In a manner reminiscent of almost everything else in the Kingdom of eSwatini, there is a dramatic reversal in the standard of football in the country and the exodus of private sector companies that had previously partnered with the sport is a great cause for concern. A few years back we had the Castle Top 8, Swazi Bank, Ingwenyama Cup and Swazi Telecom football tournaments that attracted thousands to the stadium and there was a glimmer of hope for our football. Not anymore. Today there is only MTN Premier League and all the other sponsors are gone! Even those that supported individual clubs have abandoned the country’s most supported sport.

As one would imagine, this has far-reaching implications, given that soccer is business and puts bread on the table for many families. A football expert who spoke to The Bridge on condition of anonymity revealed that playing only for the MTN league without the knockout tournaments will affect the performance of the national team because our players are playing against countries with a significantly higher number of tournaments at the continental level. “Of course, there are other factors like the business aspect of things; there is no point in playing only for the league – you might as well accept that the country no longer plays competitive soccer and we put everything to a stop,” he says. He explained that the current situation does not make sense for clubs like Mbabane Swallows and Mbabane Highlanders football clubs who spend over E3 million a year on running costs, only to compete in a league where the first prize money is about E1 million!

The big question has been, and continues to be: does our football make business sense for the nation, specifically the private sector which is driven by profits? Just this past week there were startling reports to the effect that a Swazi premier league football club, Denver Sundowns FC, did not have training sessions because players were protesting over unpaid salaries. Ironically, this club is led by the Premier League of Eswatini (PLE) Chairman Mark Carmichael whose office, among other things, is charged with the responsibility to look for sponsors for the game. A few years back, another club came to the stadium and played with only 8 players! One moment fans are involved in violence and the next one we see clubs struggling to get players to travel to the stadium. If it is not about inefficiencies of entities such as the PLE who run our football like a backyard spaza shop – at times changing fixtures at the very last minute, then it has to be a lack of exposure, experience, passion and vision on the part of those in the higher echelons of football leadership in the country.

These things combined scare those with resources to support the sport. It is also a known fact that the involvement of people like the late PLE Chairman Victor Gamedze made business to be comfortable with soccer because the game was led by business heavyweights who understood the operations of a business. Currently, you have ordinary men who have never run anything in life, let alone of a business nature, running football and expecting business to stay. Quite frankly, some of them are struggling to survive at a personal level but want to run our soccer.

Furthermore, the number of fans has dropped, owing to numerous things, one being the economic situation in the country – most fans now find it tough to pay bus fares and go all the way from Pigg’s Peak to watch a game in Nhlangano. Also, the dominance of government-backed security forces clubs means clubs with a huge fan base like Mbabane Highlanders, Swallows and Wanderers are not winning trophies, hence the decline in the number of fans coming to watch games. Why then would businesses support a sport that no longer attracts huge numbers? These are some of the questions to answer. Making matters worse is the lack of vision by the government which has failed to prioritize soccer for years. At the moment, the king and his government now see football as being less of a priority, and businesses can see that, hence they are turning their back on football. Why would business support something that is not in line with government policy aspirations? As things are, it remains to be seen if we will have new or returning companies to the game of football in eSwatini. Time will tell.