That football is the most popular sport in the world is not in doubt. The same goes for Botswana where the game has developed into the people’s sport of choice. This is for a simple reason that it takes just a football and a playground to get the game started. It is a passion sport, with passionate players, managers and fans alike.
So, running the elite league in a developing country cannot be a walk in the part. It is challenging and needs a man with the right frame of mind.
The first General Manager of the premier league, James Setete Phuthego opens up to MONNAKGOTLA MOJAKI about the journey as a football administrator.

Q. Can we go back down memory lane and take us though where you first cut your teeth as a football administrator?
It dates back to the year 2000 at FC Satmos in Selibe Phikwe. At Satmos there was nothing like elections, the late Samuel Sono appointed me into the committee as a Treasurer. I later doubled as a secretary after that position fell vacant. It was during my involvement with this great club that I was elected Super League Treasurer, a position I held for two terms. I relinquished that post when I was elected League Secretary and I was unopposed. I held that position until 2007 when I was asked to come and help at the office to assist the then Administrative Secretary, Comfort Ramatebele. When he resigned I assumed the fulltime position until last year when I was elevated to be league General Manager.

Q. Mr. Sono was a shrewd administrator in his own right, what is it that you learnt from him?

He taught me to listen to everybody involved in the game, I learnt to be always eager to learn and take decisions where necessary and be firm as a leader.

Q. How was the set-up at that time as compared to today?

We had a management committee where Major General Oitsile was the chairperson assisted by Booker Bannister. There was no league secretariat by then. We operated through the BFA and Grace Moatshe handled all the league issues. It wasn’t that easy especially that as a secretary I was in Selibe Phikwe and I had to regularly come here to address certain burning issues.

Q. Has the game improved from that time?
If we go back to the Mascom era the game improved significantly without doubt as opposed to the Kgalagadi Breweries time. Unfortunately that growth didn’t filter to the administration of the league. Outside there was improvement as fans went to the stadiums in large numbers and teams started employing players on full-time basis. When be Mobile came on board expectation skyrocketed. People expected a giant leap forward, that wasn’t realistic because we had a lot of new people on board. We had employees who had to adjust to the football working condition. It wasn’t that easy and but ultimately they coped hence we delivered a better product.

Q. What is the most difficult thing about running this office and working with the football family?
Football is not work, it is part of one’s life. You don’t work from 8am to 5pm like in a normal office especially in the top league. You have no private life; you have to spend all your life attending to football matters especially in a growing league and brand. With the objective of screening live games being a top priority there were times when one needed to be ever present at these games.

Q. You also visited the South African Premier League with a view of learning some things. Have you implemented some of them and was the visit worth it?
We value what we leant there and one of the things was the importance of having a compliance manual. After clinching a sponsorship deal there are certain obligations to meet. It is important that delivery is taken seriously here. We used to have a problem with both match interviews both post and reviews. Today we can all see there is a tremendous improvement, it is because of the compliance manual. We no longer have issues of kit colour clashes. All stakeholders have learnt the importance of complying. Almost all our live games started on time and those are the fruits of our PSL visit.

Q. Will you then safely say the league has grown in leaps and bounds and what are some hindrances to 100% growth?
We can’t complain about growth, it is there for all to see. The way the secretariat and management committee ran the league should also be applauded. The referees have also contributed positively and a lot of other stakeholders.
But there is still the challenge is lack offices by our clubs. However, effective this coming season we will not allow any team to be without an office. We must push teams to meet other people who have contributed to this growth halfway. Fans have attended games and players have played with the same commitment.

Q. What is it that can ensure constituency and growth?
Oh yes there is need for a steady growth if we want to be amongst the best. We need to enhance relationship between league secretariat, management committee, Board of Governors, sponsors, match officials and the media. We must have a deliberate effort to accommodate all stakeholders as per their roles. Sometimes fans feel left out despite their contribution whilst in all fairness we know they are really important.

Q. How has having additional four-fulltime staff members helped ease pressure?
It has been of great help. This means there can be specialization of duties. We can now safely say a professional handles our finances. Security and Logistics as well as the front desk are all doing well. All these have reduced the workload and delivery can be expected on key issues.

Q. How are fixtures done because a lot of people don’t understand that?
There is a fixtures committee, which has always had three people changing as and when duties changed. I am a secretary of the committee by virtue of my position as the secretary of the management committee. First they deliver a draft, which is presented to the management and then the board for their input. After these it goes back for finalizing with the fixtures committee. It is not a one-man show.

Q. A few years into the Bosele declaration; are you happy with progress thus far?
We have achieved some goals that were set there like having the league chairperson in the National Executive Committee. Most players now have contracts with their clubs. There are such key areas where there has been little progress. The issue of reduction of foreigners from five to three per team and club licensing are still a headache. We still have challenges in areas such as acquisitions of team offices and training grounds.

Q. Don’t you thing the gap between the first division and premier league has to be attended?

We believe it is important for first division to be incorporated into the premier league because it is the feeder-structure. There is also need to just assist first division in its operations. It is obviously quite a challenge to them to be expected to just be in the same level with the premier when they gain promotion. They just can’t adhere to the compliance manual hence the need to have them closer. It was difficult for Motlakase, for an example, to cope after realizing that they can’t play their games either in Palapye or Serowe like in the first division.

Q. You also had Botswana television on board as a partner what can you say about their involvement?
Due to the late conclusion in negotiations we didn’t reach the desired target. However, there has been positives from all these. People still watch games at home instead of going to the stadium, which means little income for teams. On the other hand we have managed to have a platform for our players abroad. Television also assists in having more sponsors on board.

Q. What do you hate and love about being the General Manager of the Botswana Premier League?
The responsibility comes with its own challenges; there are a lot of expectations, some are realistic and others are not and everyone want theirs met. This position almost takes all your life away. You spend less time with your family. I have to thank my wife ‘Mmagwe One’ for understanding and also for giving me support. The good thing about this office is it makes you grow as a person. You have to react to certain situations at short notice. Interacting with lots of people opens one’s mind and you learn everyday.

FULLNAMES: James Phuthego Setete
PLACE OF BIRTH: Francistown
CHILDREN: Two girls
CAR DRIVING: Toyota Corolla
FAV FOOD: Papa, beef and vegetables
FAV DRINK: Crèmesoda and Orange Juice
LIKES: Inspiring people
FAV FILMS: Coming to America
HOW DO YOU RELAX: By working
TWO THINGS WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU: I am a born again Christian and very shy by nature

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edward tswaipe

My Brother I have been watching you grow the League. Now I can see where your strength comes from.

I also like the observation about Sono’s talent spotting.

The issue of offices is very, very important. It will solve integrity question. If a team like Chiefs had done this it would have consolidated its success. Good work my brother.