While a recent Government Gazette noted that the suspension of competitive sports, which includes football, has been lifted with immediate effect, there is considerable fear that some footballers, more especially those who were in the twilight of their careers, may never return to entertain local football fanatics again and/or earn a living for themselves.
Local football activities were halted last year in March as the government implemented ways to curb the spread of the damnable COVID-19 pandemic. After more than 445 days since local football clubs last kicked a ball in a domestic competitive match, football will finally return and players will soon be able to chase the pig skin again.
Even though football will return as per the Government Gazette, there are those who may not benefit anything from it, more especially those players whose age is no longer on their side, an instance that has been shared by Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at the University of Botswana, Dr. Tshephang Tshube. According to Dr. Tshube, the suspension of football, which saw players losing practically two seasons of their careers, means they are now two years older and may not return to the football pitch.
“Some of them have been pushed into retirement because they are not physically strong enough to compete due to ageing,” he said in an interview with The Business Weekly Sports. He also warned local football fanatics not to expect the same flair of football that they witnessed before the beautiful game was suspended as players are now rusted.
“It will take a while for the league to feel competitive again as players will need a lot of physical training to gain the necessary fitness level,” he said. “They also need to regain their confidence and mental competitiveness lost due to league suspension. In addition, they need competition time to get the league to the quality it was. I hope coaches have used this time to focus on mental skills and also teach new technical skills.”
Dr. Tshube’s expert analysis was supported by renowned football analyst Jimmy George, who noted that it is going to be quite a challenge for ageing players to return to the field as Botswana does not have facilities that allow players to fast track fitness in a healthy way. “Older players might have, as a necessity, found other means of earning a living,” said George. “They might not even give football a second chance when it finally resumes, which would be understandable. So we are faced with yet another challenge of football having to prove its worth and it might take up to five years to reach the standards we were at before COVID-19.”
Some of the ageing players also share the sentiments of Dr. Tshube and George. According to Gaborone United attacker Joel Mogorosi, older players like him are going to struggle to regain their form and fitness. “We are going to need close to a year to do so, and that is if teams are still willing to field us again,” Mogorosi, who will be 37 years old in August, told this publication in an interview. “It is no secret that players above the age of 30 usually struggle to regain their form and fitness when they go for months without playing. We need time and patience to do so something, which always proves difficult to happen as age is not on our side, whereas teams need results.”
At Mochudi Centre Chiefs, former Zebras international Tshepo Motlhabankwe told this publication that the suspension of football has forced him to retire from the game. “My legs and body no longer allow me to play competitive football,” said “Talk Talk,” Motlhabankwe as he is affectionately known. “I have been inactive for a very long time and I have gained adipose tissue that is difficult to get rid of at my age. So I have decided to hang my boots.”
The 40-year old was playing for Extension Gunners when football was suspended but is currently under the books of Centre Chiefs, the Mochudi-based team having signed him in January this year.