By Mazi Jaka
League football may have finally returned to Namibia this weekend after a three-season hiatus caused by wrangling between officials, but there are fears the length of absence has harmed the game in the country.
On Sunday, a disputed late penalty gave African Stars a narrow 1-0 victory over University of Namibia in Windhoek in front of a lively crowd, belatedly beginning a new chapter in club football in the southern African country.
A lengthy and damaging power tussle between the Namibia Football Association (NFA) and its professional league affiliate, the Namibia Premier League, at the end of the 2018-19 campaign following a dispute about relegation had led to the three-year break.
“There are real worries about a lost generation,” former Namibia coach Ricardo Mannetti told BBC Sport Africa.
“The worry is what has happened to players who haven’t played for three years. Guys who were 27 are now 30 and young players at 18-19 have lost out on key years of competition and development.”
In charge of the national team when the league stopped, Mannetti keenly felt the harsh impact of local football grinding to a halt as he tried to keep the Brave Warriors competitive.
“We became a club team, meeting for breakfast, training, then having lunch, and training again every day for three months before we went to the African Nations Championship,” he recalls.
“Luckily we had a strong base of players.“
The impact is still to be seen but our Under-23 side conceded eight goals to Angola in the Olympic qualifiers and our Under-20s lost all their games at the qualifying tournament in Eswatini recently.
Mannetti, who left his role in 2019, adds that many of the coaches in Namibia have given up on the game.
“They were making a living from football but once that stopped, they had to go and find work elsewhere.”Court case and Fifa intervention.
The NFA and the Namibia Premier League (NPL) had clashed in court over the league’s refusal to accept that clubs that had been relegated should instead survive the drop and remain in the top flight.
The impasse led all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) after the NFA expelled the league from its ranks, only for the Switzerland-based Cas to dismiss the NPL’s appeal.Nonetheless, the wrangling eventually led to not only the dissolution of the league but also the leadership of the NFA, which is now being run by a normalisation committee appointed by world governing body Fifa.
Established in March, that committee worked on returning top flight football to the country and secured the agreement of 11 clubs to form a new league, while also finding sponsorship from a mining company.Chairman Bisey Uirab said it had a “broad mandate” to “regularise the challenges existing in the sport” in Namibia.
“In the spirit of reconciling various factions and normalising the game, the committee has spent the last few months consulting with various stakeholders and secured a sponsorship for the top tier’s men league,” he added.
The first tentative steps in the new division were taken between African Stars and University of Namibia at the Hage Geingob Stadium, where there was an appreciative crowd, with the rest of the first-round fixtures scheduled for this weekend.