Lesotho football behind schedule

MASERU — In case anyone has forgotten, Lesotho’s football is meant to be professional by 2014.

But with only three years left to this deadline set by Lesotho’s clubs in conjunction with football’s world governing body Fifa in 2008, it is a mission that frankly looks impossible at this moment.

Apart from the shocking state of facilities, players at the elite level still have no insurance while the league’s organisation remains poor and sponsorship is still pitiable.

Of course there have been a few positive moments.

In September Lioli, who have become a sort of shining light, became the first side to introduce player contracts while both LCS and Matlama unveiled smart new kits sponsored which were the first ever in Lesotho to have players’ names before the Christmas break.

Nevertheless considering the true meaning of professionalism — that is making a living off football — Lesotho is not even halfway to reach the goal.

Thankfully a tangible development which may kick things into life arrived last week when the Lesotho Football Association (Lefa) announced it is to introduce a new licensing system for the start of the 2010/11 premiership season.

As part of the scheme, in which players and coaches will have contracts, clubs will also be expected to have offices.

But arguably the plan’s greatest significance is the emphasis that will be placed on club structures.

According to Lefa’s administration manager Mokhosi Mohapi, each premiership club will be required to have a clear executive board and constitution.

“Teams will have to have a board with persons of integrity,” he said last week.

“We need to make sure that the constitutions of the teams are in line with the rules and regulations of Lefa.”

“Each club must have an office, an officer running that office every day, contracts with coaches as well as signing part-time contracts with officers,” Mohapi added.

This has arguably been the greatest hindrance in the plan to turn local football professional.

Apart from institutional teams — LCS, LDF, LMPS and Lerotholi — Premier League teams largely remain community clubs without constitutions and proper structures.

And even LCS, LDF, LMPS and Lerotholi are not independent bodies.

This failure to have a professional set-up even in its simplest form should be the main focus, argues respected football administrator Tšeliso Khomari.

“The first thing hindering development is the ownership of the teams,” he says.

“Our clubs are community-owned which means they have no clear system for decision making.

“The clubs must be privatised and people in the management of each club should be shareholders.

“Clubs should also be registered as private companies and that way they will have an entity and they will be able to approach other companies for business partnerships.”

Much is made of the lack of money in Lesotho’s football.

Local clubs are run on shoe-string budgets.

The Premier League had an income of M90 258 in its 2009/10 financial year.

Yet even with a reduced 14-team league clubs are still expected to spend at least M100 000 over the course of this season.

But the poverty of the local Premier League is undoubtedly exacerbated by the lack of organisation and strategies within clubs.

That is why premiership matches are still played on “potato fields” such as LMPS’s Old Europa ground.

It’s also why many of the recommendations of the Mohale Declaration have not been achieved.

Khomari insists the onus is on clubs and the league instead of hoping for hand-outs from the government.

“When the clubs and league talk you see that they are dependent on government,” he says.

“They have to come up with interactive ideas.

“We are nowhere in the top 10 when it comes to the government’s priorities.

“There is healthcare, there is education and feeding the country to take care of.”

Khomari says Lesotho must learn from neighbours in the region where football is beginning to boom commercially.

The South African Premier League, for example, which was reportedly M60 million in debt a decade ago, is now ranked among the top 15 wealthiest leagues worldwide.

Yet local football continues to be left behind because of the unresponsiveness of local clubs.

A comparison with Swaziland, a country of numerous similarities, is a pertinent one because until recently Lesotho was considered the superior.

For example, when local side Arsenal reached the third round of the Caf Champions League in 1993 no Swaziland side had even negotiated the first stage.

But in January 2008 Swazi Premier League outfit Malanti Chiefs acquired the services of former Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs striker Phumlani Mkhize.

Today players in Swaziland’s top-flight football have contracts while the quantity of sponsorship is increasing by the season.

In Lesotho it’s a different story as companies remain reluctant to back football because of the shoddy structures of clubs.

Khomari also believes Lesotho’s clubs are in a comfort zone.

“Our clubs have to be innovative, but it seems we are in a comfort zone,” he says.

“For example, Matlama have an advantage in that they wear blue so they can approach Vodacom for sponsorship.

“Rovers could approach Avis because they wear red.”

There are indeed plenty of areas where local clubs are missing as a direct result of the shortcomings of their executive set-ups and the subsequent absence of planning.

The explosion of social networking sites such as Facebook in Lesotho for example also provides an opportunity for clubs to create and exploit fan bases.

Clubs meanwhile continue to fail in courting media avenues and don’t have clear plans for their supporters.

Clubs also don’t make the most of talent at their disposal — for example, having a plan specifically to sell players to other clubs at home or abroad.

The Makoanyane XI players who have qualified for the Caf African Youth Championship in Libya are a perfect example.

Meanwhile, the Vodacom Soccer Spectacular in which little-known first division side Butha-Buthe Fast XI garnered 152 287 votes at M1 each shows there is some sort of potential if there is improved organisation.

At the heart of local football’s problems are club constitutions and structures which prevent clubs from being credible to potential sponsors.

For example, clubs lack financial accountability.

“Football is not like playing morabaraba any longer,” Khomari says.

“The transition in South Africa was not easy. When Pirates moved from being a community team to a professional club people died.

“I’m not saying people have to die here but we need to change. People will not be happy but this is what has to happen.”

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