By Teboho Molapo
MASERU — About 140 kilometres away from LMPS’s dusty Old Europa ground in Maseru lies the world-class Vodacom Stadium in Bloemfontein.
The contrast between the two grounds could not have been sharper.
The two grounds only highlight the chasm in class and standards between the two neighbouring countries.
The Old Europa ground, a dusty potato field, is a world away from qualifying as a top-flight football ground.
For instance, in September, the LMPS ground was the scene of a Vodacom Premier League match between LMPS and Lioli where gas masks were needed as dust swirled around the desert-like ground.
The Nthane Brothers Holdings Independence Cup in October was also tainted by dusty conditions at the Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena, spoiling what was an outstanding tournament all-round.
And now with the heavens pouring relentlessly it is more than likely the premiership will be hit by several postponements before the end of the month.
In the greater scheme of things the state of most of the country’s grounds shows that Lesotho’s top-flight league is still very much a boozer’s league.
This is at odds with the Lesotho Football Association (Lefa)’s ambition to turn the league into a semi-professional outfit by the beginning of the 2012/3 season and professional by 2014.
But instead of improving, Lesotho’s football grounds remain a health hazard to players and spectators alike.
For a club like LMPS — a police side with manpower to fix their ground — theirs is a shameful situation.
Because of playing on dusty fields Lesotho’s football players might find themselves consulting medical doctors for help.
Dr Teboho Lekhanya, who heads the Lesotho Football Association’s (Lefa) medical committee, told the Sunday Express in a recent interview that footballers face limitless risks in the course of duty.
Lekhanya says the country’s pitches pose a serious risk to players’ health.
“The dust goes into the nose and subsequently to the lungs and that is dangerous. Of course the dust also hurts the eyes,” Lekhanya says.
“If a person has allergies it is possible they may contract bronchitis or simply end up with lungs that are filled with dust.”
Lekhanya believes there are players who are plying their trade in the premiership who are already suffering from these illnesses.
“Those who have been in the game long enough will have these conditions, especially because there are no check-ups,” Lekhanya says.
“About 10 to 20 percent of a population normally suffer from allergies,” he says.
Few clubs have shown enough of an interest in improving their grounds and the situation is made worse by the Premier League’s toothless approach in dealing with the issue.
Currently LCS and LDF are the only sides in Lesotho’s elite league that own grassed grounds.
LCS captain Moitheri Ntobo, who played professionally in Tunisia, is among players who are dismayed by the state of football grounds in the country.
“It hampers us a lot, sometimes it becomes dusty and you can’t do anything, you can’t see and it can be difficult to breathe,” Ntobo says.
He says ankle and knee injuries are prevalent amongst players while others suffer severe bruises.
The wear and tear caused by fields could perhaps explain the lack of players in their 30s who are still playing at the highest level in Lesotho.
LDF striker and former Likuena international Lire Phiri, who is 32, is now on the verge of retirement because of a litany of knee and ankle injuries.
This is the same Phiri who just two years ago almost single-handedly led LDF to the league title, only for Sohle-Sohle to finish a point behind Lioli.
A closer look across the board shows a dearth of so-called older players.
Matlama have one first-team player in Lehlohonolo Mokhele who is over 30 while Lioli’s lone ranger is Thabile Secker who now serves mostly as an assistant coach and is not a first-team regular.
In contrast, Ivory Coast and Chelsea striker Didier Drogba is 33 and looks as though he is improving with age.
He is one of a number of international stars who are on the other side of 30.
Undeniably there are external factors which limit playing age in Lesotho amateur football, the need for employment and steady income, ill-disciplined lifestyles or even age-cheating. But in an age where footballers are playing longer because of advances in training methods and equipment, the veteran player in Lesotho is the exception rather than the norm and the standard of fields could be a major reason.
“There are many players (in Lesotho), even though I wouldn’t want to name names, who have had (health) problems after they stopped playing,” Ntobo adds.
Clubs meanwhile complain that they don’t have the money to improve their grounds.
Swallows for an example are a community club from Mazenod.
Maswai-swai president Mabote Masienyane says the club is trying but there is little they can do.
“We have tried to patch up some of the areas. We are dependant on the money we get from the league. Apart from that it comes from our pockets,” Masienyane says.