MASERU-The football fraternity is mourning the passing of esteemed former Lesotho referee and instructor Rethusitsoe Lebaka who died last weekend after a short illness.
The news of Lebaka’s death comes as a shock to the game and condolences to his family are pouring in from all corners of the country.
On Monday, the Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) released a statement announcing his untimely death and Lebaka, who was 54 at the time of his death, leaves behind a wife and two daughters.
He was the fourth born to Mapoli and ‘Marejeleng Lebaka in Ha Rankhelepe but was living in Ha Abia.
Lebaka needed no introduction to football lovers. He was a well-known figure with a long history in the game.
While most famous for his exploits as a referee, Lebaka was a teacher by profession at Methodist Primary School and the school is also mourning his death.
His journey and love for football was told this week by those who knew him and the pain was still clear in their voices.
Lebaka began his refereeing career in 1998 and retired in 2009 after a decade blowing the whistle for the biggest games in local football.
He was highly-respected for his toughness on the pitch, making difficult decisions and not being intimidated by players, and it’s no wonder he went on to be the country’s best referees’ instructor after he retired.
Lebaka’s abilities also led to service for football mother bodies such as COSAFA, CAF and FIFA, spanning from his time as a referee to later as a match assessor and referees’ instructor.
His last continental assignment was as a match assessor for a 2022 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier between South Africa and Sao Tome and Principe at Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban, in November 2020.
LEFA’s head of referees, Mohau Sentšo, said Lebaka’s death is a big loss, not only to the association, but to football in general.
He said LEFA’s instructors now have to work hard to continue what Lebaka had started and honour his passion for developing referees.
Sentšo, a former international referee himself, said Lebaka was on various LEFA committees on which he represented referees.
He said Lebaka was always invited whenever training workshops were hosted locally, either by FIFA or CAF, because he was Lesotho’s senior referees’ instructor and had impressed in his previous international assignments.
“In 2019, (Lebaka) was invited to the COSAFA Under-17 Championship to train the referees that were at the tournament and he ended up being an international match assessor. They started using him for games and he was already doing that here at home,” Sentšo said.
“This is a big loss,” he added.
“Like I said, he was one of the best referees’ instructors we had. (Referees) were learning from him, now that he is not here anymore, what are we going to do? This means our instructors must work harder than before because now the person they were learning from is not here anymore.”
Sentšo continued: “For our referees it’s a big loss because they loved him, they understood him, even for our clubs it’s a big loss because whenever the new amendments arrived about the laws of the game he would be the one teaching the clubs about the new laws. He would be on radio speaking about how it is going to work, so this a big loss in football.”
Lebaka was involved in sports very early on in his teaching profession.
Former Lesotho referee, Manonyane Letsie, who worked with Lebaka in his formative years as a match official, said as young teachers they would regularly officiate at school tournaments.
Letsie said when opportunities arose to attend football training workshops they jumped at the chance and that is where they developed their mutual love for refereeing.
Letsie said the training workshops were divided into physical and oral sections.
Lebaka excelled in the oral tests and was always in the top three in marks.
Letsie said Lebaka reached levels his peers couldn’t and he still can’t believe his friend is gone.
“It is a big loss because he was the only senior instructor in the country, he went to so many courses and when someone of that calibre is gone it’s a big loss for the country. He was the one hosting our workshops here at home. We were coming after him, we were not on his level,” he said.
“We started refereeing back in 1998,” Letsie said.
“We were both teachers and at the time the ministry would host training courses for us because when it was sporting events for schools it would be us officiating. The first training we had was at (Lesotho Co-operative College) and we were in the top three performers; Lempe Moloi was top, Lebaka was second and I was third,” he said.
Letsie said Lebaka’s passion for refereeing and developing the best referees Lesotho could offer will live on.
Lebaka’s determination to ensure the laws of the game were followed and implemented correctly will also be the driving force and example for those who have been left to take over from him.
“I don’t even have anything to say,” Letsie sighed.
“Everywhere I am going people are talking about him, even his students have lost. I know a lot of people know him through football especially refereeing. He played at an amateur level, even now he was still playing during the offseason just to keep fit,” he said.
Sentšo said it is now the responsibility of LEFA’s Referees’ Committee to continue the work Lebaka was doing. Because it is the beginning of the year, the committee had already made plans and it was going to host various courses which Lebaka was going to be part of.
LEFA will have to find someone to take his spot.
“We are going to make sure we have good referees,” Sentšo said.
“Our instructors have to work hard. Yes, they may not reach his level but we are going to try and make sure they get there. The things (Lebaka) had planned we are going to continue them. As we are starting the new year, we already have courses that we have to host and he was going to be part of. Those who are still here now have to see who is going to take his place,” he said.
Lebaka will be remembered for his comical character at football matches. He was always making his presence felt by cracking jokes and having fun with those around him. The local game has lost a giant and Lebaka will never be forgotten. His legacy speaks for itself.
“We are going to remember his love for the job and even for us, we are going to remember the jokes,” Sentšo said.
“He was not only in the refereeing department; he was part of various (football) committees. So, it’s just not us who are going to remember him; football at large will remember him.”
Rabale eyes Champions League glory
Lesotho women’s team captain Boitumelo Rabale has her eyes on winning her second CAF Women’s Champions League with Mamelodi Sundowns as the tournament gets underway this weekend.
The third edition of the prestigious women’s club football is scheduled for Ivory Coast from November 5-19, where eight clubs will battle it out to be crowned Queens of the continent.
“Queen”, as the Lesotho star is commonly known, was part of the Sundowns squad that was crowned champions of the inaugural edition of the tournament held in Egypt two years ago, becoming the first player from the Mountain Kingdom to taste Champions League success.
She has become one of the key players in Jerry Tshabalala’s squad having walked away with the Hollywoodbets Player of the Season in the previous campaign and currently leads the goal-scoring charts with 21 goals.
“It was exciting to win the CAF Women’s Champions League with Sundowns two years ago and in the process becoming the first player from Lesotho to do so,” Rabale said.
“I felt very lucky and honoured to make history. It gave me confidence to continue working hard and strive for more success with the club”
Sundowns head to the tournament as regional champions after clinching the COSAFA qualifiers to qualify for the continental showpiece, where they will kickstart their campaign against Tanzania’s JKT Queens on Sunday.
Rabale admitted that memories of losing the last final to AS FAR still haunts them, but they head to Ivory Coast a better team than in the last tournament.
“We learnt the hard way when we lost in the final to AS FAR and we come back a better team having rectified our mistakes.
“It’s our dream to conquer the continent again and I have no doubt that we have what it takes to get our second star in Ivory Coast.
“It will be very good to add the second CAF Champions League medal to my trophy cabinet,” she said.
The 27-year-old has been prolific for Sundowns this campaign having scored nine goals in her last five matches to take her tally for this campaign to 21 goals.
Sundowns are in Group A alongside tournament hosts, Athletico Abidjan, Sporting Casablanca of Morocco, as well as Tanzania’s JKT Queen.
Since joining Sundowns in 2021, Rabale has won the Hollywoodbets Super League twice, the COSAFA Zonal qualifiers twice as well as the CAF Women’s Champions League and is the reigning Hollywoodbets Player of the season.
Red Skins fail to raise funds for championship
Lesotho volleyball giants Red Skins have failed to raise funds for the 2023 Zone 6 Senior Indoor Volleyball Club Championship they are set to host in December.
Red Skins will host the competition together with four other local volleyball clubs – Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Lesotho Mounted Police Station (LMPS) and Rivers – and the tournament is expected to start on December 7 and end 10 days later.
Without any funds or sponsors coming in, Red Skins will have to foot the bill from their pockets for the tournament which will see teams from 10 countries converge on Maseru.
Among the participating nations, Botswana is expected to bring the biggest contingent with 12 teams, with Zambia following closely behind with nine teams while Zimbabwe is set to be represented by six teams.
Two weeks ago, Red Skins participated in the Elite Cup in Gauteng, South Africa, which was hosted by Aqua Darshan Volleyball.
Red Skins hoped to win the tournament and return home with a hefty jackpot but they only collected M5 000 which was won by the men’s team.
A gala dinner that Red Skins hosted last weekend also failed to generate income due to low attendance and speaking to thepost on Tuesday, the club’s vice-captain, Moleboheng Mofolo, said they will have to push on with what they have to host the tournament.
Mofolo said they no longer have time to come up with other means to raise funds.
“Tournaments will require us to find sponsorships and we do not have time now, we have to focus and train well,” Mofolo said.
“Our coach already told us to camp from this week but rain is our biggest challenge because we cannot continue with the training,” she added.
Mofolo said Red Skins are fortunate that participating teams are going to take care of their accommodation and catering. She said if Red Skins had to provide those services, they would not have been able to manage.
She pleaded with individuals, organisations and companies to help the team, whether it is by offering accommodation, food, or whatever little they may have.
Giants avoid each other in Top 4 clash
Women Super League (WSL) giants Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Ladies and Kick4Life Ladies have avoided each other in the WSL Top 4 knockout competition.
The two-day showpiece takes centre stage this weekend at Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena and it will see last season’s top four finishers in the league – LDF, Kick4Life, Lijabatho and Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) Ladies – go head-to-head for bragging rights.
The draw for the competition took place last Friday and the semi-finals will see LDF go up against Lijabatho while Kick4Life will take on LMPS Ladies.
Both semi-finals will be played on Saturday with the tournament culminating the following day.
Sunday’s proceedings will kick-off with a third-place playoff game to determine who walks away with the bronze medals before the final later in the day.
All four games over the two days will be streamed on the FIFA+ website and the WSL Top 4 will usher in a new sponsor this year.
In the past, the Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) fully bankrolled the competition, however, Computer Business Solutions (CBS) has come on board with a sponsorship for the first time.
The competition’s prize monies have not been revealed because they are still being finalised, but, speaking at last Friday’s draw, LEFA’s associations secretary general, Mokhosi Mohapi, said the relationship with CBS is one that sport should engage in.
Mohapi added his hopes that the relationship will be a long-term one.
“While others are busy at their thing, we should really grow ours so that when their distraction finally ends, they find us as united as we can be as the football community,” Mohapi said.
“(We should be) united by the efforts and inputs that emanate from the business community, especially when it is a truly Lesotho business entity because other (foreign entities) are here to take money,” he said.
Addressing CBS as the tournament’s sponsor, Mohapi said: “We are thankful as LEFA for your initiative; (we) hope you will be in this marriage quite long. We know we are just testing the waters but we have a lot that can entice you to stay longer, not only my command but the instruments that we have.”
Mohapi said LEFA’s dream is that in two years’ time all league matches will be streaming on the FIFA+ platform which was launched last April by football’s world governing body to increase exposure of men and women’s football around the globe.
Currently, only three grounds in the country have the structures for broadcasting; Bambatha as well as the grounds at LDF and Lesotho Correctional Service grounds, and all are in Maseru.
LEFA plans to add more grounds to the list with the DIFA facilities in Maputsoe and Mohale’s Hoek set to be the first to follow suit.
“All our women’s competitions, cup competitions and (Vodacom) Premier League matches that will be played in those stadia that have our infrastructure – we will be able to stream those games internationally,” Mohapi said.
“We have extended our footprint,” he added.
“We are now doing LDF – we have already put up the structure – then we are moving to Maputsoe and, hopefully, Mohale’s Hoek. It is our desire that in two years’ time we will hopefully cover all the matches and put them on the FIFA+ streaming platform.”
WSL Top 4 fixtures:
Lijabatho Ladies vs. LDF Ladies
LMPS Ladies vs. Kick4Life Ladies
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