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Mental health issues: a ticking bomb

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Last week there appeared to be a breakthrough in what will happen with the 2020/21 Vodacom Premier League season after clubs recommended to the Premier League Management Committee (PLMC) that the current campaign be ended.
According to officials present when the two parties met last Tuesday, top-flight clubs were clear in their wish this season be ended so that a new campaign can start next month.

That suggestion, after weeks of uncertainty, now has to be ratified by the Lesotho Football Association’s (LEFA) national executive committee (NEC) which will make the final decision on the 2020/21 season.
What happens next will interest the fans countrywide who have missed the game since it was shut down in mid-July when the government stopped contact sports in an effort to curb Covid-19 infections.

Even more importantly, whatever decision the NEC makes will affect the main stars of the show – the players, who have been stuck in limbo for the past month and the better part of a turbulent year.
This current break is the second of 2021 after the league was stopped from January until May for similar pandemic-related reasons and the situation has crippled clubs financially and forced them to slash spending.
The first to feel the cuts have been the players. In July, for example, giants Lioli cut players’ salaries by half once more after shrinking them in June last year.

Lioli are not the only club feeling the pinch and at least their players are still getting something. In many cases players who rely on their football income now have nothing to lean on and have been forced to live week-to-week while hoping the league will return soon.
The league’s also-rans have no parachutes like Lioli do, and what happens in the coming weeks will affect their players to a serious degree.
It is a stressful time.
Not only are you dealing with isolation, you are also unsure of what your future holds.
Last week Matlama midfielder Makume Theletsane became the first player to openly talk about how he has been affected by the pandemic.
Theletsane spoke candidly about his isolation last month when he contracted the virus.

“It’s not a normal situation,” he said.
“You get stressed and the only thing I was doing during that time was watching TV and playing video games all the time.”
Theletsane’s comments are rare because it is taboo in football, and perhaps Lesotho in general, to speak about anything related to mental health.
One common theme during this uncommon time has been the players’ silence when it comes to their experiences of the pandemic.

But, something does not add up. Around the world there has been a rise in mental issues since the coronavirus outbreak and although there are no statistics for Lesotho, it shouldn’t be any different.
What is different is that when it comes to football players and athletes in general, there are no support structures for them and in addition to the possible stigma of speaking up.

The International Federation of Professional Footballers (FIFPRO) and player associations around the world, for example, have been providing players with advice to look after their mental health.
In June, FIFPRO officially launched a mental health awareness programme titled “Are you ready to talk?”
In its research FIFPRO showed that up to 38 percent of footballers suffer from mental health symptoms during their career and the number of players experiencing difficulties have increased with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic

In Lesotho, Covid-19 has disrupted players’ routines and training for months and has undermined a major pillar of their identity.
It is also threatening their livelihoods and that is something the league and LEFA have to consider going forward because it falls under the question of how the game can be improved to serve the players better.
Lesotho remains miles behind even its regional counterparts because, even in 2021, football is at the amateur level and players don’t get adequately compensated.

When the league is inactive as it is now, players don’t have an income or something to do and the socio-economic problems surrounding them are exacerbated.
Even so, as LEFA heads into its congress meeting this Saturday, we still do not hear anything about any programmes to offer relief to athletes. In some ways this is a ticking time-bomb of young men and women who may turn to harmful activities or habits to get by.
The longer the country’s football, and sport as a whole, is offline, the more stranded the players become.

It is one aspect of the lagging decision-making process that is being forgotten.
For the first time ever, these young athletes are having to cope with social isolation, the suspension of their working lives and serious doubts about their future.
These players’ livelihoods could hinge on what happens in the coming weeks and that is incredibly stressful for them.
What are the country’s football authorities doing to help them?

Teboho Molapo

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FIFA holds coach instructors’ course

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MASERU – The Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) with FIFA is hosting a five-day Coach Instructors’ course at the association’s Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena headquarters. The course, which is led by FIFA Technical Expert Zunaid Mall from South Africa started on Monday and will end tomorrow.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Mall said the aim is to capacitate local football educators and up-skill them.

The course is being attended by some of the most experienced and well-known coaches in the country including the national Under-20 head coach Bafokeng Mohapi, the women’s national Under-20 coach Elizabeth Yelimala and other national team coaches.

At club level Lesotho Defence Force’s (LDF) Motheo Mohapi, Lesotho Mounted Police Service’s (LMPS) Seephephe Matete and former Bantu coach Bob Mafoso are among the experienced coaches attending the course.

“The FIFA coaching programme is about the empowering, capacitating and up-skilling of local coaches, as the (LEFA technical director Leslie Notši) has already mentioned that CAF Licensing will be opening and that the licensing and the programming will basically be giving out all your information to the coaches that will be working with you,” Mall said.

“You are the local experts, we will be sharing with you this information all the time to be able to ensure that we grow coaching capacity in the Kingdom of Lesotho,” he added.

Mall continued: “You as local people, FIFA and CAF have taken it upon themselves that they will not be sending out coaches and doing many more coaching courses. You as the local FIFA will ensure that we will be able to take everybody sitting in this room to the next level as coaches’ educators and from there as we go forward you will see exactly where you as educators will be able to go in terms of your pathway and timeline.”

Speaking at the opening of the course, LEFA’s secretary general, Mokhosi Mohapi, said he hopes the coaches will grab the opportunity to enhance themselves from the first training that was facilitated by CAF and make the report much better.

He said the coaches in attendance should be able to host football discussions on their own and only bring experts to enhance their knowledge and help where they are lacking.

“We need not bring Zunaid, we need to do it without him,” Mohapi said.

“Discuss, and when we think we can’t discuss any more, (we can) invite him to bring in other stuff that we might not be aware of and then enhance our discussion and our growth as a football nation. I know you went through the CAF one, I hope that you are going to build from what you did last time,” Mohapi said.

“We should set objectives today and ensure that all of us are above that standard we want to get to.”

Tlalane Phahla

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Team Lesotho leaves for Commonwealth Games

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MASERU – On Sunday, Team Lesotho left for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England. The games start today and will run until August 8. Lesotho will be represented by a total of 21 athletes in five sporting codes and the sports the country will compete in are athletics, para-athletics (discus), boxing, cycling and weightlifting.

The team has settled in Birmingham and says it is ready to compete at the global games held every four years. Motlokoa Nkhabutlane, one of the country’s most decorated marathon runners, says the challenges the team has faced in the lead up to the Games will not stop them from fighting for victory.

“We are prepared to do what we have come here for. Although there are things I cannot say, I will leave that to the management. We have to do what we need to do as athletes because delays can demotivate us when we meet with countries that are highly prepared,” Nkhabutlane said.

“It is important to prepare on time from home and even when we are here (at the games), but those challenges will not stop us from fighting for what we came here for. It’s my first time (at the Commonwealth Games) and I would be happy to do well,” he added.

For boxer Moroke Mokhotho this will be his last international competition after he announced back in March that he will be retiring to focus on sport development after the Birmingham Games.

The 31-year-old from Lifajaneng has represented Lesotho in several international championships including the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Mokhotho will be competing in the 57kg featherweight category.

“I am so ready to start my journey, I am ready to do what I came here for, and to do all it takes to reach finals,” Mokhotho said.

“Hopefully I will walk away with the gold medal since it has been my dream to. Physically, mentally I am all good and set.”

In the para-athletics (discus) Lesotho will be represented by Limpho Khotlele whose coach, Thabiso Ratšoane, has described as upbeat. He said they are going into the competition expecting to win, like every other athlete.

“We are prepared, we have done (the preparations). We are now in the competition. We left home in fighting spirits; we are expecting to fight with everything we have,” Ratšoane said.

“The expectation when you go into a competition is to win. We are no different, we expect the same. We use strength to throw.”

Athletes representing the country at this year’s Commonwealth Games are Lerato Sechele (triple jump), ‘Mathakane Letsie (5 000m and 10 000m), Mokulubete Makatisi (marathon), ‘Manqabang Tsibela (1 500m and 800m), ‘Neheng Khatala (10 000m), Mojela Koneshe (100m and 200m), Tšepo Mathibelle (marathon), Lebenya Nkoka (marathon), Tebello Ramakongoana (10 000m/marathon), Motlokoa Nkhabutlane (marathon), Limpho Khotlele (discus), Retšelisitsoe Kolobe (boxing 51kg), Moroke Mokhotho (boxing 57kg), Qhobosheane Mohlerepe (63.3kg), Phomolo Lengola (boxing 54kg), Arena Pakela (boxing 71kg), Phetetso Monese and Tumelo Makae (cycling, mountainbike), Kabelo Makatile and Teboho Khantši (cycling, road), Thapelo Sebota (weightlifting, 61kg).

Lesotho has competed in 11 Commonwealth Games beginning in 1974 and missing only the 1982 Games. Lesotho’s first medal was a gold medal in the men’s marathon, won by Thabiso Moqhali in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

It remains Lesotho’s only gold medal at the Games. The country’s other medal successes are a boxing bronze for Ezekiel Letuka at the 2002 Manchester Games in England and a boxing silver medal for Moses Kopo four years later in Melbourne, Australia.

Tlalane Phahla

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Bullock waves goodbye!

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MASERU – Two weeks ago, the Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) announced that its deputy secretary general, Chris Bullock, would be leaving his position to return home in the United Kingdom.

His last day in the office is tomorrow and he will leave the country next Thursday. Bullock has been in Lesotho for close to a decade and is well-known for the job he did at Kick4Life Football Club where he led a stable football programme from 2013 when he arrived in Lesotho until his move to LEFA in September 2020.

Bullock sat down with thepost this week in a wide-ranging interview as he reflected on his time in the Mountain Kingdom. It became clear during the discussion that his passion for sport and this country is undeniable. Lesotho is the place Bullock has called home for nine years and he even got married here.

Over the years through Kick4Life and his personal endeavours, Bullock has sought to help athletes better their lives, and says he hopes that one day athletes will be able to make a living through sport in Lesotho. While he is most famous for his work in football, including the women’s game, Bullock has been one of the foremost supporter to 18-year-old middle-distance star athlete ‘Manqabang Tsibela.

He added that it gives him joy to see the players Kick4Life has helped to get scholarships abroad doing well for themselves and having their future in their own hands because Kick4Life’s aim was to always change lives through sport.

When you first arrived here, did you think you would be here for this long?

No. I was meant to come for one year. I adapted very quickly; I was happy here, I was at Kick4Life then and the job started quite well. I knew during my first year that I would probably extend to a second year but there was never any point in my first few years that I thought I would be here for nine years, especially at the start. I agreed to come for one (year).

You have led a stable football programme at Kick4Life for a long time and the performances on the field reflected that. What do you think worked well for you?

The key has always been building a strong team of people, I have never achieved anything on my own. What we have achieved, we have done that as a team. We always had good support at Kick4Life because it was quite a stable organisation, at least, that allowed us to put things into place.

We managed to put (together) a team of good people. I was always lucky with the staff I had, the coaches, the players, and I think we always worked well as a team and that helped.

Before I arrived in Lesotho someone (at Kick4Life) sent me a report because the season before they stayed in the A Division on the last day of the season, they were very close to going to the B (Division).

The players sort of came together and came up with a report (of) why they think the team struggled, and they came up with things like ‘we drink too much’, ‘we don’t respect the coaches’ and I thought: what have I let myself into here?

What helped was that during that first preseason with the players we sat down with them.

I talked about my vision, the importance of working together as a team and wanted everyone to buy into what we wanted to achieve and everybody bought into that vision and were committed to what we wanted to achieve.

It’s all about everybody working well together. I have always been very lucky to have strong people around me, especially throughout my time at Kick4Life, everybody played their part.

It’s not just football you were involved in, you also got involved with the ‘Manqabang support group. How did that happen and is it something you are passionate about?

I realised how much of a role sport could play in the country to better lives, especially for the youth, and I became very passionate about that. What a lot of people don’t know is that my first time in Lesotho was in 2009. I came for two weeks with Kick4Life before I worked for them.

With ‘Manqabang I always remember I was in Botswana at the time and it was a photo of her winning I think it was 3000 metres and it was a photo of her coming first barefoot, behind there was a white South African girl.

In South Africa a lot of white athletes get opportunities at school, you know they are probably quite privileged and seeing this picture of ‘Manqabang made me want to get involved. That’s when I got in touch with the guys.

I really want to see sport developing in Lesotho but I also want to see youths get the opportunities to fulfil their talent. (The) Lesotho Cricket (Association) came to me (in 2020) after Kick4Life and I helped them put their strategic plan together.

I just want to see sports in the country grow. Obviously, football is my main passion, hopefully one day people will be able to make a career out of sport in Lesotho.

All the coaches you have worked with have nothing but good things to say about you, what do you think worked well with you and your coaches?

I think we have always been lucky with coaches, Dona (Motlalepula Majoro) was already there when I arrived; he took us to the Premier League. I don’t think we need to talk about Les (Leslie Notši) and Bob (Mafoso) because everybody knows what their records are and how good they are as coaches, but my job was to support coaches.

I always had a very good relationship with my coaches. We would meet regularly; we would always sit down and talk about what the plans were for the future. (We talked about) how I could support them and what their challenges were and they were also very understanding of what our limitations were and would understand what the budget was and what we could do with the budget and I think that’s important. If you have that regular interaction with your coaches, they also buy into what you want to do.

You have been with LEFA for a while now, how has it been?

I have loved it to be honest, I wish I could have stayed longer and had more time to make an impact but things change in life and you have to make hard decisions. I think I have managed to see where LEFA wants to go, I like to think I have been able to play a part in contributing towards that. A lot of it will still need to be implemented over the next few years, it takes time when it comes to development of football, it doesn’t happen overnight.

If the plans that we have put in place do get implemented, things will improve, football will grow. I am just grateful I was given an opportunity to be part of that journey, I just really hope that football will continue to grow, professionalise and hopefully move in the right direction.

Tlalane Phahla

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