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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Million Maloti Deal - The Likhopo Way

Four years ago when I started writing about Lesotho football if you had told me we would see a Million Maloti sponsorship deal for a local club by 2012 I would have thought you were totally mad. I mean the country’s league winners were getting M30 000 (US$3 636)!

But, four years on, this is exactly what has happened with Likhopo sealing a M1 million (US$121 000) sponsorship deal over two seasons with the Matekane Group of Companies (MGC).
                                        
As part of this momentous deal Likhopo will now officially be called MGC Likhopo… so I should probably start referring to them as MGC Likhopo!

Name change or not, the significance of this sponsorship deal cannot be overstated. It marks a massive improvement on where Lesotho football was even four years ago, and, above that, shows where the country can go if we keep moving forwards – even at turtle pace. As long as steps are being taken, there will be a way.

Business Time...
MGC boss Sam Matekane (left) and Likhopo owner Bishop Molatoli
sign on the dotted line.
The crazy thing, though, is this deal hasn’t received quite the coverage it warrants.

Simply put, this Likhopo deal is a remarkable milestone for Lesotho football and should serve as motivation for greater works in the future. That it is Likhopo that has received this ground-breaking sponsorship is quite poignant as this is a club that has given Lesotho the cream of its talent in recent years – Bokang Mothoana being the star student of a quite special class.

It’s also just reward for club owner Bishop Molatoli, Qamako Mahao and all the people who have run the club through the years. Often they have had to scrape the barrels of their pockets to keep the club afloat. Indeed, things at times got so bad Molatoli more than once considered giving up the club which would have been a tragedy.

Formed in 1999, Likhopo has not only become a production line of talent, the club has grown into a major name in local football. Likhopo of course achieved the rare feat of winning back-to-back championships in 2004/05 and 2005/06, and most recently were crowned 2010 Vodacom Soccer Spectacular champions.

However, Likhopo’s ability to compete has gradually been diminished by financial constraints, resulting in the departure of its best talent and struggles on the field which last season saw the side scraping away from relegation in the final week of the campaign.

In this sense MGC’s sponsorship is a timely resuscitation for Likhopo.

Though Lesotho is not at the level of South Africa for example, financial power in the 21st century counts everywhere and the widening gap in financial muscle is something that is beginning to matter in Lesotho football, as illustrated by the rise of Bantu for instance.

While Bantu and Lioli, for example, have flourished, Likhopo have had to introduce cost cutting measures. Last season Likhopo moved their home matches to the Ratjomose ground from LCS’s stadium in order to cut costs. Molatoli was also forced to sell Likhopo’s feeder side Little Flower which had campaigned in the first division.

“Normally we wouldn’t want to sell the team (Little Flower) because it is a good development for Likhopo, but we have no option – we have no money. We just can’t have two teams, it’s impossible; we can’t afford it,” Molatoli said prior to the sale of Little Flower to Kick-4-Life.

With this sponsorship with MGC Likhopo will receive M500 000 (US$60 600) a year.

While it is not a huge amount compared to other countries it is unprecedented in Lesotho and at least ensures that parts of the professional vision envisaged by Molatoli can be realised. One would think these include a home ground and improved facilities for Likhopo – something which is a possibility given that construction is MGC’s area of greatest expertise.

In the short term, flushed with new cash, the club has already stated it will introduce player contracts. At the moment only Lioli has such, despite this being a key idea and directive of the Mohale Declaration – a roadmap to turn Lesotho’s football professional – signed in 2008.

New players have also been vigorously recruited ahead of the new season and it certainly looks as though Likhopo will have one of the strongest squads in the top-flight, one that can challenge for the title.

Thapelo Tale, Sello ‘Muso and Lehlomela Ramabele – lured from league football in Botswana – have all been added to the roster. With money there will, of course, be pressure. Success on the field will be now a requisite for Likhopo, its young squad and new coach Motlatsi Shale. These are new pressures they will have to contend with as a team.

What is universally relevant for Lesotho is Likhopo have broken a barrier that once seemed impossible, and that should not only offer inspiration to Likhopo.

With the new tax reduction law passed last year, companies will surely be more open to sponsoring local football. According to the amendment to the Income Tax Act, 1993 law, a company (in simple terms) will have their tax reduced in relation to how much they commit to sponsorship.

It is certainly true that it is not only Likhopo who need sponsorship. There are other teams in desperate need of an injection too; Joy, Mpharane Celtics and Nyenye Rovers being prime examples in the top division.

Bishop Molatoli gives his charges a customary pep talk...
Lesotho’s clubs are run on massive debt and though there are no numbers to back this up these sums probably run into the hundreds of thousands. 

It is a double edged issue however. Clubs also have to shape up. For years they have been told to compile financial reports and run their affairs in a more professional manner. It is by no luck that Likhopo has secured this deal with MGC. Luck, in any case, is preparation meeting opportunity.

And this is one thing we seem to be unwilling to do – prepare.

The football fraternity and the country as whole have to be willing to pay the price to be taken seriously.

The vision we have is of grounds and stadia where people can go on weekends with their families to enjoy football in a safe and comfortable environment.

There is no doubt there is a market for football in Lesotho, however small it may be argued to be. There are people who love the game who would love nothing more than to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon sharing a beer with their friends and cheering their favourite teams.

However, they want safety and security at stadiums. They want a ground where they can actually have a seat if they desire. This would be a wonderful thing for Lesotho.

Football is an anti-depressant and can be tool for social cohesion. It is recreation and something to look forward to for many who slog though the week. In this sense I don’t believe we as a country have realised how important football and sport in general can be. You would hope the new government take extra heed to this call.

Just look at Brazil. Most of us first knew of the country because of its football, and you can’t dismiss football’s role in contributing to the country’s national image and eventual growth into a world power.  

Sport is a form of soft power and is important.

Some countries are known primarily for their sport, and they derive benefits from this. New Zealand with rugby is an example. Sometimes sports stars become ambassadors for their countries. Look at Ethiopia’s distance running legend Haile GebrSelassie. He is a world icon who has put his country on the map with his extraordinary athletic feats. He is now a humanitarian bringing real change to his country.

During the Olympics we saw Lesotho featured in world publications such as the Guardian and talked about on social media forums, something which doesn’t often happen. This is just an example.

Football is employment as well.

This is a topic that is rarely touched upon at time when we should be looking at all creative ways to curb unemployment. Football could be a major factor in Lesotho’s struggle towards job creation and economic development, if our policymakers stop viewing it as a leisurely pastime and more as an economic activity.

In many countries – South Africa being the closest example – sporting activities are economic activities not only for those directly involved in the sport, but for those who invest their money and time in them as well. 

Football, and sport in general in South Africa, has not only made its athletes millionaires, it has given the companies true returns on their investments, hence the ever increasing sponsorship of sport in South Africa.

Likhopo and MGC, a match made in Heaven.
Theoretically, as the football industry in Lesotho grows so will its needs increase over time as well. A thriving football industry would require more professional referees, trainers, medical personnel and other service workers.

This, theoretically, would enable Lesotho’s universities and other higher institutions of learning to set up new faculties and departments to help the industry satisfy its growing needs for trained staff, thus creating more jobs. Also, if most football clubs are run as business bodies with stricter respect for modern corporate rules, a lot more jobs will be created.

There is certainly potential for much more growth football-wise in Lesotho. And there are progressive teams that can lead the way. Bantu and Lioli are probably the prime examples and they need to be encouraged to continue on their path of development.

We also desperately need better pitches in Lesotho. Players (Bushy Moletsane and Ramabele being examples) are coming back home and in truth we don’t have a bad league, but we need better grounds. With better fields we can have a better product, which in turn will attract interest and backing. You have Lioli, Bantu, Matlama and Linare. These are grand clubs in Lesotho with passionate support. Imagine if they each had their own stadiums.

Definitely, this Million Maloti sponsorship will give motivation to Likhopo’s players. They will now go to training each day and play for something. It may also motivate other players to work harder so that they too can join Likhopo.

The problem remains of securing more sponsorship for teams, however, Likhopo’s deal is the type of sponsorship that Lesotho needs. And, although not enough has been made of the development, it is the shot in the arm Lesotho needs in its quest for a brighter future.

2 comments:

  1. MGC helped us alot!!!

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