A NEW ERA BEGINS
Today, June 1, 2016, marks the first official day that Gaborone United will no longer have businessman Nicolas Zakhem as the club’s financier.
It has been a tempestuous decade’s journey of an attempt to commericalise the club that in recent months began to be rocked by internal wrangles. It is the said wrangles that have reportedly led to the final decision of the investor to quit the club. Below, the Zac Construction owner responds to questions verbatim, from Sun Sports relating to his relationship with United, his future in sport and on the issues that have been going on in football recently.
1.Please share with us when and why you first started associating with Gaborone United
My involvement with GU started in season 2006-2007. The reasons are many, firstly my love for sport and in particular football. In addition, it was part of my company’s social responsibilities to plough back into the community as my belief has always been and still is “A sporting nation is a healthy and prosperous one.”
2.How was your association with the club in the beginning and how did things change along the way?
Initially I started as a co-sponsor and later on with the privatization on the cards, as a shareholder of the commercial company which was set up and given power to run the affairs of the club.
3.When you decided to associate with Gaborone United, what had you hoped to achieve with the club?
My wishes were to see GU as a powerhouse in the local football and a recognized club within the SADC region. Furthermore, I wanted to unearth the talent we have in our country which has been dormant or neglected for long time, as our association has neglected for long time developing the youth for the future. Such doing will uplift the quality of players which reflect positively on our national team.
4.What plans did you have for Gaborone United?
Please refer to the previous question. Further, it was a pilot project towards privatization of the local football, as now there is evidence that other few teams followed the trade
5.Which of the plans did you achieve?
Currently at GU the senior team has several players who came through our development program, however the intention was to have 80 to 90percent of the senior team coming from our development programme, as we stand now we are about 25percent
6.On those you did not achieve, please share with us why the plans failed
One of my main goals was to build a stadium of 10000 seating capacity to host our games plus club house and hostels to accommodate our players. The stadium couldn’t materialize due to non availability of land . A land which I procured for that purpose couldn’t be converted to civic and community use due to land policy restrictions. However, I managed to build 30 apartments to accommodate the players. They are currently occupied by majority of our players. In addition, a mini bus was purchased for team use and I also provided offices accommodation
7.Describe in detail what your commitment to the club was.
I was the main investor till 2013 when we roped in Old Mutual for a 3 year- sponsorship. In essence, I was until then the solo financier of the club
8.What has been the ownership structure at GU and how much was involved?
I was having no shares in GU rather had 51percent shares in Soccer Dynamic, a company founded to run club affairs. I can’t recall all figures now but I can tell you that my expenditure , that is, Zac Construction contribution for season 2014-2015 was P3.7 million and around P4.2 million for the current season
9.How much, on average, did it cost to run the club on a monthly basis?
Nowadays around P500k per month
10.What challenges did you encounter in trying to commercialise the club?
The main challenge was that our supporters were not well advised on the privatization issue. Imagine the amended constitution to cater for such was adopted by an attendance of 69 members only, I could say the whole transformation was not adequately done as more supporters were in the dark and later on were applying pressure and complaining as they didn’t know what was the role of the EXCO and why the 49percent was not being sold to the members as was initially agreed and such shares were held by certain individual. Hence I was the one who catered financially for 100percent expenses.
11.What really led you to the decision to pull out of Gaborone United?
The decision came as result of inter fighting, as some EXCO members refuse to step down after losing the election, currently as everyone is aware, there are two court cases at the high court.
12.There are reports that you are being pushed out of the club. Comment on that.
I can’t say I’ve been pushed out but rather I’m stepping down on my own accord
13.What has happened or what will happen to your shares in the club?
Like I said before, I’ve no share in the club, but shares in the commercial company which became redundant years back as the EXCO were not abiding by the terms of agreement and the scope of the privatization, resulting in defeating the whole purpose of privatization.
14.Would you say commercialisation of football is an easy thing to do in Botswana?
No it isn’t an easy task as I’ve discovered that all the teams that adopted such are facing a similar problem as our members who were not informed and neither participated in adopting the privatization
15.What aspects of Botswana football make commercialisation a problem?
Please refer to the previous response.
16.What then do you think must be done to commercialise Botswana football
Educate members, get them involved in accepting the privatization, give them shares to feel they are not sidelined
17.As you cease your commitment to GU, does it mean you are joining another football club? If so, which club and why?
At this moment I wish to take a breather, think it over, then I will decide the way forward, it has been an exurban journey
18.If you are not joining another football club, does it mean you are done with football in Botswana? What are your plans going forward?
As I said before I joined GU for the love of the game, if I decide not to join any other club, I will direct my energy towards football development in different regions around the country .
19.What is your opinion about the state of football in the country?
Alas, it’s a shamble, it’s chaotic, that’s one big reason for me to stay away from football for the time being
20.How do you think things should be done to improve the running of football
If you mean on BPL level I strongly believe the BPL should be autonomous .
21.There have been reports that you and some committee members at GU had huge differences. Please share your take on these reports and say why such reports surfaced
Of course it’s a known fact which at this moment in time I don’t wish to comment on. However, you should know that such has nothing to do with the current committee as I’ve enjoyed a healthy relationship with Mr Rapula Okaile and the rest of the current EXCO
22.GU are reported to be trying to talk to you to continue with the club. What is your response to that? Will you consider staying?
It’s true they have been trying but unfortunately I’ve made up my decision to step down
23.What will you miss the most about GU and what would you like to forget quickly about the club?
Definitely after 10 years’ involvement I will be missing the Red and White colour, the supporters I could say majority of them were very welcoming and warm toward me, the excitement of attending games of our beloved team . I wish to forget the inner fighting, the court cases, and the selfishness of some EXCO members who wish to stay in power for life time and never accept members’ wishes (remember EXCO members are volunteers, and most of our members wish to volunteer and serve the club)
24.What is your opinion about football in Botswana in general?
Sorry to say that at this moment in time our football is in shambles and shameful, too many cases in the last 4 years which derailed our game
25.What is your take on the recent events surrounding Ofentse Nato and the protests that followed?
I’ve always considered Nato like my son, and to that effect had always given him my support. I gave him my blessings to join Wits University with one year left on his contract because I believed that when an opportunity comes you shouldn’t stop whoever wants it from taking it His last move to join Rollers was also with my blessings and Mr Rapula Okaile’s approval.
However, I wish to state that the circumstances of him joining GU the year before is very different from the one he joined Rollers under. I’m stating such facts as there were lots of speculations in the papers to that effect and to the extent that there were false allegations and insults towards Mr. Okaile. As for the subsequent protests, I’m not in a position to comment as there are pending cases to determine the status of the player.
26. What is your take on the recent suspensions of the BPL CEO and the recalling of two board members?
Unfortunately I’m not in a position to comment on the matter as investigations are ongoing by DCEC. However I wish to stand here in support of Mr. Okaile as he was once again blamed for something of not his doing, beside DCEC wouldn’t react on a matter in hours of reporting as they are a professional outfit and they study and investigate the case to see merit before acting. I wish to add here my humble knowledge that investigations had started long before the suspension of the CEO of BPL and the recall of the chairman and vice chairman.
27.Is the premier league ready to run itself in your opinion? Do they deserve autonomy from the BFA?
Of course the BPL is ready to be autonomous, and that is the only way for football to grow. BFA should accept such and facilitate the transformation
28.A number of clubs in Botswana have asked for your financial assistance over the years. Please share on some of the major assistances you have given to them
Yes in the past and I’m sure in future I will assist various clubs, however I’m not in a position to give you names and figures.
29.Some clubs have approached you to join and help them. Which clubs did so and which are you considering?
At this moment in time, and like I mentioned earlier, I wish to take a break and assess what went wrong with my dealing with GU, and if indeed my involvement in the future with another club is worth the efforts as we really need to up our game and educate our supporters before hand. However, if I am to make my mind to go back into football, I shall look for a club owned by a company and not by a society.
30.Please share any other information or opinions on Botswana sport and football in general that you may want to talk about Earlier in the days, I’m talking mid 90s, I was involved in volleyball, for few years mainly with Mafolofolo Volleyball Club to the extent it was named Zac Mafolofolo. Also, volleyball is one of the sports I enjoyed and played at a young age. So if opportunity arises in that direction I might grab it. I must add that for the years I was involved in volleyball, I never encountered any problems, neither do I remember the league being in shambles like what our current football is going through.
As for our football, I ask the people who are currently ruling our association or the future leaders of the game to focus on development; be there to support our national team, our pride instead of frustrating our players like what currently is happening at this moment in time. Players allowances must be paid timeously without fail even if you to cut or squeeze other activities to have honour their dues. I hereby ask once again the BFA NEC to avoid meddling in BPL affairs like what they have done in the last couple of months, where they brought shame to our beautiful game and to the nation.