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Linare’s sponsorship deal with Lesotho National Insurance Group (LNIG) is hopefully a sign of things to come for sports in Lesotho. The three-year deal is the first to come into effect since the much-awaited tax rebate law was finally introduced three months ago. And now in an era of mega-money in sport it is time for Lesotho to join the boat.
For years there has been a desperate need for sponsorship in Lesotho’s sports. Football in particular has suffered. Clubs are still run on an amateur basis with players unpaid and facilities poor.
The introduction of Vodacom Lesotho’s three-year sponsorship of Lesotho’s leagues in 2009 provided a boost with a deal totaling $6 million over three years with league winners receiving $100,000, compared to the $30,000 that was offered previously.
But on the ground little has changed. With no revenue streams to speak of, clubs have had to forage in their pockets to survive. It is a situation that has brought a proud club such as Likhopo to its knees. The costs in incurred in a season total well over $100,000, an unsustainable situation. But with the tax rebate law there is little excuse for the status quo to continue.
On many different levels a lot can be done. One does not need to go far for examples of thriving sporting arenas with Botswana and Swaziland sports enjoying respective unprecedented growth, thanks to injections from their business sectors. Lesotho’s top talent, Busy Moletsane, Litšepe Marabe and Lehlomela Ramabele, have flocked to Botswana’s football for greener pastures.
In other countries, such as Zambia and Uganda, the relationship between companies and sports clubs is even closer. Companies are the clubs themselves, offering jobs to players and on the flip side ploughing back into the country’s economy. Zanaco, Zambia National Commercial Bank, is an example.
The pathway has thus been opened for sports in Lesotho to source the much needed business partnerships they have been crying out for. In 2011 there is little reason why players still play on potato fields that are an embarrassment to the country. Somewhere down the line players also need to be paid: football has to become a job.
Lesotho has to start somewhere. Lioli have set a wonderful example and have shown it can be done. But such sponsorships and partnerships will not fall on the laps of the clubs. Sponsorship for the sake of helping out is a thing of the past; it is now in return for tangible, measurable mileage. The phrase ‘every cent must bring back something return’ is now the basis for sponsorship.
Clubs, therefore, need to find aggressive strategies to exploit the advantageous playing field that has been facilitated by the introduction of the tax rebate law. This is where it would be good to see the Lesotho Football Association (Lefa) play more of a role in pushing and monitoring the effort of clubs in this regard.
Milestones–whether quarterly or yearly–should be set and adhered to for the sake of the development of sports. It is easy to say the standard of the Lesotho’s top-flight is poor, but what are the root causes? Certainly the Independence Cup played at the Setsoto Stadium on Tuesday wasn’t poor. That was because it was played on a good facility, well-attended and with a meaningful prize.
Linare has now joined Bantu and Lioli in tapping the market. LCS and LDF’s leaning towards professionalism also stands out as well, but much still needs to be done. In the past Lesotho was perhaps able to get by in mediocrity, but with the improvement of other countries–as shown by Botswana’s qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations–and the advent of professionalism, Lesotho is being left behind each day.
On the side of the business sector there are now few excuses as well. Companies in the past complained about high tax levels which discouraged them from sponsoring sports. But even with the slow economic state the positives of backing sports now outweigh the negatives.
Of course, it is not only in football where there is a need for partnerships. Lesotho’s talent for long distance running–such as heroes Mabuthile Lebopo and ‘Mamoroallo Tjoka– is well known but has never been fully nurtured. With the introduction of the tax rebate law the time for excuses is gone.