Botswana's Selolwane: "It's a challenge to better ourselves"
Botswana have never been one of the powerhouses of African football despite the country's profile as an affluent and successful nation on the continent. Rich in diamonds and gold, and with a growing tourist industry and a stable democratic government, Botswana is seen as a rare African success story. Its football profile, however, is hampered by a small population and a lack of international exposure.
That now is beginning to change with qualification for the group phase of African qualifiers for the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals, which has left the Zebras with a chance to run shoulders with some of the top teams on the continent.
The star of Botswana's team is 26-year-old striker Diphetego Selolwane, a hero in his own country known simply as Dipsy'. He has made the long trek from being a university student in Gaborone to playing for one of the top teams in America's Major League Soccer -- Chicago Fire.
FIFAworldcup.com spoke to the eloquent Selolwane about the unusual route he has followed to play football thousands of miles from home and his hopes and ambitions for himself and Botswana's football in the future.
What is it like playing in the USA? It's something of an unusual destination for African footballer?
It's interesting because their approach to playing football is very different. It is a young game in the USA, so it presents me with a good chance to try and prove myself. I'm from Botswana and we are such a small football nation. It's good for me because it doesn't present the kind of pressure that playing in Europe would. It's a good challenge.
How did a player from Botswana end up in Chicago?
I actually went to college first, to Harris Stowe, a small black college (in St Louis, Missouri) and played there for a year and a half. I then transferred to a bigger university with more facilities and bigger exposure and I did pretty well for one year at St Louis University. I then spent three months in Denmark at Velje BK, but they were struggling and ended up getting relegated. I didn't want to stay and the coach wasn't decisive about what he wanted to do with me with a new season coming up in a lower league so I went back to the States. I was drafted by the Chicago Fire, I went there for two weeks, they were happy and wanted to sign me and I stayed. A while after that, the coach who drafted me left, I went home on vacation and got injured. I had organised a charity game for the kids back home, played a little with them and had a freak accident (broken leg) that kept me out for six months last year. It was tough for me to break into the team but now we have a new season and things are going much better. I'm hoping this year I get to play more games and really show them what I can do.
Why do you think it is that Botswana have not produced more footballers that
have gone to play overseas?
I guess it is because of our approach to the game, and sport in general. People don't actually believe you can make a living out of it -- they see it more as recreation. Most of my team mates in the Botswana national team are either working or at school. When a lot of them get a good job, they don't bother with soccer anymore. The Botswana league is amateur; (they) don't get paid at all and are lucky to get an allowance from the team. There are a lot of things that have to change to produce more footballers.
Do you then feel you are something of a pioneer for sportspeople
Oh yes, I believe that now I feel it even more. When I first travelled out to play soccer, I was doing it for myself but now I have some friends also playing in the US college soccer and after seeing that, I feel that the goals I set for myself weren't only for me but have also open doors for others from Botswana. More guys are now wanting to venture out and see what they can do.
You have made a commitment to travel a long way back home to play
for your national team. Are you going to keep that up for the FIFA World
I will try, but it also depends on my club schedule. The club take care of me and pay my bills. The Botswana coach understands I have to serve the club, but I enjoy being with the national team and the company of all the guys. It's also important for me to share my experiences with them, and hopefully inspire them to be better players.
What is your opinion about your FIFA World Cup group and your
first match away against new African champions Tunisia
That's a tough one. I just hope people in Botswana understand what the odds are for us to try and win that game, or to actually do well in the whole group. We have to make sure that as a nation, all the coaches and players, that we are united and can try and help each other in this quest. It's a tough group that doesn't favour us and if we don't do well, people must accept it, but it's a challenge to better ourselves. We are prepared to take it head on.
But do you think Botswana can shake up this group a little?
It's a process, but I do believe, maybe not right away, we will play our part and give all the dedication we have. Sometime in the future, things must change.