MASERU — Lesotho’s worst kept secret is out — Vodacom Lesotho will be the Premier League’s new sponsor, taking over from their telecommunications rivals Econet-Telecom Lesotho. The estimated M1 million per season backing — which will be unveiled tomorrow — is an improvement on the previous M750 000 annual windfall from Econet, which also included running costs and advertising. Like their predecessors, Vodacom will also sponsor all the country’s four divisions. Vodacom’s heavier backing of the football leagues, the game’s bread and butter, is a watershed moment — key to the ultimate goal which is to develop the league and its clubs into operations that will one day sustain themselves financially. This is spelt out in the Mohale Declaration, the ambitious roadmap signed by football stakeholders last April which aims to professionalise Lesotho football by 2014. At the moment the premier league remains an amateur competition, with no television coverage, no club sponsors and little rewards. Last season’s champions Lioli, for example, received M30 000, not enough to cover a fraction of costs incurred during the campaign. “We received M30 000 for winning the league last year,” Lioli public relations officer Moeketsi Pitso said. “We have just spent M37 000 on soccer boots.” The state teams — LCS, LDF and LMPS — contrary to common belief are not rolling in money either. However, with availability of free transport and equipment, they remain much better off in comparison to the rest of Lesotho’s clubs. Lioli, with their growing appeal to sponsors, are in a more stable position. However, community sides like Butha-Buthe Roses and Mphatlalatsane for instance, have meagre budgets. Other clubs are funded almost single-handedly by individuals — Likhopo and Joy being examples. Another side on the shoulders of one man is Majantja, carried by Sello Matete. “I am delighted, Vodacom’s sponsorship will develop our game and lift spirits,” Matete said. “Every week I spend in excess of M3 000 on the team,” he added. “I looked after more than 80 percent of the team. I pay tuition fees for some and others I employ. But I don’t include that in the costs. I’m referring strictly to football costs. If I was to one day say I am leaving then there would be no team,” he said. And that is the situation at the moment — Lesotho’s football is not sustainable. Last season for example relegated Qacha’s Nek outfit Naughty Boys spent approximately M4 400 on each away trip, bringing the grand total to M66 000 spent on their 15 away trips. Naughty Boys received M8 500 for finishing 15th. “If it is used well then the sponsorship could help teams a lot. We got M9 500 for our league finish (12th) last season. That is not even enough to cover four away games,” Swallows president Mabote Masienyane said. “It might also help even the playing field, because even though our football is amateur there are teams (state teams) that you could say are semi-professional. Right now Swallows’ training sessions begin at 6pm. By that time other teams have already trained for two hours,” Masienyane said. “Remember they also have equipment and they are fed, we only have four balls here.” Indeed it is one of Lesotho football’s most damning indictments that top flight sides are short of footballs, cones or even bibs. Vodacom’s pumping of millions into the Premier League in particular could enable teams to worry less about trivial needs but still, the average expenditure of teams without more help will continue to grossly outweigh their income — bills which include league registration fees and ground taxes. “We could have been far if we had started working immediately after the Mohale Declaration,” Majantja’s Matete said. “Basotho are very good at talking but we should see a follow up.” Certainly right now the Mohale Declaration and a professional top-flight league look a long way from being a reality. While the reduction in the number of Premier League teams — from 16 to 12 — will begin this season, with the relegation of four teams and the promotion of two, other measures are still some way off. They include a club licensing system, a contract system for coaches and players, establishment of youth development leagues and the implementation of proper safety procedures at league games. In all these regards Lesotho has fallen some way behind the region’s other premier leagues, Botswana and Swaziland being pertinent examples. In particular those countries have embraced multiple sponsors in their football growth. It is something that may not happen in Lesotho because firstly, local companies remain reluctant to sponsor football and secondly, Lefa hasn’t yet covered itself in glory in its dealings with backers. Further still such an occurrence will not be possible if there is a Vodacom monopoly and Econet is now shunned. “It is all about improving conditions for football and reaching the goals that we set in Mohale. Slowly things are getting better and a sponsorship like this Vodacom one will help,” Linare general secretary Thato Molapo said. “(But) the only problem that I see personally is that this deal seems to close any possible deals with Econet. Across the border Vodacom, MTN and other rival companies all sponsor football,” Molapo added. “It is like now we will have to submit a report to Lefa if we want to associate with Econet.” Linare’s kit is emblazoned with Econet insignia and the Leribe side could be forced to ditch the kit. In June Lioli clinched a strategic business partnership deal with Econet; will they be forced to sever that partnership? “Football is supposed to be a business but at the moment it’s failing to be like that,” Matete said. It is failing dismally. The only side that has anything nearing a corporate sponsor are Matlama who have a “smart partnership” with Alliance — a deal that began in 2006 and whose fruits were finally reaped this July when Matlama received M85 000. Lioli launched a similar deal with Alliance earlier this year but are yet to reap rewards. “If there is someone who would like to sponsor us then we would be happy for it, like all other sides we struggle to make ends meet,” LDF spokesman Donny Nthakha said. That is why, amid the understandable excitement, there is a note of caution. These new-found riches are to help Lesotho’s clubs. “We shouldn’t find that the money is gone and we don’t know where it is,” Matete cautions. “There should be a clear direction of where the money is going. In other leagues teams get the money before the start of their season and they can plan for their season, here we are given in the middle of a campaign.” An example such as that may seem trivial, but it is vital; no matter how hard it is, operations should be run professionally. Referees need to be paid on time, and referees should pitch up for games. The country’s football grounds also remain a problem; they won’t be magically fixed by Vodacom’s injection. The Vodacom Premier League deal is undoubtedly an encouraging step — and as Bantu supporters have shown with their 50 000 plus Soccer Spectacular votes, people are ready to buy into the “brand”. But for Lesotho to compete in the region a lot more needs to be done. Transparent, consistent effort is needed.