‘Stranded’ footballers narrate their daily struggles… plead with govt for assistance

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Otniel Hembapu

Windhoek-It is almost more than 10 months now without any premiership football action in Namibia and that equally means it’s been more than 10 months without a steady income for hundreds of young footballers plying their trade in the financially-crippled Namibia Premier League (NPL).

Since NPL parted ways with its sole principal sponsors MTC last May, activities in the country’s flagship football league came to a complete standstill, with clubs – that were heavily dependent on the NPL’s monthly grants for their survival – forced to terminate the contracts of their players and technical staff as they could no longer honour those contracts.

As a result the NPL, and by extension all its 16 affiliate clubs, were forced to push almost more than 500 young footballers into the notorious streets of various townships across the country – leaving them to fend for themselves with no hope of an income in sight.

The immediate future of the NPL and premiership club football looks bleak, as there has not been any concrete commitment from the side of government in as far as financially rescuing the NPL from the jaws of devastation is concerned.

At this point in time, especially when viewed from an economical standpoint, government’s awaited intervention appears to be the only hope for those hundreds of footballers bleakly roaming the streets as the private sector somehow seems reluctant to commit itself to address the plight and livelihood of the country’s football playing youth.

New Era Weekend Sport took to the streets to mingle with a few of the stranded footballers and also to witness first hand the conditions in which they live in and also find out how they are coping during these harsh economic times.

First to express his disappointment in the country’s football leadership was African Stars Football Club inspirational skipper Pat-Navin Uanivi, who said the past 10 months have been a rough ride for local footballers countrywide as the financial squall they face has become unbearable.

“To be quite honest with you, my brother, it has not been easy out here for many of us and the worrisome thing is the fact that there is still no news or sign of the league starting anytime soon. Some of us are fathers with school-going kids and imagine going for more than 10 months without income – how do we provide for our kids and how should we pay for our accommodation?” queried an evidentially concerned Uanivi.

Uanivi, one of the country’s highly-respected veteran defenders who made cameo appearances for the Brave Warriors over the years, has since been unemployed and left to fend for himself without any source of income to provide for his family.

Finding it difficult to navigate through the unfriendly economic tides and the ever-increasing cost of living in Windhoek, Uanivi has in the interim returned to his parents’ farm with the aim of dedicating some time and space to himself away from a busy and demanding life in the capital city.

At the farm, Uanivi says, life is a bit cheaper and the peace of mind he enjoys is remarkable – at least for the time being while he awaits the commencement of the league or while pondering his next move.

“Since late last year I have been commuting between Windhoek and our farm. It is much better at the farm as I have no stress and don’t have to worry about paying rent or anything of that sort, but I also spend a few weeks in Windhoek just to update myself on the latest developments at the NPL and also to look out for job opportunities.” “This is not just my story – go around and talk to my fellow footballers, they will all tell you about the exact same struggles we go through every day since the league came to a standstill. It’s really tough and I hope President Hage Geingob, as patron of football, will hear our cry and help us out – it has seriously been tough for us,” adds Uanivi, whose only income was from playing football.

Also speaking to New Era Weekend Sport were Blue Waters, Tura Magic and Citizens players who all requested that their identities be withheld as they feared the article might discredit their social standing since they are popular faces in their respective communities.

Two Blue Waters FC players echoed what Uanivi narrated, with one saying when the league came to a standstill last year he was forced to move back into his mother’s backyard as he could no longer afford paying rent, but his financial situation also affected his relationship with the mother of his four-year-old child as he could no longer put food on the table as expected.

His team-mates shared the same sentiments but at least he was lucky to secure a job as a waiter at a local restaurant in Walvis Bay in January, saying for the time being, at least, he can provide towards his daughter’s basic needs as well as take care of himself.
On a positive note two footballers, from Tura Magic FC and Citizens FC, both agreed that life has not been a smooth ride for many of them, especially for their families and children, but lucky for them they both managed to secure steady jobs last year that have brought a bit of financial relief.

“I have a two-year-old daughter and I’m only 26 this year – now tell me how do I provide for my daughter without a steady job? It’s not easy but I managed to get a job last year November. It’s not really a good-paying job as I’m just an internal stock controller at a supermarket here in Windhoek but at least I have an income and I just have to thank God. But I still meet with my team-mates and I can tell you now that things don’t look great for many of them. Most of us had to move out of our rented rooms and back to our parents’ houses, sharing blankets and clothes with our younger siblings – you know how embarrassing that is my brother?” said the Citizens FC player concernedly.

– This story first appeared in the March 18-24 edition of New Era Weekend newspaper.

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