Lefa must take a leaf from Afcon exploits
I AM a passionate patriot and the sentiments I will express are inspired by what I have been watching on television in recent weeks. The level of competition has been intense and mostly at fever pitch. The athletes applied their skills and nous with supreme determination as if their whole lives depended on it. Of course, I am talking the football spectacle that is the African Cup of Nations (Afcon) 2015.
After Morocco declined to host the premier African football event due to fears over the Ebola virus, Equatorial Guinea stepped into the fray to host the tournament. At this tournament 16 of the continent’s best footballing nations converge for three weeks to compete for the continent’s premier football prize. All the eyes of the footballing world and scouts, including millions of television viewers and radio listeners across the world, are transfixed on this continental showpiece.
I must admit how I strongly wish my tiny Lesotho could also one day take part in this showpiece. When it comes to football, the size of the population counts for virtually nothing.
It is the infrastructure, basics and administration that counts at the end of the day. Look at a country like Netherlands. With just over 16.8 million people it is a football superpower yet Russia with 145 million inhabitants is virtual minnow.
Closer to home in Africa, Cape Verde has 498 897 inhabitants and Equatorial Guinea has 757 014 inhabitants. By comparison South Africa has 52.98 million while Ethiopia has 94.1 million inhabitants. Yet both Cape Verde and Equatorial Guinea acquitted themselves well at the 16-nation finals.
Lesotho, therefore, with over two million inhabitants, stands in good stead of qualifying and making waves at this continental showpiece. It all boils down to getting the basics right for Lesotho football to reach such dizzying heights. It behooves the football administrators, players and government to make a concerted effort to put our football on a pedestal that we can be proud of as a nation.
A couple of months ago, I congratulated Likuena, our national football team, for having beaten the mighty Kenya en route to being beaten by Burkina Faso, in the Afcon qualifiers proper.
I argued that we could emulate Botswana, a sister country of similar size who qualified for the previous Afcon. Although I am no football expert but I reckon I can make a meaningful contribution to our football.
For starters, government and the private sector have to invest more in the development of football at grassroots level. They did not say “charity begins at home” for nothing.
These sectors have to nurture football at the grassroots level. This development should start at village, school and even nursery levels where latent talent can be spotted and developed in the right direction at an early age. By the time they reach the under 12’s, under 17’s and senior levels, these potential megastars would be well-coached and exposed to international competition.
By this I do not only mean within the southern African region but even as far as West Africa. Readers will agree with me that the majority of African footballers making an impact in the great leagues of the world come from West and North Africa.
This shows that these regions are getting it right somewhere and we ought not be ashamed to take a leaf out of their successes. It all boils down to international exposure to gain experience.
Incentives also play a key role in the possible success of our footballers. These can be either in monetary form or in kind. These can help bring the best from the athletes.
In our sister African countries up north, governments pledge huge sums of money to footballers irrespective of how poor their governments are, for any performance that will give their respective nations a sense of pride.
At times they are given bonuses or houses are built for them if they reach certain stages in international tournaments. They are also treated as national icons and receive due recognition for their achievements.
However, in Lesotho sadly, it appears only the administrators are interested in taking football teams abroad. The case in point is the Perumal match-fixing saga that refuses to go away.
The less said about this episode the better. However, I can only point-out that in Zimbabwe, a similar scandal was dealt with to finality. In Lesotho, it seems to have been swept under the carpet for good.
This match-fixing sage is inexorably connected to corruption. It is a scourge that permeates every sector of our society. Corruption is briefly defined as abuse of public office for personal gain.
In this regard, the Lesotho Football Association (Lefa) general elections were reportedly tainted with vote-buying allegations. To this day, this issue has not been resolved to finality.
My take is that footballers are not impervious to corruption allegations. This will be reflected in the way they perform on the football pitch. They are bound to under-perform if corruption in football persists.
This is more so when our players in international matches receive their payments long after the due date or never receive them at all or, worse still, receive far less money than promised.
The development of infrastructure also goes along with good performance on the football pitch. It is a sad reality of our football landscape that football is played on cabbage field-like pitches. Such a situation offers no conductive environment for good football. Even our national stadium, Setsoto Stadium, is under-maintained. We cannot, in all honesty, expect our talented youngsters to express themselves on such terrible pitches. If anything, they are even likely to sustain serious or career-ending injuries.
Top level coaching also goes hand-in-hand with good results on the football field. The standard of our local coaches, barring a few, leaves much to be desired. For starters, take me seriously when I express a desire to be a coach of one of the top teams in the premier league in the near future.
Watch this space! Unless the criteria for top level coaching are re-visited. Furthermore, our coaches and football administrators should constantly pursue greater exposure to modern coaching techniques and methods. It does not need a rocket scientist to note that modern football changes with every season.
We also have to remove the mental block in our players that they cannot compete successfully against the very best in the world. We have to instill the self-belief in them that we too, that our athletes, are the very best and on top of the world.
This has to be accompanied by instilling the passion and dedication in the task ahead, that is, excel optimally at the sport we have been, as athletes, entrusted to deliver our very best and ply our trade at the highest level.
To insist that our sporting achievements have plateaued and therefore can’t go any higher is being disingenuous. We have a lot of untapped potential.
I insist this country’s footballers have a great potential and can go far. However, these problems if addressed, are not a panacea to all our problems. There is so much potential lying to be harnessed fully.