The Vodacom Premier League campaign roared into life this weekend. The Sunday Express (SE) spoke to Premier League chairman Tlholo Letete (TL) on the prospects for the season.
The 2010/11 season comes on the back of a promising upsurge in the number of spectators watching league games. Sponsors from the corporate world are also finally coming on board, adding to the excitement.
However, the reality is that Lesotho’s elite league remains an amateur division with appalling facilities, little sponsorship, no television coverage and where footballers still play for nothing.
There are numerous areas where Lesotho needs to improve if local football is to be turned professional or at the very least semi-professional by 2014 as set out in the Mohale Declaration. Below are some of the excerpts:
SE: Last season saw a rise in the general mood around the Premier League. What are your expectations ahead of the new season?
TL: It is to go one or two steps further from last season. Last season ended on a very high note with people appreciating Lesotho’s football more. We want to stay on this upward curve. We are expecting to see improvements on and off the field. Lioli and Matlama football clubs are ahead when it comes to generating income. They have sponsors, they have merchandising, but we want to see that across the board. Lioli is talking about giving players contracts and these are the things we want to see from all clubs in the near future.
SE: What can you say about the increasing numbers of fans who are coming to watch league matches every week?
TL: It shows that our league is growing, that gradually the standard on the field is improving. Hopefully in two to three years we will be able to compete with our neighbours in the region. Currently there is a gap between our youth national teams and senior side. Our youth teams continue to perform well but once the players graduate into the senior team that is where you see the difference (with neighbouring countries). We need to work harder to improve the Premier League.
SE: The rising numbers of fans coming to watch high-profile matches puts a strain on security. What measures have you taken to ensure there is adequate security at matches?
TL: The league doesn’t have its own security; that is the responsibility of the clubs. We are looking at engaging clubs which have marshals and hire security guards and police.
We have introduced new measures this season. The referee now has the power to call off a match if he feels there is inadequate security at the ground. Club marshals should ensure security an hour before the game by separating fans of the two teams.
SE: What is the league’s position on alcohol at football grounds?
TL: It’s a complete and total ban. Alcohol is not allowed into grounds, only if it is in the stomach. The fans are there to enjoy themselves by watching football. We need them, but we are saying they should sacrifice (alcohol) for two hours for the good of the game. They can drink one or two before the game and then three afterwards. We bring our wives and children to the grounds and some of the things fans do when they are drunk are embarrassing. They spoil the name of the league.
SE: Will there be stricter penalties or punishment for clubs that fail to adhere to the rules this season?
TL: I don’t want to talk about penalties, the rules and regulations are there to be followed. We are expecting that we all learnt from last season and that those incidents of violence will not happen again because they tarnish the image of the league and derail progress.
SE: The Lioli and Matlama game has been scheduled for Teyateyaneng on December 12. Will the game be played there?
TL: The reason Lioli could not play at home last season was because their stadium had been banned. The ban is over. There is no reason for the game to be moved from TY.
SE: How important is this season in your bid to turn the Premier League professional or at least semi-professional by 2014?
TL: It is very important. Remember we are relegating four teams again this season so the expectation is that the quality is going to be high. The expectation is that better competition will attract more supporters and sponsors and help create a better product all-round.
SE: What incentives have you put in place for clubs that show initiative to improve?
TL: We are yet to discuss some of these issues.
SE: There has been talk that the Premier League needs to become an independent institution. Will this happen?
TL: There is a need for that independence, but that independence goes with responsibility and whether our members are ready to accept the responsibility. At this point in time I don’t believe that they are. For example, the registration fee for clubs for every season is just M700. If we were to go and rent an office, then man the office and oversee its day-to-day running we are talking about huge costs. I don’t see a project like that at the moment. That’s why it is important for clubs to be more effective financially, and in the coming weeks the Chairman’s Forum will meet and discuss this issue and hopefully set guidelines for clubs.
SE: The league has failed to check the state of football grounds ahead of the new season. When will this happen?
TL: We have again failed because we did not adhere to the timelines we had set; the grounds will have to be checked during the course of the season.
SE: Isn’t this a big failure on the part of the Premier League?
TL: Not really. It is a lack of commitment on the part of the clubs.
SE: But what will be done to rectify the situation?
TL: These are areas that we will have to discuss in the Chairman’s Forum and we hope that the clubs will realise that it is in their interest to change. The league is there in the name of the clubs, and the teams have to be seen to be receptive to development not just happy to receive the fixture (list) when it is released.
SE: The fixtures list was also only released last Sunday, a week before the start of the league, another let-down.
TL: It is part of the challenges that we face. Every year you think things will go smoothly but new challenges arise. The problem is we are using volunteers. You can only push a volunteer to a certain point.
SE: From this discussion it seems the Premier League’s focus this season is to improve the business side of the local game?
TL: I think that should be the focus. At the end of the day that is what will make the improvements that we wish for possible. If you want to revamp your ground or to hire quality skills, (you need) money.
SE: Finally, what do you want to hear yourself saying next May when the season is over?
TL: Everybody wants to look back and say that was a good job, that we exceeded all our expectations.