Lefa must take a leaf from Af­con ex­ploits

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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.

Ut­loang Ka­jeno

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