A season marred by violence

A season marred by violence

Luciah Phahla

Maseru – The start to the 2016/17 Vodacom Premier League season has been marred by violence.
It all began in September when Bantu fans assaulted match assessor Moeketsi Moholobela following a 1-0 defeat to Kick4Life.
Bantu were subsequently fined M20 000, half of which was suspended for the rest of the season, and ordered to play one match behind closed doors.
But Bantu’s punishment did little to serve as a deterrent.

Two weekends ago an even worse incident occurred when a Matlama supporter was fatally shot during clashes with Lioli fans after a league tie at Setsoto Stadium.
The altercation was sparked after Matlama supporters invaded the pitch with Lioli leading 2-1. ‘Tse Putsoa’ fans attempted to attack the referee causing the match to be abandoned in what was another disturbing illustration of the disregard and lack of safety at league games.
If that were not enough, this past weekend players joined in the chaos as a match between Lesotho Defence Force and Bantu at Ratjomose was called off after fighting between players.
Needless to say, the image of the league and Lesotho football has been tarnished.
On Tuesday thepost sat down with Premier League general manager Baitsi Motsamai to discuss an apparent and worrying violence pandemic in Lesotho’s top-flight of football.

We have seen disturbing violence this season, what’s the Premier League’s response to these incidents?

We totally condemn it; we do not want to see violence at our playgrounds at all costs. We have been trying hard to bring back a favourable image of football, this thing of fighting at playgrounds and games not finishing is taking us back to where we don’t want to go. So, yes, the league is not happy at all with this.

Why are we still seeing this violence? Who is responsible for ensuring security at the grounds, the league or clubs?

For league games, the host team is the one responsible for making sure everything is in order, that police are there, that there is security and, most importantly, that there are marshals. It seems that our teams have been taking this for granted; their attitude is ‘we know nothing will happen’. And if you look right now, our league is very tight. For example, there is a six point difference from number two to number 10 (in the league standings).
If all the top teams lose and you win as the team in 10th place, you go straight to the top.
So it’s a lot of pressure for our teams to win (and) that is why we see a lot of this violence. When they lose they will blame all sorts of things and it starts all these things (of violence).

Do you invite police to every Premier League match? If not, is it possible that not seeing uniformed police officers at the ground may give fans freedom to cause violence?

It is possible. In fact, as we speak we are from a meeting with (Lesotho Mounted Police Service) Senior Superintendent Motlatsi Mapola regarding this issue.
We need police visibility at our playgrounds. What we have realised is that some of the teams have not been writing to the police to alert them about the games they are playing.
Remember we have categorised our games into two. We have the A category and B category. The A category is your Matlamas, your Bantus, your Liolis.

When those three teams play each other we have a resolution that the games should only be played at Setsoto Stadium for the sole reason of security concerns.
There must be a space demarcated to each team. So it seems as if our teams are taking this for granted, but right now we are taking steps to curb these instances of violence.

Are you concerned that these incidents will drive current and potential sponsors away?

Indeed, there is a huge concern. Our main concern is our sponsors. The violence has brought us into disrepute and exposed our sponsors very badly. And it is not going to be easy to calm sponsors down and assure them that we are taking steps to stop violence at our grounds.

Would it be correct to say the fine given to Bantu was inadequate? Is it fair to say teams don’t fear the consequences of their actions as a result?

There is a feeling, yes. We have heard that when talking with people. For me personally, I have heard from people saying that maybe the league was lenient in terms of punishment.
If the team is going to be fined M20 000 and half will be suspended, it makes others have an attitude that ‘we know are going to be given the same punishment’. So we would like to be strict right now. We have taken some big steps to give heavy punishment (in future).
We engaged our teams on that security issue and conveyed to them that as the league we are not happy with their organisation of security.

Teams are complaining about the intimidation tactics, such as rough and physical play, used by Lesotho Defence Force which contributed to the abandonment of LDF’s match against Bantu on Sunday. What is the league’s view on this?

This one of LDF players intimidating others, if it’s teams talking out there that LDF intimidates opposition players at Ha Ratjomose, it’s something we cannot take up.
If teams have a problem, they should write to the Premier League and state we are not satisfied with this and that and we will look at it and see what is really going on.
But if they are just talking, it could be something being discussed at the playgrounds.

For games involving teams like LMPS, Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) and LDF where they are supposed to provide security, won’t there be a conflict of interest in a match where their teams are playing?
That situation is very difficult, let me give you an example on the regulation we have for these security teams, your LDF, your LCS and your LMPS.
We said because they already have or provide that kind of security we want, they should provide security at their games.

But you know we still have that tension between police and soldiers in the country so it is not possible for police to go to Ratjomose to provide security.
What we actually did say is that these three teams should provide security on their own. Let’s say soldiers, for example; we want to see a certain amount of soldiers in uniform and that will report themselves as providing security for the league game in question.
We did that for LCS, we did that for LMPS as well. All other games that do not have a conflict of interest. In this case teams can use the police.

How will the Premier League deal with the growing number of outstanding games? Will the first round finish on time? How is the league going to ensure it does?

We are actually trying to work on that to make sure that teams are level on games played and that is why we have midweek games now. We are going to try and have all the games that are behind played during the week.
You would remember that the national Under-20 team is going to the COSAFA Under-20 Championships (December 7 to 16), so we want to finish our games by December.
Every team has to have played its 13 (first round) matches, so that when we start the second round next year no team is behind. So we are trying to catch-up by playing outstanding matches in midweek, starting this week.

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