‘We need 20 years to win a gold’

‘We need 20 years to win a gold’

MASERU – With just over month to go before Team Lesotho departs for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, the country’s preparations are in chaos. Lesotho is set to be represented at the Games by 22 athletes across five sporting codes – athletics, boxing, cycling, table tennis and weightlifting.

Due to a lack of funding, however, several sports bodies are behind schedule with their preparations and athletes are yet to camp.
The on-going blunders appear to be a precursor to another disappointing showing when the global showpiece begins on April 4 at the Carrara Stadium in Queensland.

It is almost 20 years since Lesotho won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games through marathon runner Thabiso Moqhali.
Since Moqhali’s memorable victory at the 1998 event in Kuala Lumpur, Lesotho’s outings at international championships have been littered with flops.

As the country heads into another global event, thepost met with Moqhali to discuss Lesotho’s hopes and the state of athletics in the country. In a hard-hitting conversation the legendary runner pulls no punches.
In fact, Moqhali says it will take another 20 years for Lesotho to win international gold again unless things change in the country’s sports administration.

thepost: You remain the only Lesotho athlete to ever win a gold medal at a global Games. Why has the country failed to win gold since?

Moqhali: The marathon is not an athletic event, it comes at the end of a runner’s athletic arc, meaning I was old (31) when I won – I was no longer in athletics.

Athletics is track and field; that is where we run, throw and jump. Right now we are only expecting to win a gold medal in the marathon yet we have so many other fields in which we could win; throwing, jumping and running – that is athletics.
To expect to win gold in the marathon at the Commonwealth Games or Olympics is very difficult because we are expecting to have an extraordinary performer.

If we look at the athletes we have – the famous ones you could hope to bring gold medals – they don’t have track experience at 5000 or 10 000 metre races.

I started running the 800 metres when I was at school. As I was growing and progressing I ran the 5000, then 10 000 and then after that I ran the marathon. I went to the Commonwealth Games for the first time in 1986 and I was losing. But because I started on the track I had it in me that I must win.

So if all these runners that we expect to bring gold do not have that determination or support from government and their national federation, we are going to have another 20 years before someone wins a gold medal in the marathon.

When we come to track and field it is going to be a decade before we can have a gold winner because our leadership in athletics is not visible at the development level. People who went to school to study sports management do not manage the clubs.

The first thing they want is to work at the Lesotho National Olympic Committee (LNOC), Lesotho Sport and Recreational Commission (LSRC) and the public sector. They do not form clubs in their own villages and teach kids to run, jump and throw and allow kids to show their talent.
We have a problem that when we go to the Commonwealth Games we only go with people who run. Where are the javelin athletes? Where are the high jumpers? And no one seems to be worried about that.

They are saying we are going to the Commonwealth Games with an athletics team but that’s not athletics. Athletics is when we have running, throwing and jumping athletes. This is why we cannot have another gold medal in this country because the people that can lead us, those who are educated, are not there at the development level.

Do we have the programmes in place to support our talent?

If you go to the LNOC, people that are working there with development don’t know sports at club level; they only know about when they are organising to go to the Olympics.
No one is worried that sports are not being given to Basotho the way they should be. In an athletic programme there should be kids’ athletics – 6 to 12 year olds should be learning athletics and getting the mentality that he or she can be a runner. That’s where you instill your fundamentals. You run, you throw and you jump, you do all those things.

Then there is another phase after that for 13 to 15 year olds which is skills learning. This is where they learn to do their discipline with proper technique – whether it is jumping, throwing javelin, shot-put, discus or running.

Then there should be a school programme but when you look at schools there are no qualified people who are training kids on skills. When schools go to the stadium to compete they just go there and run.

The programme that is being used in Lesotho has never changed since I was running or before me, there is nothing new that is coming into this country.
We have a youth programme now where young runners run 5 kilometre races at major races such as the High Altitude (Summer Marathon in Mokhotlong) and other races. But when the young runners are done they chase money, they want to be like Mabuthile Lebopo or Teboho Sello who are established marathon runners that are well into their 30s.

What about the development of sport where you can run on the track at 25 years or even 30? Only when you are above that age can you start running the marathon. There are youth world championships where Lesotho should be participating but doesn’t.
If we don’t participate at these championships how can we expect to perform at the Commonwealth (Games)? When we go to the Commonwealth Games in athletics we have (sprinter) Mosito Lehata only.

We go there without a team that’s going to throw and jump; those are some of the opportunities we are missing.

The athletics team’s preparations for the Commonwealth Games are behind because of a lack of funding. What are your thoughts on this? How can this affect their performance?

Preparations affect those programmes I was talking about.
When we have championships we should be able to select a team. Whoever jumps higher or throws better will go to the Commonwealth Games. Then after that we will have a team that we can talk about and say we selected. But now we are in a situation where a team is not selected; the national associations just nominate (athletes), it is a crisis.

There were no national championships to select a team (for the Commonwealth Games).
When it comes to funding, when an athlete qualifies for the Olympics the Olympic Solidarity (fund) gives them a preparation grant. Money doesn’t come from government but they are still able to prepare.

But, if we don’t have those programmes I talked about, it means we will not have anyone who qualifies in throwing or jumping. That means the money that could come from the Olympic Solidarity will not come into our associations and we will always be looking at the government.

If we can work hard and produce stars we will not need the government’s money. We can take up to 60 athletes to the Olympics which is something that happens in other countries such as Kenya, America and others. It is not because they are rich, it is because there is support.

Without these programmes and the support you mentioned is there any hope for Lesotho to compete internationally?

No. We can’t have sports being run from the top only when we are going to the Olympics.
Sports are only alive when we go to the Olympics, only when we go to the Commonwealth Games. After that there are no sports. We wait two years for the Olympics to start and then we will start again.

This has been happening for a long time – since I was young. (The national selectors) would take the soldiers because they are always running. They were the only ones who were selected to represent the country. When we came in (in the early 1980s), there were no clubs, people were just selected, sports were not taken to the nation.

Go visit schools now, big or small ones, and see if there is shot-put, javelin, discus and high jump – they are not there. So, if it is not happening at schools how do we expect these kids to learn?

Marathon specialist Motlokoa Nkhabutlane was a big hope for Lesotho for these Commonwealth Games but he pulled out to focus on more lucrative marathons abroad. Is this something we will see more of in future because athletes are becoming fed up with the lack of incentive to represent Lesotho? Are you worried more athletes will follow Nkhabutlane’s lead? Is it still worth it to represent Lesotho?

If you are a runner, you are like a soldier; you work for the country but under good administration.
If we have the things that I mentioned before, we wouldn’t have this crisis.

Our athletes never had enough time to explore sports at a young age. What the athlete knows is that through sports he can provide for his children and he can see that he will only be able to do that while he is still young because when he is older he won’t be able to (through running) – time is going.
So, honestly, it is true for an athlete to say in order for me to go here give me this much because I could be using this time to be running elsewhere. And he needs the money.

But if we were running sports correctly this wouldn’t happen because what would be going through the athlete’s mind is can’t I bring home a gold medal for my country so that my country can recognise it?

What is going through the heads of these athletes is that my previous success was never recognised and that can be justified by the fact that when they leave to go compete at these Games there is nothing that is being put down to say: ‘If you come home with that gold we are going to give you this.”
When our athletes get to these global Games they meet all the other participants and they see how things are done in other countries.
In other countries their athletes are told that everyone who wins a gold medal will get a car.

Luciah Phahla

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