Tribute to Southern Africa’s football development guru: Ashford Mamelodi

 

Southern Africa has some sports leaders worth celebrating .These are men and women who have given so much of themselves to others continuously without expecting much in return. Football leaders are usually “persecuted” by the Press and other stakeholders and in some instances, rightly so. However, it would be unfair to paint all of them with one brush and the same paint.

It is sometimes the norm to provide eulogies when people have passed away as survivors begin to praise them for things accomplished or impact made. 

As much as it is important to remember the varied legacies of luminaries when they have been promoted to the heavens above, it is equally crucial that we tell them when they are still alive that we appreciate their services, their positive influence and the differences that they have made in our lives.

Since in this era of liberty, openness and democracy, we can tell leaders in their faces when they are messing up, we must also do the same when they are helping us to make that quantum leap forward.

 If for some reason, we are failing to progress, let us take time to appreciate the efforts of those that are showing dynamic leadership and trying to help us. Sometimes, these good leaders have to drag us, kicking and screaming, to do the right things for our own benefit. Such leaders do not flatter us.

 They tell us the truth, hard as it might be to take but they will keep us focused on what is ultimately true and good for us.

In sport, such leaders are rare since a good number are always chasing popularity or headlines or itching to hear the sound of their voices when they are in front of media microphones and cameras. Good leaders are indeed like roots, keeping us anchored in reality. 

In spite of buffeting winds and other challenges, roots are pretty much invisible but key to the very survival of trees or plants.

One such person who is on a mission to drive football development, in East, Central and Southern Africa is Ashford Batlang Mamelodi. “Big Ash”, “Dumba” or simply “ABM”, as he is affectionately known by those close to him is, literally speaking, a larger than life character. Going into his mid-fifties, the man could have been a multi-millionaire had he chosen to use his brilliant intellect and wits for self-aggrandisement, as most of us are prone to do, “looking out for number one”, as we tell ourselves.

The embryonic stages of the big man’s career in football saw him in the dusty grounds and football pitches of Gaborone and Botswana, playing for a team called Black Peril in the late 70s and 80s.

 A lot of his colleagues and teammates have testified how he was a brilliant striker in those golden days when people just played for the love of the game. 

 There were no TV camera crews to capture the wonderful talents on display and most certainly, there was no money! Ashford rose in the leadership hierarchy to become a secretary-general and CEO of the Botswana Football Association (BFA) as well as Secretary of the Council of Southern African Football Associations (Cosafa).

He was one of the gentlemen who worked to drive the programmes of Cosafa, during days when things were very tough and sponsors very hard to entice. 

Ashford has seen and done it all in football in Southern Africa. 

He worked with the late Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) President, Nelson “Jumbo Jet” Chirwa, the late South African Football Association (Safa) President, Solomon “Stix” Morewa, former Fifa and CAF Executive Board Member, Ishmael Bhamjee and many other football luminaries in the region. 

Mamelodi’s appetite for the development of the game at all levels continues unabated. It is almost the only thing that you can discuss with the man when you meet him.

Fifa could not have chosen a better person to be its development executive for East, Central and Southern Africa. His sharp but polite tongue and demeanor as well as his fanatical commitment to grassroots football development has greatly assisted football associations under his purview to transform themselves. 

The accomplishments of the Fifa Goal Projects in various countries are now a matter of public knowledge and folklore. Football development and transformation has been indeed unprecedented under his guidance.

Working with his superiors at Fifa in Zurich as well as with the CAF, Ashford Mamelodi deserves to be celebrated in Southern Africa and the whole world for his leadership of football development activities. 

The man is never satisfied or sitting on his laurels. 

His enthusiasm for football is highly infectious. 

Personally, whenever I meet the great man, I always joke that if we cut him up, he will bleed soccer balls! The man captivates and engages all and sundry when it comes to all matters pertaining to the game. 

Football is also becoming a multi-million dollar industry capable of employing thousands of youngsters in the region and giving them an opportunity to use their God-given talent to lift themselves up from abject poverty. Thanks to people such as Ashford Mamelodi.

If East, Central and Southern African football associations do not manage to compete on equal terms or even surpass the achievements of their counterparts in North and West Africa or from other parts of  the world, it will not be due to lack of encouragement and support but can only be attributed to other factors more difficult to comprehend! Big Ash has laid the foundations!

The Southern Times Sports Forum can only add its voice to the numerous people who appreciate the work of this great man of sport.  Keep up the good work up, Bra Ash.  Your efforts and legacy are firmly preserved in African and world football!

December 2014
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