are big challenges, especially when you talk about money but we will get there.
Q. Have you paid Zebras players the money they were owed?
A. That has been done! From 2010 we found that players were not paid and we managed to pay all their money.
I must thank our players for being patient with us and being cooperative, honouring games even before we paid the money.
Q. What are you doing to improve the structure of football in Botswana?
A. When I campaigned, I said the association is irrelevant because BFA’s core business is youth development.
We now have a long-term development policy that we are implementing.
Botswana was the only country in the world that had no youth leagues; today we have them. That’s a big achievement.
We have realigned the association to do what it’s supposed to do and that is development.
Q. Football today seems to be political, undermined by backstabbing and gossip. How do you deal with such?
A. Those things are actually coming from outside not within but I am not going to worry myself about that.
I am focused on what I have to do.
Q. The BFA does not keep their Executive Officers for long; doesn’t this affect the running of the association?
A. It does significantly but if someone wants to make a move we cannot stop them.
I am aware of this problem and that is why I went to the government to get the current CEO, Mfolo Mfolo.
It will give us time to look for the right candidate.
When the BFA is running properly and gets back its integrity then people who are competent and qualified will be attracted.
Q. The Women’s league has been suspended indefinitely; when should we expect it to return to action?
A. I am not happy with women’s football and I do not think the decision we took was the best.
FIFA has a special department for women’s football.
In line with our long term youth development plan, I will write to them to give us an expert to assist us in structuring women football.
What we decided was that teams must go back to their regions to play – we never said it should be suspended.
Maybe the consultation was not as extensive as it has to be but I can promise you that soon it will be up and running again.
Women’s under 13, 15 and 17 was properly funded and the league took place through FIFA grants, The only people who were not funded were senior women but we are busy looking for sponsors for them.
Q. You talk a lot about development, are we on the right track?
A. Yes, we have a long term plan that is FIFA accredited and we are implementing it but of course you face challenges when implementing.
Recently, we had somebody from FIFA to structure it because they fund it.
Q. The Zebras have struggled this year – why do you think that is?
A. How can you do well when you do not have a robust development programme?
How do you have people graduating at tertiary level without going through pre and primary school education? Development is a long-term thing and in some years to come we will be doing well.
We are not under pressure because every sensible person knows we cannot win with players that did not go through the proper development structures.
We have a solution, which is youth development and which will address our performance.
Bring Alex Ferguson and ask him to coach our national team, they will still lose.
Botswana players are talented but they need to be groomed.
Q. At the BFA’s recent assembly there was no financial report. When are the affiliates going to have it?
A. I inherited an organisation that for four years people were signing dummies thinking they are accounts.
Reconstructing accounts for those years can’t be done overnight.
It is clear that the people who were here had no clue about finances – there have never been accounts.
Q. Are you interested in standing for the next elections?
A. No I can’t. What I can guarantee is that I would have built the foundation for the organisation to succeed.
Q. What legacy would you hope to leave behind?
A. A relevant association, a robust youth development policy, strong regulatory framework and a national team that is performing.
When I leave this office we must be exporting talent into Africa and Europe.
I would love to have a fully fleshed academy in Botswana and a good coaching framework producing quality or elite coaches.
My legacy is laying a foundation for football to flourish.
Q. How do you balance work, business and family time?
A. It is a big challenge – my schedule is always hectic.
That is why I said if I had known I wouldn’t be the President of BFA – I made a mistake! It is not only football for me, even the private sector needs my expertise.
I have a lot of consultations in business other than just running my portfolio.
I am battling at the moment but I will be able to balance it as soon as the BFA stabilises.
I think with the new CEO I will have a little bit of time because he has been here for weeks and already there are some changes.
Q. Who is your inspiration?
A. My late mother, I take it from her. She never stopped working in her life until she died.
A lot of things that I do are because of her; she is my source of inspiration.
Q. Thank God it’s Friday, what do you have planned for this weekend?
A. I will be attending the Botswana National Olympic Committee elections.