LESOTHO Football Association President, Salemane Phafane and Secretary General, Mokhosi Mohapi recently attended the Confederations of African Football (CAF) symposium in Morocco where a lot of changes were adopted by the congress.
Lesotho Times (LT) Reporter, Mikia Kalati recently interviewed LeFA secretary general Mokhosi Mohapi on this and other issues pertaining to the administration of football in the country as well as the performances of the national teams.
Below are the excerpts of the interview.
LT: You were part of the LeFA delegation that attended the CAF symposium in Morocco. What are your views concerning the decisions adopted by the symposium?
Mohapi: There is a new CAF leadership with a new vision for football on the African continent. The purpose of the symposium was to debate issues ranging from competitions to coaching development in Africa. There were several positive outcomes that came out of the symposium for the betterment of football. Although there are some quarters in the football fraternity and media which have divergent views on the resolutions that have been adopted, most of the football family are optimistic about the outcomes.
There was also an interesting discussion about the relationship between member associations and governments.
There has always been the issue of autonomy of football associations from government and it was agreed that creating an atmosphere of trust between the two is very important.
Going forward you will see both parties working harmoniously while balancing the responsibilities of government and the autonomy of football associations.
LT: What do you make of the increased number of teams to play at the Africa Cup of Nations from the 2019 edition of the tournament from 16 to 24?
Mohapi: The time is now opportune for CAF to position its competitions to a bigger audience, particularly the flagship, African Cup of Nations (AFCON).
UEFA has 54 members association and has a 24-team competition, AFC has a 24-team competition.
CAF has 54 members and having a 16-team competition denies some unpolished gems the chance to compete at the biggest stage.
A bigger competition not only gives opportunities to smaller countries but also means a better platform to attract media, broadcasting revenue and many other opportunities for the host countries.
Some may argue that it puts too much pressure onto the host countries regarding infrastructural development costs.
However, I strongly believe that we took that route to provide platforms for African players to gain the requisite exposure.
LT: Were there any financial incentives adopted at the symposium like assisting federations ahead of their national teams’ participation at the Africa Cup of Nations as well as the PAN African competitions?
Mohapi: CAF has given to the member associations incentives for referees’ indemnity for international matches. CAF has also given each association money to be used exclusively for youth development. The indemnity allocations help the associations a great deal because referees are paid in American dollars and there will always be fluctuations in the exchange rates.
LT: Now that there will be financial assistance from CAF, will that help Lesotho to have two representatives in the PAN African competition by also having a team taking part in the Confederations Cup?
Mohapi: Not really. Hosting an international match costs no less than M400 000 and the cost of away matches depends on the venue but it is also expensive.
The financial assistance is only for referees’ indemnity not for the teams. There is a small fund that FIFA provides for travel expenses for the associations that have been classified as having the most needs.
Still, that fund does not cater for the expenses of hosting the home matches. At this stage it is more of a dream to have two teams in the inter-club competitions unless government sponsors them. Given that there is a new government in place, we remain hopeful that things will be different.
LT: Do you think the increased number of teams at competitions boosts our chances of finally qualifying for the competition?
Mokhosi: Definitely. Currently we have one team in the inter-club competitions and this limits the number of players who get international exposure ahead of national team engagements. Having two teams will benefit the teams as well Likuena and the under 20 and under 17 national teams.
LT: Likuena was recently knocked out of the CHAN competition by Comoros. How disappointing was it for the association for the team to be knocked out by the Islanders?
Mokhosi: The sooner I forget about this episode of our football the better. It was really heart breaking to see Likuena play so well in the COSAFA against Zimbabwe and Tanzania and then go down to Comoros. I feel for the players and technical team and of course the supporters, I know how bad it feels.
Without blaming anyone at all, I believe that it is time we woke up and smelt the coffee. We need to focus on the task on hand, that is qualification for the CAF Nations Cup in 2019. Remember there are 24 berths for the Cup of Nations in 2019. We are at this stage bound to call up our foreign based players to bolster the current team.
We need to redeem ourselves and push to be among countries with the zest to participate at the highest level. It is possible but we should go at it together not as individuals at the expense of the country. Ka Sesotho re re bohlale ha bo ahele ntlong e le ngoe, re boetse re re lehlanya lea bokaneloa. Simply put, together we can.
LT: The team also recently participated at the regional COSAFA Cup. Are you satisfied with their performance?
Mohapi: Regarding the COSAFA CUP, I think our team has become one of the teams to beat. However, we need to live up to the perceived status. It is not enough to reach the semi-finals but miss out on the finals.
Yes we have qualified for the semi-finals for the second time in six or so years but we should be aiming to play in the finals. The good thing is that the coach achieved the benchmark set for him. The next is to qualify for AFCON. He can only achieve this if he is willing to work with others.
LT: CAF and FIFA are under new leadership of Ahmad Ahmad and Gianni Infantino respectively. How is LeFA’s relationship with the two leaders compared to Issa Hayatou (former CAF president) and Sepp Blatter (former FIFA president)?
Mohapi: I do not think it is fair to compare the two sets of leaders. Never-the-less, LeFA has a wonderful relationship with the new leadership of world and continental football. We are making our contribution to football today. The yesteryear was mostly top-down, today it’s a bottom up approach. There is a lot of interaction with the leadership. This is by way of the many conferences and symposia where football issues are discussed.
LT: Lesotho has a new government that has been very supportive of LeFA. The Sports minister and the Prime Minister have been to a number of your events and rallying support for the national team in their recent games. How helpful is that to the association?
Mokhosi: We appreciate the stance that the new government has taken. It ushers in a new approach and direction which has been missing in the past.
We hope the relationship is sustainable because it will benefit the most important people in the matrix, namely the players. We should therefore strive to solidify the relationship. The players should understand their roles and begin to win matches and qualify for bigger things.
It is a bit early to be assessing the relationship in relation to sports development. I think it is proper for the Ministry of Gender and Youth, Sport and Recreation and the Lesotho Sport and Recreation Commission to hold a symposium to draw a road map for local sports development, local competitions and international participation. It’s time we started afresh without pointing fingers but rather appreciating that we are all in this together and we need each other.
LT: Where to from here for Likuena since their next competitive assignments are in 2018 when they play Cape Verde in the AFCON qualifiers?
Mohapi: We all have an equal footing in our group. We play Cape Verde in March 2018. By that time, we need to have struck up a relationship with all stakeholders so that we prepare well.
I think if the team starts preparations in October this year for the local legion and then bring in the foreign legion merge them in January, we will have a strong team by then.
We should not be afraid of calling our South African based players to the team. We have a number of players who are with the big teams in the South African Premier League. We have one at Kaizer Chiefs who has agreed to play for Likuena, one at Chippa United, one at Bidvest Wits, one at How Mine in Zimbabwe, a number in the Mvela League and Makhele who should up come for the team whilst it was only known as the ‘Special force.’ We also have Sunny in the US. If we do our homework meticulously we can unearth more players to strengthen our team. It should be noted that I am not insinuating that the current team lacks what it takes for them to qualify but that we need to use the best that we have at our disposal to push our quest to qualify for the flagship competition.
LT: How do you rate Likuena’s chances of qualifying from a group that has Uganda, Tanzania and Cape Verde?
Mohapi: The team has very good chances of qualifying for its first AFCON ever. At this stage we have achieved a good result against Tanzania by playing to a 1 – all away from home. We would be worried if it had been a 0 – 0 draw but at this stage its fine. We need to bear in mind the opportunity and strive towards achieving it for the nation. Uganda is strong but remember we held them to a draw here at home. Cape Verde is the only team that is a closed book to us. Remember they (Cape Verde) are trying to get their players of Portuguese origin hence my emphasis on the need to also bring our foreign players. We stand a very good chance and we need to grab the opportunity and not gamble with the process.
LT: They have been calls for the LeFA president to step down and make way for fresh ideas. What is your feeling on that?
Mohapi: I will not comment on this one. I am an employee of LeFA and I will comment on the politics of the football association. I respect the confidentiality clause in my contract.
LT: Why is it that our junior national team hardly play except at regional competitions such as the COSAFA under-20 tournament?
Mohapi: It is a worrying factor that our youth teams are hardly engaged. NEC resolved to avail funds for establishment of a national under-17 league under the administration of the Premier League (all premier league clubs are supposed to register an under-17 team). But due to logistical challenges the league could not take off. As a result, there was no basis for the enrolment of an under-17 team in either the COSAFA tournament that is currently underway or the CAN Under 17. We, as the NEC, met with the league and the matter has been resolved. We anticipate that the Under-17 league will start in September. We now have a very strong women’s national team, thanks to the commencement of the national women league – the Super League.
The team has played in a satisfactory manner ever since we have had a league and the players are selected from the league and one from Bloemfontein Celtic in South Africa. We are desirous of enrolling the team in the upcoming COSAFA Women Competition in Zimbabwe in September and we believe that the team will do very well.
LT: After Likuena’s disappointing performance against Comoros, the feeling among the football fraternity is that the team needs all the best players including Basia Makepe and Tšepo Seturumane. Is there a chance that the association will resolve contentious issues between itself and the players so that they return to the national team set-up?
Mohapi: While there was a general feeling that LeFA declared some players persona non grata (unwelcome or undesirable persons), that is not true.
The players wrote letters to the association and Basia requested to be given time off while Tsepo stated that he was retiring from international football. The association respected both positions.
Kopano had written letters too but you saw him playing throughout the AFCON qualifiers, the COSAFA tournament as well as the CHAN qualifiers and he played very well.
He played so well that he attracted the interest of one or two teams in South Africa. There are some issues that we need to look into regarding the players who get called up to the national team.
We should create a harmonious environment that is conducive for them so that there is a mutual benefit.
Some of the players are heads of their families and we need to assess their situations carefully. For those who work, we need to strike a relationship with their employers to ensure that the players do not lose out on their salaries or create an environment where they cannot fully concentrate on their national football duties worrying about their loss of income.
We need to work out scenarios that will satisfy all stakeholders.
When Basia and Tsepo are ready to return to the national team, they will write to us like they did when they requested to be excused.
They will be accepted back into the team without even asking for reasons. They are bona fide Basotho nationals who deserve to represent the country. LeFA has nothing against them or any player. I do not have knowledge of any player who has been suspended by the association to an extent that they were ineligible for selection.