It was in 2015 when Arena Pakela started boxing and, although he was just 16-years-old at the time, Pakela was considered old enough to be starting as a novice in boxing.
By the end of his first year in the sport, Pakela had earned a call-up to the national Under-20 team against all odds.
Pakela had just finished a bout when he was told he would be travelling with the Under-20 squad to a tournament in Angola.
He could not believe it. After all, boxing was never his sport to begin with, his first passion was taekwondo which he excelled in until 2015 when he switched to boxing.
Today, Pakela is no longer a teenager.
He is in an immaculate shape and is dreaming of qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
He has already competed in the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, and the 2022 World Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, not to mention the numerous African Championships he has competed in.
Pakela competes in the 71kg weight class, he is Lesotho’s top rated boxer in the category and is, perhaps, the best boxer at the moment.
Of all boxers who will be going to Dakar, Senegal, in September for the 2024 Olympic qualifiers, the 23-year-old is the big hope Lesotho has of qualifying.
He missed out on the Tokyo Olympics four years ago when he was knocked out in the quarter-finals.
Now having competed at the highest level since then, Pakela believes he is in a good position to qualify.
In last year’s Commonwealth Games, he was eliminated in round 16 as he lost 5-0 on points to Aidan Walsh of Northern Ireland in the light middleweight category (67-71kg).
Walsh is an Olympic bronze medalist and that was a fight that Pakela says sticks out in his memory.
Pakela had only fought against African boxers before he reached the Commonwealth Games and even in the first round, he started the competition by defeating Isaac Zebra of Uganda 4-1 on points.
Against Walsh, Pakela said he realised African boxers have a long way to go.
“I think it was in England, I was fighting against a champion (Walsh). He had a medal from the Olympics, I consider him a champion. I realised we need to pull up our socks to get to their level,” he said.
This weekend Pakela and the Lesotho boxing team will head to Welkom in South Africa for a tournament. Before the qualifiers, Team Lesotho will also compete in the
Boxing Championships in Mozambique as well as the African Championships in Cameroon.
After what he calls a disappointment in Uzbekistan where he thought he had won the fight, only for his opponent to be declared a winner, Pakela says he is more determined than ever to take all his experiences into the ring and qualify for the Olympics.
“I thought I won, even when I was fighting, I thought I was winning. I was disappointed, my coaches also thought I was winning but we learned why I lost. I was slow, now I know I have to be fast, it was a learning curve and I will take what I have learned in Uzbekistan and try to qualify. It will be the first time if I do qualify,” he said.
Every day, Pakela is training, doing sparring and all different boxing techniques. In the morning and in the evening he works with his coach Meshack Letsoepa. Letsoepa works specifically with Pakela under the Olympic Solidarity Scholarship programme.
Like any athlete, support from family has been key to his growth. He credits his mother for her unconditional support which, at the beginning of his journey, included finances.
He said because he is busy with training, the only free chance he gets is to rest. There is no time to be involved in anything that may get him in trouble. Over the last five years, boxing has lost prominent fighters due to street and tavern fights.
“Boxing is my life. My mother has been my biggest supporter, my father passed on a long time ago so it’s been her since I started, even when we didn’t have finances she would pay until now that I am able to do everything myself,” he said.
Letsoepa has known Pakela for over five years and said his commitment to the sport and his sessions is what sets him apart from other athletes.
He said the Covid-19 pandemic stunted Pakela’s growth a bit because for close to two years he could not compete. The duo have had to work hard to get Pakela back to the level he is at now.
“Commitment. He is very committed when it comes to training, sparing and so on,” Letsoepa said.
“Some athletes when it gets tough, they start crying about shoulder cramps, we have been athletes (before and) we can see when an athlete is faking an injury. Ever since I started working with him, I have not had that problem of him not turning up for sessions. He sacrifices a lot for boxing,” he said.
“His growth up to now is incredible even though we were affected by Covid-19. Here at home everything stopped while in some countries we were able to still go to tournaments. But as soon as sports were allowed again, we got back and worked hard, he was a bit far and Covid-19 affected him. He has been doing well because after that we went to the Zone 4 games in Mozambique and he did well,” he said.
When Pakela and his national teammates went to the Commonwealth Games, they did so without competing in a single friendly tournament outside the country. Lack of proper preparations is what limits athletes at big competitions according to Letsoepa.
“I was part of the team that went to Australia (Commonwealth Games in 2006) where Moses Kopo came back with a silver medal. Before the games, we camped for two months, we spent a month in Botswana as African teams and every day it was boxing,” he said.
That remains the last medal Lesotho has won in boxing at international games, and if the athletes were afforded similar preparation like Kopo, who knows what could happen in Paris next year?
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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