By Bakang Mhaladi
GABORONE-BOTSWANA’S football season is expected to kick-off this weekend after it was delayed by the country’s 50th Independence celebrations.
The Botswana Football Association (BFA) pushed the start of the season from September 9 to October 7 to enable players and officials to fully participate in the golden jubilee celebrations.
The season had already been delayed following a troubled 2015/2016 campaign.
Champions, Township Rollers had a pending protest before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Zurich after the team was penalised for the use of returning midfielder, Ofentse Nato, who was deemed a defaulter.
This meant the new Mobile Premiership season could not start before the matter was resolved.
Rollers had points docked for using Nato, who joined the club from Indian Premier League side, Atletico de Kolkata, during the January transfer window.
The club then appealed the matter at CAS which meant a delay in declaring last season’s champions.
The local disciplinary body had fined Rollers and docked them 10 points for the Nato offence, before ordering a play-off against nearest rivals, Mochudi Centre Chiefs to determine the champions.
Rollers won the play-off 5-1 but their coronation was delayed due to the pending case in Zurich. But recently elected BFA president, Maclean Letshwiti, managed to convince Rollers to withdraw the case at CAS, paving way for the cash rich, trendsetting Botswana club to be crowned champions.
With that controversial chapter closed, Botswana’s 16 teams are gearing for the new season starting on Friday night with a full program planned for the opening weekend.
The Botswana Premier League (BPL), however, has to contend with outstanding issues which include referees’ payments.
Referees want assurance that their dues will be shelled on time after encountering challenges in the previous season.
BPL was left without a chief executive officer after Bennett Mamelodi was suspended last month pending a forensic audit necessitated by concerns of financial impropriety.
Concerns have already been raised if there would a smooth take-off of the new season considering the leadership vacuum at BPL.
Sponsors, be Mobile, have been equally edgy but are hopeful the new season will bring less drama.
The season’s opening fixtures see Orapa United host Miscellaneous on Friday night, while defending champions, Township Rollers face Nico United in Serowe on Sunday.
The biggest fixture of the opening round features last season’s runners-up, Mochudi Centre Chiefs against traditional crowd pullers, Extension Gunners, at the National Stadium on Saturday night.
Botswana Premier League Fixtures
Friday: Orapa United vs Miscellaneous (7pm)
Saturday: Galaxy FC vs Black Forest (3:30pm), Mochudi Centre Chiefs vs Extension Gunners (8pm), Security Systems vs Mahalapye Hotspurs (3:30pm), Green Lovers vs Sankoyo Bush Bucks (3:30pm), Gilport Lions vs BDF XI (3:30pm)
Sunday: Gaborone United vs Police XI (3:30pm), Township Rollers vs Nico United (3:30pm)