Football or soccer dominates the local sports scene, and Batswana are football crazy.
Football is governed by the Botswana Football Association, the first body to be affiliated to the Botswana National Sports Council, the governing body for sports in Botswana, in 1965.
For a long time football has been solely resourced by government, for both administration and prizes.
However, most recently the private sector plays a leading role in raising the level of football in the country. Most notably have been the participation of phone network companies that invest a lot of money in football.
Botswana national football team - ZEBRAS
The Botswana national football team, the Zebras, is one of the African national teams that command a huge following, yet it has never won or qualified for the world cup or African nations cup.
The Zebras have now qualified to play in the AFCON 2012 through playing in the on-going qualifying matches for the next Africa Cup of nations (AFCON) to be co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon in January 2012.
Botswana is in group 11 and has been pitted against Tunisia, Chad, Malawi and Togo. The qualifying matches kicked off on July 2010.
The Zebras have been the surprise leader of the group after they beat Chad home and away, Tunisia home and away, Togo and drew with Malawi away with 16 points. Botswana is followed by Malawi 9 points, Tunisia who have 7 points, Togo 3 points and Chad 2 points.
The rise of the Zebras
There has been a sudden change of fortune for the Zebras - Botswana national football team during 2010! For a long time the Zebras have been known as the whipping boys of Africa, and when qualifying games for AFCON started in July 2010, Botswana was not expected to do well.
As the team posted good results its ranking improved. By the end of 2010 the country was ranked 53rd in the world and 12th in Africa.
What led to Botswana football improving?
There are three factors that can be attributed to the improvement of football in Botswana and the sudden rise of the Zebras in FIFA rankings. Two factors are logical, objective and plausible; the third is contestable, but possible.
Botswana has had a protracted junior development programme in football for a long while, almost for two decades. For most of that period positive results were not seen.
In the early 1980s Ben Kofie, a football expert was roped in from Ghana to establish junior structures in Botswana football. When he left another programme took off in 2002, this was the youth cup for under-12 players. But what consolidated the youth programme was the appointment of the Serbian national, Dr Veselin Jelusic who initially was the senior national team coach and later moved to junior football development.
At first as the senior national team coach he often posted good results, and was exalted in the country. But it turned out to be a more profitable move when Veselin focused solely on junior football. He established structures for under-12, under-15 and under-17, all of which led to the improvement of football in the country.
The second factor was the eventual involvement of private entities in football. One cannot overlook the contribution of Kgalagadi Breweries Limited and Coca Cola who were the sole sponsors of football in the country for some time. But these injected little money in the sport.
The coming in of phone network companies later to sponsor both the league and national team improved the football level a great deal.
The final factor, that relates to the improvement of the Zebras performance in 2010, has everything to do with the FIFA world cup 2010 hosted by South Africa. South Africa is the neighbour to Botswana.
No, Botswana did not take part in the games. Yes, watching the games from close quarters helped, but that was not the cause for the improvement.
Every time the world cup tournament is played neighbouring countries to the host country benefit by playing against some of the teams that have qualified for the tournament. And that enables the teams to test themselves against successful teams, and this in turn helps improve their play.
But... Botswana never played any of the visiting world cup-bound teams. Yet, the national team's performance improved in 2010 way better than it has done before.
This therefore means that, by not playing any of the world cup teams resulted in Botswana becoming successful in the AFCON 2012 qualifiers. Confusing, but true. Remember, Botswana travelled to and beat Tunisia in their backyard, a game played while the world cup was on course.
When visiting world cup teams played everyone else in friendlies but not Botswana, the Zebras felt shunned and psychologically determined to prove their worth, hence their success in AFCON games that came during and immediately after the world cup!
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