Rising above the challenges of Covid-19
The Covid-19 crisis is not just a threat to public health, it has toppled economies, has caused disruptions to football across the globe with leagues and tournaments being suspended.
For more than a year, the revenue streams of clubs and sports Federations have been significantly affected by the absence of fans in the stadiums. The LeFA Secretary General Mokhosi Mohapi sits down with the media team to reflect on how the football body stood tall in the midst of the pandemic.
LeFA: Ntate SG, thank you for making time from your busy schedule. Let’s go straight into it. Take us through the year 2021 as the head of Secretariat at the Lesotho Football Association.
MM: 2021 has been the most interesting year of the past two years that we have been operating in this unusual era. You will recall that in the year 2020, when the pandemic started, the whole world was quite novitiate under the circumstances. Sport comprises of two features; it is the on the field activities and off the field activities.
By now you know that the World Health Organisation in 2020, declared a pandemic and advised all Countries to lockdown all those activities and events that were deemed to be exacerbating the spread of the virus. In the same vein, the Lesotho Football Association responded by suspending sport activities under its auspices.
LeFA then realising that sport would not be able to survive the pandemic and or recover from the effects of the pandemic, embarked on a return to football as early as May 2020. Coming back to the crux after the background, 2021, has been a very jam-packed year on and off the field of play. To align with the current challenges, LeFA developed a strategic plan aptly termed ‘The New Dawn.’
The New Dawn calls for the continuum of the LeFA Mandate during the pandemic. It also calls for the adherence to Covid-19 compliance and mitigation strategies rolled out by the Government of Lesotho. This is the reason why most of our activities are based on strict compliance whether it’s on the field activities as well as the off the field activities. Comparatively, I strongly believe that LeFA has outshone similar organisations in the Country. LeFA has held by far the most number of sporting activities pursuant to its mandate.
LeFA: It’s been very difficult two years for sports in general in the country due to the pandemic. However, LeFA unlike other Federations still managed to go ahead with majority of it’s programmes. How did you manage?
MM: LeFA managed to be at the forefront because at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic the organisation undertook research about the pandemic and what direction the pandemic was going to take. You will recall that LeFA was among the first organisations to have documented protocols aimed at mitigating the spread of the virus. You will recall that LeFA was the first organisation to setup ‘safe training environments’ or what is known as ‘bubbles.’
Before the ‘safe training environments’ were implemented, LeFA trained the two senior national teams (men and women) on the effects of the Corona Virus and how to minimize the risk of infection. This was followed by an aggressive training program given to what we then referred to as Compliance Officers from the teams and the Association Secretariat. As I have already mentioned, almost everything that LeFA does takes into cognizance the mitigation aspect with regards to the Corona Virus.
Subsequently, the LeFA leadership is aware that life with the Corona Virus and its induced Covid-19 Pandemic will continue for some years to come, with this in mind, LeFA also realised that it has obligations towards its mandate which is to develop, regulate and promote to game of football locally and internationally. It is therefore correct to say as the biggest sporting code in the country, it is therefore befitting for LeFA to show the other smaller sport bodies that with the Corona Virus and under the Covid-19 pandemic challenges life can be lived but much more cautiously. For this to be achieved, LeFA has issued a directive to all its internal stakeholders (clubs, fans etc) that as of the 01st of November 2021 it shall be compulsory to attend all LeFA activities and events only when one has been vaccinated.
LeFA: Financially as well, it’s been a very difficult year for other federations struggling to stage their activities and honouring international competitions, but it’s a different story for LeFA?
MM: LeFA is both fortunate and meticulous in how it dispenses of its duties. We are fortunate to be part of an International Federation that is in very sound financial state enabling it to provide for its Member Associations, that is FIFA. From an organization position, LeFA has for the past years exercised prudent spending behaviours which have in these turbulent times come handy. About five years ago, LeFA changed its business plan and started a new era where austerity principles and strict adherence to the annual budget were exercised. It does not surprise that LeFA has enjoyed some relative ease while other Federations experienced hardship. Our sound financial utilisation policy has allowed us as an organisation to stay afloat, therefore.
LeFA: The Association is making good progress with the infrastructural developments and they will surely come handy for football development in the country?
MM: It has not been plain sailing at all, the projects were applied for about three years ago and a series of activities had to be undertaken in the process. Yes, in the end it paid off and the facilities are there as part of the legacy, something tangible. The completion of the projects you have mentioned herein are a testament of hard work and the existence of a vision to develop the sporting infrastructure in the Kingdom of Lesotho. That we have reached this end shows that patience is a virtue and against odds things do happen.
LeFA: The investment LeFA has put on the development and grooming of referees is paying off and Souru Phatsoane is testmony to that?
MM: No one seems to remember that almost a decade ago, I did mention that it will finally dawn on the Association that our good deeds would bear results. I for some reason predicted that our referees would make it big on the international stage. However, they still need to show the same acumen and dedication to the local version of the game, after all it is the local game that made them. If the lads and ladies keep focused, they will earn even bigger accolades than those they are earning now, they definitely have what it required to be among the best in the trade.
LeFA: Advocate Salemane Phafane KC was recently re-elected as the LeFA President in a very successful congress that was attended virtually by COSAFA, CAF and FIFA. What can we expect from the Association as his right-hand man?
MM: All things considered, the final lap should be the fasted irrespective of how long the race has run, it is the one that should deliver the medal. The re-election of Advocate Phafane is a culmination of wisdom and foresight on the part of the Lesotho Football Association as whole. Our leader has a wealth of experience and astuteness. He has served football at the highest level at FIFA, CAF and COSAFA serving on several sub-committees, he has what it takes to lead football.
Having said this, it will not be business as usual, our task as an organisation of course with him at the helm will be to transform the performances of our international representative teams. On the governance side of things LeFA ranks top of the pack locally in terms of sport performance, but it is the core business side which needs to be ramped up. This is the reason why my office is hard at work trying to establish strategic partnerships aimed at fast-tracking our performance on the field of play. This is one area which is a thorn in the flesh of the leadership.
LeFA: The leadership of the Lesotho Football Association has given out startpack support packages for the resupmtion of the leagues. Do you expect all the leagues to play to the finish this time around?
MM: I want to believe we have become more aware of what the challenges are regarding the stop and go aspect of the game. This is the reason why we agreed as an organisation to support the national Covid-19 vaccination drive by directing all our stakeholders to vaccinate. It is the only solution to avoid the stop start behaviour. To date LeFA has shown that it is capable of punching above its weight in terms of coming up with these protocols aimed at warding off the devastative effects of Corona Virus. If we get full compliance which I expect, I am sure we will play to a finish. The whole idea of scrapping the 2021/2022 season was to facilitate the playing of the current season to a finish without pressurising the leagues into finishing early. The envisaged end of the 2020/2021 season is May 31st, 2022, funny isn’t it?
LeFA: All the national teams have had a difficult time as far as international competitions are concerned. What needs to be done for them to do better?
MM: You stated a fact that I would rather have never to come up to face. Yes, it is true that our national teams have endured a torrid two years. There are reasons which are intertwined. Many people get agitated when I stated the problems which have attributed to our dilemma. We need to wake up to the challenges instead of trying to find solutions without first understanding the contributing factors.
I am busy going to all the regions training the DIFAs on Governance and Administration, in all the course I have stated that our problems are not only internal but also are a result of bad political decisions taken by our National Government. If one looks at the current education curriculum, there is no way sport will survive under such circumstances. I just read the other day that our neighbours across the border are beginning to experience similar problems where school sport is basically non-existent which has resulted in very low number of youths into the elite sport. That is the reason why we have aging senior national teams and are seemingly unable to replace the older players.
LeFA: The government of Lesotho has also allowed spectators to return to matches, but only those that have been vaccinated. Are we out of the woods as far as Covid-19 is concerned?
MM: Look, we might not be out of the woods for quite some time to come, however, that does not mean we cannot devise solutions for our problems. We look forward to the return of our loved spectators, they give our players something to play for. It will be interesting to see how we mitigate the known challenges associated with fans. Nonetheless we wait with abated interest, it will definitely be interesting.