‘It can only get better for Likatola’

‘It can only get better for Likatola’

Luciah Phahla

Maseru – The Lesotho rugby team enjoyed a successful year in 2016. Likatola, as the side is known, won two international matches on foreign soil and they are set to make further history by playing two Test matches in Asia next year.

It is all part of the rapid rise local rugby has revelled in since the Federation of Lesotho Rugby (FLR) was formed in 2012.

Not resting on its laurels, FLR is hard at work to ensure rugby becomes a mainstream sport in Lesotho despite the challenges the association faces.

This week thepost sat down with FLR president Fetang Selialia to reflect on Lesotho rugby’s encouraging successes and its prospects going forward.

thepost: Lesotho rugby has flourished since FLR was formed in 2012. What has been the secret to your success?

Selialia: We worked together as the members of the (FLR) executive. When we started we had a guy from the United Kingdom, Dan Aylward. He was our first (FLR) president. He was more focused on development. However, other members thought it was better to work on the national team because we thought if the national team is doing well it will attract people, and we did it.

It is through the national team that people started to have an interest and then we started having people come in.

 

What are your short-term and long-term targets as FLR?

We want to have facilities; we need rugby facilities. We are playing rugby at football grounds and the main thing is to get a rugby ground, a field that only belongs to rugby so that we can take care of the turf the way we want to. You will be aware that our soccer clubs destroy the grass on pitches; we want a specific ground that belongs to us.

Right now we have a sort of agreement with Maseru City Council regarding the ground in Katlehong. What we are doing now is to source some funds and when we get funds then we will make it our own ground, what we can call a National Rugby Centre.

Our plan is to have offices, a club house, spectator stands, change rooms and floodlights so that people can train at night  or even play if need to be. It is our long-term goal but it is achievable within a short time, as long as there is money.

In terms of teams we have a lot of high school teams playing in the league. We want them, especially schools like Lesia (High School) that are remote, we want to help such schools establish senior teams.

The challenge is who do we send there to help them? We need a lot of rugby clubs and we need to create them around those high schools. That’s our plan. If you look at our clubs, most of them are built around high schools. Another thing is to hold rugby courses; we did Level 1 (coaching course) now, (and) we are still looking for someone to do Level 2 so that our coaches can be qualified.

One negative this year was the dispute with Giants Rugby in February. What happened? What is the latest between FLR and Giants Rugby?

There was a press release and they thought our league was not up to scratch according to their standards and as the management we had to take action. There had to be repercussions. You cannot, as a club, tell us, ‘I want to go because your things are not up to standard’.

You are insulting us, and we had to take action and we did that.

(Giants) is a club, they wanted to behave like a union. They wanted to control us and we had to show them that we are in charge, that we can survive without them. They thought because they were making up the bulk of the national team (at the time) they could hold us at ransom and we showed them we can do well without them.

We went to Malawi without them and we won. We went to Rwanda, we won. Not that we no longer need them, we still do. We gave them a two-year ban and maybe if they can make certain structural changes within their club we will accept them back because there were certain characters that were using the club, manipulating the players.

The status now is they have been put out for two years but they haven’t served even a year. They still do come and talk to us in passing as individuals but they have to apologise as a club (because) they failed us. They failed us by withdrawing from our league. They disrespected us and we punished them. Now they want to come back but they are unable to apologise.

King Letsie III recently said he wants to see Lesotho compete in the Rugby Sevens at the Olympics in future. Is this possible? What has to happen for this to become a reality?

First of all, rugby unlike other sports is governed by a regime called Rugby Africa. It has categories, first division and second division. First division has three categories and so far they still rate us in the second division.

But we want to play with the big boys. The first step is to make it to the first division not with the 7’s team but with our 15’s team. It has to perform well so that we can get into the league. If we are there then we have a chance. It would be a matter of getting a good coach and other things. We need to be in Rugby Africa’s first division and then we can compete with the big boys. We need expertise in terms of coaching because most of our coaches are not rugby 7’s coaches.                                                                                                                                                                   What is FLR doing to boost grassroots development of the game?

We are doing coaching at schools especially here in Maseru. It’s true we have not reached all of them because coaches need to be paid. We did the same in Teyateyaneng. We still need to go back and see how they are doing and hold tournaments for them.

We have also been to Leribe around town and also in Quthing and we still need to do it again in Mohale’s Hoek. Now it is a little bit difficult because we were using our own cars, and even this association’s car is not in good condition. These are some of the challenges we are facing. What we need now is a car for development. We really need a vehicle; we need to move, to transport the coaches and so on.

Rugby is growing but still lags behind football and athletics, for example, in terms of popularity. Do you feel rugby can become a mainstream sport in Lesotho? And, why?

It has potential to grow. You are comparing us with sports that have been around for a very long time but we only started in 2012. We only have four years and if you are comparing us with such sporting codes it means we are doing something right; there is somewhere we are going.

Let’s start with our national rugby team Likatola. As much as rugby is not yet popular, but believe me, people know Likatola. They know it is the national rugby team. The fact they know the Likatola brand from Qacha’s Nek to Mokhotlong means people have interest.

Are you satisfied with support for rugby in terms of sponsorship from the business sector? What are you doing to attract sponsors?

I will never be happy until we find a ground; I think it will help us. The sponsorship is coming but there is still a challenge that our big league, the Lesotho Rugby Championship, does not have a sponsor. It means I am not happy. But in terms of development Econet (Lesotho) is doing really well. Even Likatola gets sponsors every time there is a game, but it can never be enough. We want to reach a level where our players can enjoy the freedom that they are playing rugby and earning something. Right now we are volunteering.

When we go to international games we don’t get anything, just pocket money for the players. To take rugby players to another country is very expensive, unlike athletics where you may send two or three athletes. We need help because for us to reach the top we have to play against the best. But we thank the government of Lesotho and Lesotho Sport and Recreation Commission (LSRC). Mainly because of the government we are now being recognised internationally.

What are your overall thoughts on rugby in 2016? What do you make of the year you have had?

It has its highs and lows. The lows were Giants Rugby leaving our league. Some people think we were happy but no, it hurt us badly. But leaders make decisions. As the association you cannot be controlled by a club. It is a lesson for the clubs, when they have a problem with the association they need come and sit down and talk.

Giants Rugby wrote a letter which was diminishing, disrespecting the association and took it to the media to tarnish our reputation. They were acting like victims but we are the victims. Another disappointment was we did not get a sponsor for our league. We could really do with sponsorship.

The highs were the successful campaign in the phase one; we are now in phase two. We have a very good high school league of which the finals are going to be played soon. We had two away international wins in Rwanda and Malawi, those are the best moments. I really enjoyed winning in a foreign country. It is not something which is common here (in Lesotho). We have made history in our four years, the nation was happy.

What can rugby fans look forward to in 2017?

We are going to Asia. The dream is China, Indonesia and the Philippines. We are not saying we want to play them all because we have financial problems, but any of those. This time around we are going abroad; we want to conquer beyond Africa, that is the plan. As for Giants, you never know, we might have them back, if they do right by asking for forgiveness.

Personally, I still want them to come back but we want them to get rid of certain characters in their team. If not, it’s going to be really difficult.

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