MASERU — October 30, 2008 is a date that may have changed the course of Lesotho football history.
On that Thursday last summer the Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) national executive committee (NEC) resolved that the country would not have representatives in the 2009 CAF Champions League.
The rightful owners of the honour then were LCS, the back-to-back league champions — in 2006/07 and 2007/08 — who were preparing for their second foray into African football.
But they had now been stripped of that honour.
It was a decision-making process that had begun a week earlier, on October 21, when LCS were called to a meeting at Bambatha by LEFA to be informed of the decision not to register the club in the Champions League.
Masheshena were given three reasons for their exclusion.
- There was no stadium of international standards in the country.
- The costs to relocate LCS’s home games to South Africa were too high and not budgeted for
- It was not in the best interests of Lesotho football to play in South Africa.
Instead LCS would now have to wait until 2010 to play in the continental showpiece — a place that was guaranteed by LEFA, irrespective of Masheshena’s final placing in their 2008/09 league campaign.
At the time it might have all seemed simple enough, LCS — as two-time defending champions — were possibly expected to steamroll all before them once more.
But they didn’t, Masheshena finished third. The 2008/09 champions instead were Lioli.
Now a year on, the repercussions of the NEC’s decision are being felt. LCS and Lioli are going head-to-head for Lesotho’s one and only slot in next year’s Champions League.
It’s a wrangle that began upon Lioli’s title victory in May with the Teyateyaneng outfit insisting that they as champions take part in Africa’s premier club competition.
And even though LEFA came out with an official position last month endorsing LCS’s participation in next year’s tournament, the row looks not closer to being resolved.
To this day Masheshena have not been officially informed whether or not they will participate in the 2010 Champions League.
Like the rest of Lesotho they remain in the dark.
It all smacks of the under-board debacle that took place last year when poor communication, poor planning and little transparency, resulted in the non-registration of LCS.
On two accounts the handling of last year’s Champions League affair was deeply fraught.
lThe 2007/08 league season had concluded in May; however no talks had taken place between LEFA and club until late October, even though it was known the Setsoto Stadium would not be available to host CAF fixtures.
lThe October 31 deadline for Champions League registration conveyed by LEFA to LCS was later found to be incorrect.
The cut-off date was in fact November 30.
It was that haste to get things in order before the supposed deadline that the meeting of October 21 was held.
But after no conclusive agreement was reached at the meeting LCS were then sent a correspondence on October 30 from LEFA informing the club that a final decision had been made.
LCS were not going to be registered in the Champion League because of “the lack of CAF compliant facilities in the country as the only complying stadium the Setsoto Stadium is currently undergoing an upgrade expected to be completed in May 2009”.
In effect LEFA’s top brass had congregated one day before the closing date and, with no consultation with LCS, forfeited the club of their place.
To soften the blow it was decided Masheshena would play in the championship in 2010 — the obvious get out clause.
“The NEC resolved that LCS will be registered in the 2010 edition of the CAF Champions League irrespective of the log position at the end of the 2008/09 season” LEFA said.
Shocked LCS demanded clarity, and an emergency meeting with the governing body was arranged for the following day (Friday, October 31).
After lengthy deliberations it was finally agreed that LCS would indeed be registered in the 2009 Champions League — this would be done by LEFA straight after the meeting.
However that never happened, as LCS would discover the following week. Masheshena had missed the phantom Champions League registration deadline.
On November 4 LCS sent a dispatch to LEFA stating their displeasure at the fate handed to them.
Masheshena’s disquiet was straightforward. Lesotho’s national team were at the time playing their 2010 AFCON/World Cup home qualifiers in Bloemfontein because of Setsoto’s unavailability.
LCS wanted to do the same.
And because Masheshena had been told Setsoto would be opened in May they reasoned only two games at most would be played on foreign soil.
Furthermore LCS were willing to top-up LEFA on any extra costs of playing abroad.
The budgeted expenditure for away games in Bloemfontein was M458 450 compared to M185 000 for home games.
But LEFA’s stance was set in stone; they would not send a team to the Champions League.
LEFA argued that Likuena had been registered in their qualifiers before it was known that Setsoto would be unavailable to host games. (Renovations of Setsoto began in January 2008).
And in the start of what would be tit-for-tat correspondences, LEFA sent a retort to LCS on November 5.
“On its own budget, the Lesotho Football Association cannot host matches (officials) in South Africa due to the huge financial outlay associated with such a practice. Such activity (playing club competition) in South Africa will not be in the best interests of LCS FC nor that of the Lesotho Football Association,” LEFA said.
“On the issue of the Lesotho senior team (Likuena) having played its home matches in South Africa, you will recall that by the time renovations began on Setsoto Stadium, LEFA had already registered to take part in the 2010 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. If the country was to withdraw on the eve of the games such action would have had negative financial consequences on the country and association,” LEFA stated.
After further fruitless communications between the two parties, LEFA and LCS met again on November 18. But once more no consensus was reached. Instead it was a tempestuous round-table where LEFA’s representatives walked out.
On November 20 came a further twist.
Through information sourced from South Africa, LCS discovered that the deadline for Champions League registration was in fact November 30 not October 31.
The information came from a correspondence CAF had sent to its major associations (Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Egypt, South Africa, Ghana, DR Congo, Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa and Tunisia) in June titled the “Engagement of the 13th Edition of the CAF Champions League for the year 2009”.
It stated “Your (national association’s) application for engagement must reach the General Secretariat in Cairo by November 30 3008, this being the closing date for accepting engagements. In case of emergency, engagements can be sent by fax to be followed by the necessary documents.
These documents must reach the Secretariat by December 15.”
No doubt stunned and relieved LCS wrote to LEFA on November 21.
“Following the deadlock (in our meeting), we heard allegations that the CAF Champions League registration closes on November 30 not the October 31 LEFA had said in our meeting, we sought information and got it.
“We humbly appeal to your office to help us register our team in the 2009 CAF Champions League as we feel that LEFA has not done its best to fulfil its mandate in this regard,” LCS said.
LCS also protested to the Lesotho Sport and Recreation Commission.
And on November 25 a meeting between LEFA and LCS, chaired by the LSRC, was held. But once again there was stalemate.
After failing to get a favourable resolution from the LSRC, Masheshena sought intervention from CAF and wrote a letter to Africa’s governing body prior to the November 30 deadline.
On December 1 a response from CAF arrived and was forwarded to both LCS and LEFA.
“We would like to recommend you (LEFA) to be more flexible by re-examining the request of LCS FC in order to allow them to take part in our main clubs competitions particularly (as) they are ready to play their games in a neutral ground outside Lesotho. Since the bureau of the inter-clubs committee is going to meet on December 4 to the 2009 fixtures, we would be grateful if you could re-examine this issue in a favourable way,” CAF said.
That didn’t happen.
Instead LEFA, irked by LCS’s communiqué with CAF, wrote to governing body rebuking them for communicating with a club side behind their back.
That is why when LCS sent a correspondence to CAF on January 5 seeking clarification on their Champions League future CAF didn’t responded.
“We have observed that the fixture for the 2009 Champions League has been drawn but our team has not been fixtured. We fall under the Lesotho Football Association which has decided not to register us for vague reasons. We sought help from your office. You wrote to LEFA and sent us copies but we do not know what the end result of your communication with LEFA was,” LCS said in that dispatch.
But LCS were to never hear from CAF again. The matter was shelved, and Lioli won the league.
Fast forward to August 2009 and the Champions League quandary has multiplied. And once again it is unclear what the final outcome will be.
For LEFA their biggest dilemma is they promised LCS a Champions League place clearly without planning for a situation where the champions in 2008/09 would not be LCS, or further still the fairytale that would be Lioli’s league win.
Furthermore the touted Premier League chairman’s meetings last year are not where the decision to select LCS as Lesotho’s Champions League representatives was taken, they were just confirmation of what LEFA’s NEC had decided in October last year.
In any case Premier League chairman’s forums have no executive power.
For the moment the Champions League issue remains in the air.
The simple truth at the moment is that LCS will play in the Champions League without the tag of Lesotho’s champions, and lacking the right to rub shoulders with Africa’s elite.
And if LCS does end up venturing into the Africa showpiece, will Lioli then be promised participation in 2011?
Yet LCS are victims too because just as last year Masheshena have been treated shabbily, deprived of information and shunned by the national association.
But the uppermost, and unspoken problem, remains Setsoto.
The stadium, only due to open in April next year, has been plagued by countless delays so much so that it is not inconceivable that Lesotho may once again find itself without a Champions League team to support in 2010.
The biggest ball is in LEFA’s court though. Whatever decision is taken on the 2010 Champions League, two wrongs don’t make a right.