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Olopeng’s last answer as sports minister

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Before vacating his office at the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Culture Development, Minister Thapelo Olopeng was confronted with one last controversial question from MP for Francistown Buti Billy last week.

The MP asked about an update on the commercialisation of sport. The issue has been a hot potato since the Botswana National Sports Commission Act was amended in order to professionalise local sports. However, the process has proven to be an uphill battle. The following is an excerpt from the Parliament Hansard in which the former sports minister responded to the question.
Buti Billy (Francistown East): Asked the Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development to update this Honourable House on how he is commercialising sport and if there is any strategy in place to carry out that mandate.

Thapelo Olopeng: Thank you very much Mr Speaker. The transition from Botswana National Sport Council (BNSC) to the Commission in 2014 was the first step towards professionalisation of sport in terms of setting up structures. Sport is at different levels of commercialisation in the different sport codes depending on the level of professionalism. We have a number of teams or codes which are already at semi-professional.

In football, several clubs have their players contracted and remunerated as per signed contracts. Sport also sells broadcast rights to generate revenue. Merchandising is another way that sport has commercialised. There has been establishment of local companies that manufacture sport apparel, and these have grown in popularity over the years. We have also witnessed sport such as Boxing, Athletics, and Golf, to name but a few. We witnessed them professionalise their operations and more are expected to follow. In some of the sport codes, individual sportsmen and women play professional sport internationally.

Mr Speaker, the Botswana National Sport Commission Strategy 2028, which commenced in January 2013, is an overarching strategy towards professionalising of sport, and thus commercialisation. The strategy seeks to promote sport excellence and enhance the contribution of sport to the economy. Billy: Supplementary. Ke a leboga Tona. Fa re lebeletse sports in general; all sports codes, a Minister o itumelela gore he had created employment jaaka a bua gore other sports codes di setse di simolotse go dirwa commercial? (Looking at all sport codes in general, is the Minister of sports happy he has created employment as he says with other sport codes becoming commercial)?

Olopeng: Thank you very much Mr Speaker. Thank you very much Honourable Member. Mr Speaker, my answer to that is yes, because just as at Premier League in soccer, we have 16 teams and every player within these 16 teams is on a payroll; they are paid by those individual clubs, that is creation of employment. We have our international athletes, those who participate outside the country at different events; they are paid.

We have other players, our athletes in football, netball and those who are hired by teams outside Botswana, I can just give example of teams in South Africa which have hired our players right here from Botswana and those young boys are paid by these particular teams. We have not reached where we want to reach, that is the reason why we are still developing our strategy of 2028 with Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC) to make sure that we turn sports into an industry.

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FUROR OVER BPL FIXTURES

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The BTC Premiership league was this Tuesday thrown into chaos over a fixture between reigning champions Township Rollers and Serowe’s Miscellaneous scheduled for Gaborone.

By Tuesday evening, Miscellaneous Football Club (FC) were still over 370km away in Serowe ahead of their scheduled game against Township Rollers in the Capital city at 1900hrs. By press time, Miscellaneous had confirmed that they would not be honoring their game against Rollers, decrying lack of funds to finance the cross-country trip to Gaborone. The Serowe outfit argued that the fixture was on short notice, which was unfair on their part. According to the Club spokesperson Edwin Ntau, they could not acquire funds for the doomed trip. “If we do arrive in Gaborone on Tuesday evening, that game will be a disaster because we are not ready for it. Botswana Premier League (BPL) is not serious and insulting the sponsor, “a seething Ntau said before cancelling the trip.

Earlier on Tuesday Miscellaneous expressed unhappiness with the Botswana Premier League (BPL) over the change of fixtures last week Thursday. Initially, Miscellaneous says it was to play Notwane in Serowe but to their greatest shock they were suddenly pitted against the defending champions, Rollers in Gaborone. They had now lost home ground advantage and had to travel all the way to Gaborone for the difficult encounter. Ntau questioned the judgement fairness of the BPL following the surprising turn of events.

Ntau claims that they saw the amendments of fixtures communicated on social media and when they questioned BPL CEO, Thabo Ntshinogang and his team, they were assured that they will play Notwane at Serowe Sports Complex. “We were shocked that on Monday the same fixtures of us playing Rollers were still circulating around and when we wrote to BPL, we were told to honour the Tuesday game or there would be consequences,” Ntau said.

Playing Rollers in Gaborone would have meant Miscelleneous played three away games in a row, a sequence of events that would definitely hurt their pockets.Rollers on the other hand, through the club spokesperson, Bafana Pheto said they were equally shocked and not at all happy with BPL. “When we plan, we plan for a certain team and it does not help that nobody is telling us what necessitated the need to change the fixtures,” a baffled Pheto said this week.

It is not clear why the Gaborone United and Rollers game had to be changed from all the games that had to be played in week 23. “Why us, what reasons are there to change the game, we were supposed to play Miscellaneous in Week 30, why drag it to week 23,” he questioned.

Notwane FC chairman, Phillip Tiroyamodimo also said that they wrote back to BPL questioning why they had to change the team they were supposed to play and not only the dates as with other teams but BPL has not bothered to respond. For his part, Boitumelo Nsunge, Chairman of Gaborone United said that they returned from the Mascom Top 8 finals knowing well that they are playing Rollers and were surprised to be given a letter this past Monday instructing them to play Notwane on Thursday.

When responding to the matter, Ntshinogang said that according to their ‘amended’ fixtures, Gaborone United and Township Rollers were not scheduled in week 23. With that, they had to slot them in week 23 given that the senior national team has to prepare for the CAF African Championship of Nations (CHAN) tournament to be played next weekend. With that, there will be no league games played this coming weekend.

However, it remains unclear as to why all the four teams appear to have a copy of fixtures totally different from that of BPL. While Ntshinogang said GU and Rollers had no schedule in week 23, majority believe that GU was to play Rollers and Miscellaneous against Notwane. Ntshinogang went on to say that all clubs were informed of the changes last week Thursday and they expect Miscellaneous to honour the Tuesday game.

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CENTRE CHIEFS FIGHTING FOR SURVIVAL

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Tonight at Molepolole Sports Complex, Mochudi Centre Chiefs (MCC) will be given another chance to prove if they have successfully pulled out of the BTC Premiership league relegation zone.

Following months of the relegation threat, the Kgatleng giants managed a limp out of the hot zone a week ago when they collected maximum points against BDF XI.When they play BR Highlanders under floodlights tonight, MCC will need to make a statement; whether they are still skating on thin ice or if the dark clouds have cleared. With only eight games left before the season ends, there is no telling what the future holds for MCC.

While a few years ago, MCC had established themselves as premier league giants and arch rivals to defending champions, Township Rollers, dwindling fortunes have since been causing anxiety at MCC. Even relative league newcomers have come out to humiliate the once mighty Chiefs. Magosi are expected to trot into today’s match without a head coach but instead team General Manager, Jalal Zaahid has been asked to step in temporarily.

This comes after the caretaker coach, Itumeleng Duiker was informed by team management that he will not be coach but can only be on the bench. It is still not yet clear if the new coach will ever come given that the 2018/2019 season is nearing a conclusion. However, the club chairman Raymond Tsheko has since made assurances that the new coach is on his way. Meanwhile, Mahalapye outfit BR Highlanders, is in no position to pull out the sympathy card as they cannot afford to be comfortable, only six points separates them from 13th placed MCC. BR Highlanders, Coach Blessing Moyo knows better that he cannot afford to return to the dusty grounds when he was only promoted this season.

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