Football in deep crisis

THE spectre of violence returned to haunt local football yet again last Sunday in a Vodacom Premier League match between Roma Rovers and Matlama Football Club.

If we needed any sign that Lesotho’s football is in deep crisis, this was it.

The violence in Roma comes hardly a month after similar scenes of violence were reported in a match between reigning champions Lioli and Matlama.

In both matches, football fans went on the rampage throwing missiles and assaulting match officials.

Both matches had to be abandoned due to crowd trouble.

Observers said the Matlama-Lioli violence was arguably the worst in the history of football in Lesotho.

Sports Minister ‘Mathabiso Lepono last month ordered an investigation into the violence which saw one person being shot while two others were left to nurse serious injuries.

From experience, nothing much often comes from these “investigations” which are often notoriously slow and cumbersome.

Meanwhile, it is critical for the Premier League to tell an anxious football nation what exactly is going on in our football.

The intensity, frequency and scope of violence at football matches should surely be a cause of concern to those charged with the administration of the game.

If they are not mortified by the current state of affairs, then nothing will.

In our humble opinion, the Premier League’s management committee should own up and accept blame for the chaotic and violent scenes we saw at Roma last Sunday.

Had the top-flight league’s executive dealt with the Lioli-Matlama violence in a firm and fair manner, they could have sent a clear and strong message that violence of any sort was unacceptable.

But by ordering a replay in a match in which Matlama were enjoying a healthy 3-0 lead, the goons running our football blew a golden opportunity to nip out hooliganism in the bud.

The decision to order a replay was, to put it mildly, quite scandalous and shameful.

It also clearly exposed the clear lack of lateral thinking at the football body.

Most critically, the diabolic decision sowed seeds of further unrest in our football.

It is decisions like these that raise serious doubts about their impartiality.

The onus is upon the Premier League mandarins to prove beyond all shadow of doubt that they are still men of integrity discharging their duty with utmost sincerity.

The current violence gripping our football calls for decisive action from the Lesotho Football Association (Lefa).

Lefa must prove that it is up to the task at hand in dealing with the ugly spectre of hooliganism in our football.

The leadership of Lefa must not prevaricate and seek to shirk off its responsibility.

We want to see improved security at premiership matches.

This starts by ensuring that there is visible policing to deter hooligans at football matches.

Perhaps Lefa can take a leaf from English Premiership matches where marshals are deployed right in the stands to take out potential troublemakers.

But the issue of security at football grounds cannot be divorced from the issue of ensuring that Lesotho has proper stadia fit for top-flight encounters.

It is a challenge to ensure rowdy fans are kept at bay where there is no perimeter fence to separate players from fans.

Unless the government and the corporate sector make a firm commitment to improve the stadia we have, we will continue to have football fans, usually inebriated from the holy waters, disrupting premiership games.

It is also clear that these embarrassing scenarios drive away sponsors.

We are certain that no sane sponsor wants to be associated with the negative images of violence that we have witnessed over the past month.

But while we wait for the stadia to be built, Lefa must show leadership in dealing with the issue of hooliganism in our football.

Is it not time that we consider banning or suspending football clubs that fail to rein in their rowdy supporters?

There is a precedent to this matter.

When English clubs failed to control their fans in the 1980s, they were banned for six long years after the Heysel Stadium disaster.

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