Plans spirited COSAFA 2021 competition
TEBOHO KHATEBE MOLEFI
MASERU – The Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) has announced anticipation of a full 2021 calendar despite the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to ravage the region – and the Lesotho Football Association is also optimistic of an ease of lockdown restrictions as they plot for a spirited competition this year.
Football and general sports activity remain banned in the country following Tuesday’s reversion to the code colour Orange, from Purple, as announced by Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro on Tuesday night, according to the country’s Risk Determination Framework Mitigation measures. Orange restrictions are one level lower than the hard lockdown measures on colour code Red. Per this framework, all sporting activities are suspended, among several other hard restrictions aimed at reduction of infections and COVID-19-related deaths in the country. These tighter Orange lockdown measure were effected at midnight on Wednesday.
But according to LeFA Media Officer, Mikia Kalati, the association’s plan is to have all national teams participating in international competitions, COSAFA included, to improve their competitiveness and to also get international exposure.
Kalati told this reporter that a lot of these teams had made good progress in recent years, especially Likuena, who along with Zambia and Zimbabwe were the only countries to reach the semifinals for three years in a row in the COSAFA flagship men’s cup – including winning Bronze in 2018.
The tournaments have also helped a lot of our players to secure contracts in South Africa as we know with the likes of motbang Sera, Tumelo Khutlang and Nkoto Masoabi, who impressed playing in the COSAFA tournaments, Kalati said.
On playing under strict Covid restrictions as was the case in last year’s championships played at the Nelson Mandela Bay in South Africa, Kalati said they have learnt a lot playing under those strict restrictions.
The COSAFA Women’s Senior and Under-17 Championships, as well as continental qualifiers in the Men’s Under-17 and Under-20 age category were all held over a busy six-week period in the South African coastal city.
“We are very pleased with how these events were organised under very difficult circumstances and we take what we learnt in Nelson Mandela Bay into our planning for 2021,” COSAFA General Secretary Sue Destombes said this week.
“But luckily LeFA had also put a lot of work to prepare our teams for such like training and engaging COVID-19 Compliance Officers to work with each of the teams. Local clubs also underwent such training and that is why we never had problems even when we had international matches here at home in the home match against Benin as well as Nkana who came to play Bantu. We also appreciate the efforts and support we got from National Covid-19 Secretariat as the experts when it comes to COVID-19,” Kalati pointed out regarding LeFA’s preparations.
Kalati said it is going to be a mammoth task, yet one they are prepared for, for all the national teams and the football fraternity at large to compete based on the challenges brought by the pandemic, adding “as we speak, sports activities are still suspended by the government of Lesotho, which makes it very difficult for our teams. But we are hopeful that the situation will improve for the better.”
He recalled that the association has said before that “we have to find ways to live with COVID-19, but of course the second wave of the virus got all of us in panic due to the number of people that died in the country.” He said it is difficult for most countries to continue with their footballing activities in this era, citing the example of Botswana, of whom he said “their league is yet to return to action since suspension of football activities early in 2020.” Kalati continued this was evidence enough that the pandemic has caused havoc not just in Lesotho, but the region, continent and worldwide.
“The fact that the elite league had already returned and the other leagues such as the PostBank A-Division League and the Women’s Super League were about to start before the second wave hit our country shows the commitment from the association, it is the leagues’ management and club efforts to have our leagues back on track. LeFA will continue to offer training and support to all the stakeholders so that we are equipped on how to deal with COVID-19 and continue with our football,” he assured the football family.
COSAFA announced this week that having learnt many lessons from the four championships staged in the Nelson Mandela Bay at the end of last year, they were well-equipped to navigate this year’s calendar. “We have a full calendar of tournaments at this stage and we are hopeful we will be able to stage them all, even in these most challenging of times,” a hopeful Destombes has said.
The highlight of the COSAFA 2021 calendar include the introduction of the regional Women’s Champions League, which will be a zonal qualifier for the new Confederation of African Football Women’s Champions League which is coming later this year. “We will be looking to roll it out between May and August, which will contain a preliminary round and then a final tournament. We are extremely excited about this new competition.”
The men’s COSAFA Cup is slated for the FIFA window that runs from May 31 to June 16, while the Men’s Under-20 Championship will take its usual slot in December. The Men’s Under-17 Championship is likely to be played as part of the Region 5 Games in Lesotho in December, with the Women’s Under-20 competition to also take place as part of the Games.
The COSAFA Women’s Championship is scheduled for September, and the Women’s Under-17 is pencilled in for August, which would complete the full set of tournaments for each gender from Under-17 through to senior level. COSAFA is also hopeful of hosting a Beach Soccer event in July, and a first ever Futsal competition that will be staged in Mozambique in September or October.
“We are planning for a busy year to fulfil our mandate as COSAFA, which is to develop the game on and off the pitch in the Southern African region,” Destombes has announced. “We are excited about what lies ahead for us over the next 11 months.”