MASERU — Football fans have applauded the security measures introduced by the Lesotho Football Association (Lefa) at the Top Four finals held at the Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena last weekend.
For possibly the first time, a visible and sizeable security presence was apparent at a local club event.
Along with a handful of police officers, security guards and marshals were also on duty.
Vehicles were checked at the entrance to Bambatha and were not allowed into the main venue.
Motorists had to park their cars on the open grounds outside the stadium.
Supporters were searched at the main gate.
They were subjected to body checks before they could be allowed into the match venue.
The checks caused congestion at the entrance — which is what Basotho do not particularly like — but were necessary at such public gatherings.
It is how things are done elsewhere, and as the 2010 Fifa World Cup comes to the country’s shores, it is time for local football to also get out of the Dark Ages.
Lefa deserves a pat on the back for the measures that were introduced.
The question now is whether this can be maintained at all football grounds, at all times.
Recent months have seen a rise in incidents of crowd violence; Pitso Ground and Roma being prime examples.
And in a season where, for the first time, four Premiership teams will be relegated and one which has seen the revival of fanatic district teams Lioli, Matlama and Bantu — all in contention for the championship — there will be tension at grounds in the run-in.
“It’s much better; I hope Lefa do it all the time. We are here to watch football not to fight, but sometimes disturbances are started by people who are not even in the stadium, but outside,” Simon Phoolo, a spectator at the Top Four, said.
Unfortunately, the majority of football grounds are in a terrible state and that is the biggest problem for Lefa.
It is hard to see how Swallows’ Mazenod Stadium or even Lioli’s home-ground and Pitso Ground could accommodate similar security measures.
It is also very expensive for clubs to get private security without help, which is usually needed because police normally avail a few officers for such gatherings.
“It is expensive for the teams. At least we are able to provide our own security,” LCS’s general secretary Lehlohonolo Matlosa says.
Although the Top Four was a relative success, the biggest test of the rules comes when there is a high-profile match involving the country’s crowd-pullers.
Again, there was no real separation of fans from rival teams at the Top Four finals.
It is something the football authorities will have to get right when Lioli, Matlama and Bantu play each other, for instance.
“You can’t put Matlama and Lioli together at Pitso Ground, and only separate them by tape. Today it’s Lioli against government teams (LDF, LMPS, LCS) which don’t have much support but had it been Bantu, it would be a different story,” one fan told the Sunday Express.
The ban on alcohol is not universally approved and dissenting voices were also heard on Sunday.
“There is no reason why beer should not be allowed into stadiums. The people who spoil the game are referees; whether you are drunk or not, you will get angry,” one fan says.
But in Lesotho — where drinking has become a culture — a complete ban on alcohol seems the only way forward until grounds can offer proper security checks.
In most countries, alcohol is not allowed inside stadiums.
However, alcohol can be purchased inside the stadium where it is sold strictly in plastic containers.
Such countries also have massive security at matches, to prevent any crowd trouble.
At Bambatha, although some fans complained it was not the same raucous beer-induced atmosphere, it was a family environment which could attract a different genre of fans to football grounds.
There was also grass on the pitch and the players were able to strut their stuff; that’s what Lesotho football deserves.
The last word goes to Matšepo Koloti, a Lioli fan with a simple message.
“It’s a good thing that alcohol has been banned. Fans are not here to drink beer; they are here to watch football,” she insists.
Fans indeed, are not at football grounds to drink; they are there to watch football. And if the football authorities and local governments realise the importance of improving stadia, supporters’ first thoughts won’t be alcohol.