MASERU-A lot has been said about the impact of Covid-19 on football and what the game will look like after the pandemic.
One thing many agree on is that the women’s game is in great danger and is likely to be severely affected globally.
Lesotho’s women’s football is in a similar uncertain situation and the timing could not have been worse because the game was beginning to gain momentum.
The Women’s Super League (WSL) is the country’s top-flight league and has been running for five years.
The league is amateur and players do not get salaries from their clubs with most of them still at school pursuing their studies. The big question now is what effect COVID-19 will have on the women’s game.
This week thepost sat down with Chris Bullock who is one of the WSL’s directors to discuss the pandemic’s impact on women’s football.
Bullock reckoned the WSL may not be severely affected financially but he admitted the impetus it had gathered will certainly be dented.
However, Bullock also suggested the pandemic may accelerate change and bring growth to football in the country.
He acknowledged that more developed leagues will be hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic but Bullock said this is a chance for the local game to come back better and stronger.
thepost: What are the impacts of the current situation on the women’s game?
Bullock: The first impact is on the current season.
Obviously, just like the men, the (women’s) season has been halted. We are not playing any games and we were left with four games to go (in the league). What is sad is that it was turning out to be one of the most exciting seasons of the Women’s Super League.
We are still hoping we can come back but, like men, we don’t know if we will get back and, even if it does come back, which we hope it will, the season has obviously been disrupted.
We had planned to have a Top 4 tournament (but) we don’t know if it will still happen or if it will get delayed. I think the first impact is on the current season.
In general, and not just here in Lesotho, (the question is) what impact is this going to have on women’s football?
Women’s football has obviously grown a lot. It has gathered a lot of momentum over the last couple of years through the FIFA strategy that they brought out at the Women’s World Cup last year and we have seen that ourselves here (in Lesotho) that it has started to gather momentum a bit.
There was going to be a girls’ Under-15 league and the Under-20 (national team) was starting as well which was going to be through FIFA funding and that is being delayed now. I think the concern now is whether women’s football momentum globally has been disrupted.
This may not be the case for Lesotho, but it is certainly for parts of the world. The first thing that will probably suffer is women’s football because people’s priority is on men’s football, whether that’s clubs or federations.
If they need to cut it is certainly going to be the women’s game (that is affected) and that it is going to lose the momentum it has gathered.
I think luckily in Lesotho the momentum was picking up with the national teams and I don’t think it will impact quite so hard in Lesotho, but a disrupted momentum globally could also hurt Lesotho, I think that’s probably the biggest worry.
Probably one of the advantages that (local) women’s football has over men now is that the men’s game is going to be hit hard financially because the clubs’ budget is based on the income they bring in and for most clubs that is going to stop, whether it is sponsorship aid, gate-takings or whatever that maybe.
(The clubs) still have salaries to pay, so maybe that’s an advantage that women’s football has (in Lesotho), it is not there yet (financially) so the current situation will not disrupt us financially.
The Women’s Super League was already struggling to get sponsors before the pandemic; does the situation now make it even more difficult to secure sponsors?
It might. It depends on the sort of companies we are targeting (and) how hard they have been hit.
Certainly some sectors get hit harder than others. Some sectors can actually benefit from this, an example being insurance companies. People buy more insurance because they are worried about what might happen if coronavirus hits and insurance companies might do better.
But I think the most frustrating thing about that is that, me along with my colleagues from the Women’s Super League, have a plan in place for trying to meet with potential sponsors. We had actually planned to launch that plan but it has been delayed.
I am hoping it will not make it more difficult, I mean it is already difficult in general to get sponsorship here whether it’s for (men’s) clubs, women’s football, LEFA or national teams.
But I am still determined that we will be able to pick up again soon. There are one or two companies we are trying to get sponsorship from but we are also trying to get sponsorship for youth development around the (Women’s) Super League and women empowerment programmes as well. There are different programmes we are trying to get sponsorship for.
Is it fair to just assume whatever that happens in men’s football will also happen on the women’s side? More people are talking about the men’s game.
Now people are focused on equality. Obviously more people are still focused on men’s football, whether it is clubs or federations. FIFA is trying to push more focus on women’s football and I have had some really good conversations with some professional players in the women’s game.
There is one player I talk to regularly, she is the goalkeeper of (French club Paris-Saint Germain) PSG and she is very passionate about trying to push equality.
There is a club in England called Lewes. Their men’s team is only a semi-pro team. Everything is equal for the men’s team and the women’s team: budgets, salaries, equal use of facilities, marketing budgets, that sort of a thing.
There are a lot of people trying to push for that now but it is difficult in an area where there is a less focus and there is a long way to go before we get to that level of focus on the women’s game, much more focus is on the men’s game.
I think women’s football in Lesotho is growing but it is going to take a long time to get it to where people are trying to push it towards.
Does having no health insurance and medical coverage even put players at greater risk during this pandemic?
The worry is coronavirus does hit things such as healthcare and insurance. Obviously it does make it even bigger threat if it comes to that. What we are hoping for is to keep the numbers down here and hopefully it will not become a problem. In general it’s just not female players, (it is) everyone across the board. I am thinking it is a national concern.
How do you see football after Coronavirus?
I have been watching lots of interviews on this and things will change. Normally it is an advantage to Lesotho where we are so far behind in terms of professionalism and that sort of thing.
That can work for us because we are already where football needs to grow a lot, I don’t think it will impact us that much. For football as a whole I think women’s football has to take the opportunity to see how we can grow, how we can revisit in terms of economic side of football, in terms of health now and to see how people get back into the stadiums.
I hope we will be able to because that is a concern for clubs in the men’s side, it is going to be difficult without gate-takings.
Somebody said a great phrase to me the other day being used at the moment: ‘bouncing back better’, it’s about coming back better than before.
If you are looking at England at the moment and across the European leagues, in the (German top-flight) Bundesliga they are saying so many clubs are close to going out of business and people are starting to look at salary caps.
Those are things that may actually make football stronger, it might bring a bit of more fairness in football and certainly stop clubs from being reckless and spending money (carelessly).
Rabale eyes Champions League glory
Lesotho women’s team captain Boitumelo Rabale has her eyes on winning her second CAF Women’s Champions League with Mamelodi Sundowns as the tournament gets underway this weekend.
The third edition of the prestigious women’s club football is scheduled for Ivory Coast from November 5-19, where eight clubs will battle it out to be crowned Queens of the continent.
“Queen”, as the Lesotho star is commonly known, was part of the Sundowns squad that was crowned champions of the inaugural edition of the tournament held in Egypt two years ago, becoming the first player from the Mountain Kingdom to taste Champions League success.
She has become one of the key players in Jerry Tshabalala’s squad having walked away with the Hollywoodbets Player of the Season in the previous campaign and currently leads the goal-scoring charts with 21 goals.
“It was exciting to win the CAF Women’s Champions League with Sundowns two years ago and in the process becoming the first player from Lesotho to do so,” Rabale said.
“I felt very lucky and honoured to make history. It gave me confidence to continue working hard and strive for more success with the club”
Sundowns head to the tournament as regional champions after clinching the COSAFA qualifiers to qualify for the continental showpiece, where they will kickstart their campaign against Tanzania’s JKT Queens on Sunday.
Rabale admitted that memories of losing the last final to AS FAR still haunts them, but they head to Ivory Coast a better team than in the last tournament.
“We learnt the hard way when we lost in the final to AS FAR and we come back a better team having rectified our mistakes.
“It’s our dream to conquer the continent again and I have no doubt that we have what it takes to get our second star in Ivory Coast.
“It will be very good to add the second CAF Champions League medal to my trophy cabinet,” she said.
The 27-year-old has been prolific for Sundowns this campaign having scored nine goals in her last five matches to take her tally for this campaign to 21 goals.
Sundowns are in Group A alongside tournament hosts, Athletico Abidjan, Sporting Casablanca of Morocco, as well as Tanzania’s JKT Queen.
Since joining Sundowns in 2021, Rabale has won the Hollywoodbets Super League twice, the COSAFA Zonal qualifiers twice as well as the CAF Women’s Champions League and is the reigning Hollywoodbets Player of the season.
Red Skins fail to raise funds for championship
Lesotho volleyball giants Red Skins have failed to raise funds for the 2023 Zone 6 Senior Indoor Volleyball Club Championship they are set to host in December.
Red Skins will host the competition together with four other local volleyball clubs – Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Lesotho Mounted Police Station (LMPS) and Rivers – and the tournament is expected to start on December 7 and end 10 days later.
Without any funds or sponsors coming in, Red Skins will have to foot the bill from their pockets for the tournament which will see teams from 10 countries converge on Maseru.
Among the participating nations, Botswana is expected to bring the biggest contingent with 12 teams, with Zambia following closely behind with nine teams while Zimbabwe is set to be represented by six teams.
Two weeks ago, Red Skins participated in the Elite Cup in Gauteng, South Africa, which was hosted by Aqua Darshan Volleyball.
Red Skins hoped to win the tournament and return home with a hefty jackpot but they only collected M5 000 which was won by the men’s team.
A gala dinner that Red Skins hosted last weekend also failed to generate income due to low attendance and speaking to thepost on Tuesday, the club’s vice-captain, Moleboheng Mofolo, said they will have to push on with what they have to host the tournament.
Mofolo said they no longer have time to come up with other means to raise funds.
“Tournaments will require us to find sponsorships and we do not have time now, we have to focus and train well,” Mofolo said.
“Our coach already told us to camp from this week but rain is our biggest challenge because we cannot continue with the training,” she added.
Mofolo said Red Skins are fortunate that participating teams are going to take care of their accommodation and catering. She said if Red Skins had to provide those services, they would not have been able to manage.
She pleaded with individuals, organisations and companies to help the team, whether it is by offering accommodation, food, or whatever little they may have.
Giants avoid each other in Top 4 clash
Women Super League (WSL) giants Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Ladies and Kick4Life Ladies have avoided each other in the WSL Top 4 knockout competition.
The two-day showpiece takes centre stage this weekend at Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena and it will see last season’s top four finishers in the league – LDF, Kick4Life, Lijabatho and Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) Ladies – go head-to-head for bragging rights.
The draw for the competition took place last Friday and the semi-finals will see LDF go up against Lijabatho while Kick4Life will take on LMPS Ladies.
Both semi-finals will be played on Saturday with the tournament culminating the following day.
Sunday’s proceedings will kick-off with a third-place playoff game to determine who walks away with the bronze medals before the final later in the day.
All four games over the two days will be streamed on the FIFA+ website and the WSL Top 4 will usher in a new sponsor this year.
In the past, the Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) fully bankrolled the competition, however, Computer Business Solutions (CBS) has come on board with a sponsorship for the first time.
The competition’s prize monies have not been revealed because they are still being finalised, but, speaking at last Friday’s draw, LEFA’s associations secretary general, Mokhosi Mohapi, said the relationship with CBS is one that sport should engage in.
Mohapi added his hopes that the relationship will be a long-term one.
“While others are busy at their thing, we should really grow ours so that when their distraction finally ends, they find us as united as we can be as the football community,” Mohapi said.
“(We should be) united by the efforts and inputs that emanate from the business community, especially when it is a truly Lesotho business entity because other (foreign entities) are here to take money,” he said.
Addressing CBS as the tournament’s sponsor, Mohapi said: “We are thankful as LEFA for your initiative; (we) hope you will be in this marriage quite long. We know we are just testing the waters but we have a lot that can entice you to stay longer, not only my command but the instruments that we have.”
Mohapi said LEFA’s dream is that in two years’ time all league matches will be streaming on the FIFA+ platform which was launched last April by football’s world governing body to increase exposure of men and women’s football around the globe.
Currently, only three grounds in the country have the structures for broadcasting; Bambatha as well as the grounds at LDF and Lesotho Correctional Service grounds, and all are in Maseru.
LEFA plans to add more grounds to the list with the DIFA facilities in Maputsoe and Mohale’s Hoek set to be the first to follow suit.
“All our women’s competitions, cup competitions and (Vodacom) Premier League matches that will be played in those stadia that have our infrastructure – we will be able to stream those games internationally,” Mohapi said.
“We have extended our footprint,” he added.
“We are now doing LDF – we have already put up the structure – then we are moving to Maputsoe and, hopefully, Mohale’s Hoek. It is our desire that in two years’ time we will hopefully cover all the matches and put them on the FIFA+ streaming platform.”
WSL Top 4 fixtures:
Lijabatho Ladies vs. LDF Ladies
LMPS Ladies vs. Kick4Life Ladies
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