During the decade that preceded the Covid-19 crisis, football seemed to be on the rise in popularity and was enjoying a continuous increase in revenue.
The crisis has put stress on football governance with the question on how to share the wealth created in a sector that is no longer growing let alone now, not playing.
Contact sport was suspended, first in the wake of the pandemic in April 2020 but was partially allowed back in September partially with most sports taking place without spectators.
However, contact sport was soon suspended again in January 2021 due to the Covid-19 third wave. It was to be allowed back again in April, with a limited capacity of spectators.
Without spectators, this meant football clubs could not make an income from gate-takings on which they rely mostly.
Out of the 16 Vodacom Premier League (VPL) teams only Bantu, Likhopo, Kick4Life, Matlama, Lioli, Linare, Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) and Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) have financial backing in a form of sponsorships. The other eight teams heavily depend on the gate-takings for their survival.
The Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated the tensions and structural problems of football, that is, its low profitability and significant disparities between clubs. In the long term, the crisis has disrupted the strategies of investors who had bet on continued growth in the sector.
Companies such as Lesotho National Insurance Group (LNIG), Vodacom Lesotho, Econet Telecom Lesotho, Alliance Insurance Company, Metropolitan Lesotho and Matekane Group of Companies are some of the corporates who had been investing towards growth of the sport locally.
At this point those who have some form of income are the players, coaches and staff from clubs which continue to receive financial support from their sponsors. For instance, Matlama players and staff have been getting half their salaries for almost a year and half since the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
â€œEverything has changed since the pandemic, we get half salaries now, it is over a year and contracts are also ending while the uncertainty continues,â€ said one of Matlama players, Makume Theletsane.
â€œIt is not just the financial aspect of it but the mental part as well; all we do is to try stay strong though this thing is disturbing our minds a lot.
â€œEverything has changed in our lives because we are used to playing football and now most of us have nothing to do,â€ Theletsane said.
The player said getting half the salary is a lot better than nothing although still not enough. Theletsane was one of the players who contracted Covid-19 when the virus rocked a number of the VPL teams in the wake of the third wave in May 2021.
However, the player said the virus is but just a flu that should not be allowed to stop the beautiful game.
â€œI think we should just continue like European countries where they live like there is nothing like that there because there is nothing we can do. This thing is merely just a flu which eventually with remedies can be treated,â€ Theletsane explained.
Meanwhile, speaking on behalf of Kick4Life management, the teamâ€™s Media Officer Reitumetse Tlopo noted that the situation was very frustrating.
â€œIt has been a very frustrating situation not only for management but players also, as for some of them football is work and gives them an income so it has been tough times,â€ said Tlopo.
He indicated that as Kick4Life they are grateful for the financial injection through their sponsorship with Liberty Lesotho which has been constantly supporting them.
On the other hand, Spokesperson of the PLMC, Qamako Mahao reiterated that this has been by far the worst season in the history of football in the country.
â€œTeams were playing without spectators and if you look at it that badly affected their finances,â€ Mahao said.
â€œThe way our football is set up is dependent on the spectators and sponsors but now the situation has forced us to play without spectators while potential sponsors are faced with tough challengesâ€ said Mahao.