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MBABANE – The Premier League of Eswatini (PLE) finds itself in a catch-22 situation ahead of the much-anticipated MTN Premier League kick-off on Sunday.

The gist of the matter is that the Swazi Mobile-sponsored clubs (now Eswatini Mobile), giants Mbabane Highlanders and Manzini Wanderers in top flight football, want to be allowed to don the company’s branded kits in the MTN League.

“They argue the company is their main sponsor and their agreements with them call for their kits to have the brand. But then again, MTN has been sponsoring the league for 15 years and the terms and conditions have always been the same. It’s always been no competitor brand will be allowed in their tournament. We can’t have the league held to ransom by a few teams,” said a PLE committee member on condition of anonymity.

He said the clubs signed into the agreement with Swazi Mobile well aware what they were getting themselves into.
“MTN’s new sponsorship contract with us has not changed anything in as far as that clause is concerned. Yes, the late chairman tried to interpret it as ‘technical sponsors’ but it was still argued that, even the World Cup has no country promoting its technical sponsor. This being an MTN tournament, their terms prevail,” he said.

He said the organisation would not stand losing its sponsorship or a large amount of it through something all their affiliates were aware of, for 15 years now. PLE Chairman Peter ‘Touch’ Magagula admitted they were facing a headache on this issue.

“The clubs could possibly wear the opposite brand on Sunday and it doesn’t augur well with all parties. We could lose 20 per cent of the season’s package which is E1.2 million and that would be chaotic as it would mean a lot of things changing,” said Magagula. Nonetheless, he said the league’s rules and regulations covered for such breach should it occur, which they do not expect as every club signed to play in this league must abide. He said in the event it happened, the club on the wrong stands to be fined nothing less than E15 000.

The league’s package for this season is E6 million, which covers both First and elite divisions, with champions of each league pocketing E180 000 and E1 million respectively. If 20 per cent of this amount is deducted, the PLE will be left with E4.8 million. The money also covers the elite clubs’ E100 000 participation fee while the First Division gets it too but it’s less than their seniors.

Meanwhile, a PLE Board of Governor has also confirmed the matter was a hot issue on the table for the PLE and things looked tense. Highlanders and Wanderers were also sought for comment on this issue which directly affects them and have been pursuing the PLE to change the situation since last season.
“Yes, we’re still waiting for the rules to be disseminated so we can familiarise ourselves with the contents. We will take it from there.

The challenge for now is that even the vendor for branding our kits with PLE and MTN logos has not been announced, so it’s still uncertain if we will use new kits or not,” responded Wanderers CEO Pat Mahlalela when questioned if they would indeed be wearing the Swazi Mobile-branded kit and if they were mindful of the consequences.

His Highlanders counterpart Mpumelelo Msibi, who is the club’s Management Committee (MC) Secretary, said only the team’s directors could respond to this. Highlanders’ Chairman of the Board of Directors Zweli Jele, who was caught in a Board meeting  responded; ‘‘We have sent a formal communiqué to PLE advising that we will use the Eswatini Mobile kit.’’ MTN Eswatini’s Meshack Maseko said ‘all teams play the league under guidance from rules and regulations’ from the PLE.

“I think the rules should give clear guidance on this issue and the PLE office is in a good space to comment as they are the custodians of the league and rules and regulations governing it,” he said.

Highlanders open the league against capital city rivals and defending champions Mbabane Swallows, while Wanderers face Green Mamba on Sunday at Somhlolo National Stadium. Meanwhile, Swazi Mobile also sponsors Madlenya FC and Tinyosi in the First Division League.

Impeccable sources have said another giant team in the capital city was set to join its counterparts in the Swazi Mobile sponsorship but officials in the team have said until it was all signed out, they had no comment.

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