THE Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) last week accused the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) of discriminating sports by crafting impractical Covid-19 regulations as a prerequisite for the resumption of sports activities.
This follows Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s announcement last week that it was now safe for the return of sports after the lifting of the Covid-19-induced suspension in January 2021.
However, Majoro said for sports to return, teams and associations must ensure that athletes are kept in restricted camps until the end of their respective seasons and competitions.
When I learnt of the directive, I thought it was absurd because most teams and associations do not have the capacity to fund such camps.
And it did not take long before LeFA also responded to NACOSEC’s regulations with similar scorn and made it clear that local teams cannot afford to follow them. In a story published in our sister paper, the Sunday Express, LeFA expressed shock that NACOSEC had decided to open up the entertainment industry and churches, which all have huge audiences. Worse still, churches and the entertainment industry are not mandated to test people on entrance. They are also not mandated to put people in camp.
In his response, NACOSEC risk communications manager Baroane Phenethi said their decisions are driven by the need to protect the masses.
While Phenethi’s response was the correct one, in sports terms it sounds inconsiderate. It suddenly hit home that Lesotho is a country that that lives in the bygones and treats sports as a mere hobby and not an industry like other developed and progressive countries.
While the Covid-19 pandemic is a disaster, the biggest disaster is failing to adjust to survive during and after the pandemic. It seems like we are living in our own world and are not alive to the strides that other countries are making in with sports.
We have 16 teams in the Vodacom Premier League that have a minimum of 35 players and seven technical team members who depend on income from their teams. This means these are at least 700 people who are facing starvation because of lack of football action.
Even for teams that are not paying monthly salaries to their players, they still must assist their players in some way.
So, while Phenethi, and by extension, NACOSEC is right that they are trying to save people, it is unfair to put a pause on people’s livelihoods because we cannot plan. South Africa, just next door, has some of the highest numbers of Covid-19 infections on the continent, but has been forging ahead with sports.
Thereby, the disruption on people’s lives is minimal. Can we not learn one or two things from that?
Another reason cited by NACOSEC for giving rigorous conditions for sports to resume is that during sports activities, it is difficult to control people. While this is true for fans at matches, it cannot be true for athletes. Can it be worse than controlling drunk people? NACOSEC’s reasoning suggests that it is easier to control drunk people than to control sports people; professionals who are going about their business for survival.
It is my hope that sports people unite and approach NACOSEC so that it rethinks the decisions. Of course, Covid-19 has killed lots of people and we must take every precaution there is but lives cannot stop. Sports people, like taxi operators who have been allowed to carry full loads despite the real threat of Covid-19, are also human and must survive.
Lesotho is supposed to host the Africa Union Sport Council Games in December this year and one wonders how federations will fund camps until December with the existing restrictions.
NACOSEC must surely be realistic if we are to have any sports to talk of after the pandemic.