By Bakang Mhladi
GABORONE–ONLY four of the eight opening matches were possible when the delayed Botswana BTC Premiership got off to a shaky start over the weekend, with referees on strike over unpaid P500,000 ($50,000) allowances dating back to last December.
The Botswana Premier League (BPL)’s acting chief executive officer, Thabo ‘Styles’ Ntshinogang, had declared last week that the opening weekend games would proceed uninterrupted.
“The issue of referees has been resolved and the games will go ahead,” he told a media briefing last week.
But after the opening match featuring Orapa United and Miscellaneous went ahead on Friday, the crisis came to the fore the following day.
Only the headline fixture featuring traditional rivals, Mochudi Centre Chiefs and Extension Gunners, was played out of five fixtures scheduled for Saturday.
The BPL was involved in marathon negotiations with the referees’ committee late into Friday over the pay dispute.
Initially, the BPL had promised to pay referees who were to handle the weekend matches, with the arrears to be cleared at a later date.
“But the referees refused and felt this was a divide and rule tactic. They wanted all the outstanding monies to be paid, including for weekend matches,” one affected referee told The Southern Times on
condition of anonymity.
It was only late on Friday that the BPL managed to secure funds from sponsor, BTC, and transfers were made to the referees’ accounts.
“Some of us did not receive notification of the transaction, and on Friday evening we resolved not to handle the matches until there was evidence that the money had been transferred,” the referee said.
While others received notification of the transaction on Saturday morning, it was already late as referees chose to stay away.
The referees’ commission chairperson, Edwin Senai, was forced to ask some referees who serve in the armed and disciplined forces to handle some matches. Referees who are public officers are not allowed to partake in industrial action.
The referees’ action left Ntshinogang.
“We’re asking ourselves as well (as to why they did not officiate). What I gather is that they wanted the money to reflect on their accounts, but transactions take time. We have engaged some members of the referees committee, and I hear that when some of the referees were
contacted, they did not pick-up their phones,” Ntshinogang reacted.
Senai is confident the issue has been dealt with and the referees are unlikely to face censure as they had to endure 10 months without pay.
Meanwhile, Orapa United took the early initiative after a 4-1 rout of Miscellaneous on Friday night. The Madinda Ndlovu-coached outfit is among favourites for the title and picked off from last season with a polished display. Township Rollers opened their title defence with a 3-0 win over Nico United on Sunday while the weekend’s top encounter saw Chiefs and Gunners share the spoils in a thrilling 1-1 draw.
Sleeping giants, Gaborone United gave their Argentina coach, Rudolf Zapata a winning start when they beat Police XI 2-0. The BPL is expected to re-schedule the postponed games this week.