Lesotho women’s taekwondo was once a dominant force.
In 1998, Lesotho’s women were crowned champions of Africa when they won the African Taekwondo Championships in Kenya.
Mary Lemphane, Likeleli Thamae, Lidia Thamae, Mojabeng Ralikonyana, Puleng Lala and Mosa Mputsoe all won gold in their respective weight divisions at the championships as Lesotho’s women stamped their continental supremacy in the sport.
The women continued their dominant form at the 1999 All Africa Games in South Africa claiming four gold medals. Their success boosted Lesotho’s haul to six gold medals, still the country’s best-ever haul at the African Games.
There were other notable successes as well.
In 2001, Masechocha Thamae won gold at the Military World Championship in the Netherlands while in 2003 Lineo Mochesane won the fin-weight crown at the All Africa Games.
The ascendant position of women’s taekwondo was confirmed in 2004 when Mochesane was Lesotho’s flag bearer during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
However, since those heights, participation has plummeted and success has dwindled.
At last year’s All Africa Games all four of Lesotho women in the taekwondo tournament were knocked out in the first round and this year none will go to the Rio Olympics.
This week thepost caught up with Lesotho Taekwondo Association (LTA) secretary Teboho Masimong to dissect the worrying state of affairs.
Masimong became LTA secretary general in 2012 and he addressed the challenges the association is facing in women’s taekwondo. He also spoke about what LTA is doing to rekindle the spark the women’s game once had.
What challenges are you facing in women’s taekwondo today?
The challenges are the same in terms of popularity. Taekwondo had those heydays when it was popular and we are no longer having those days because of many things which include a lack of interest from people towards the sport.
People are no longer playing taekwondo because of a lack of finances and, as a result, the standard of taekwondo has declined in the country. Just look at when LDF (Lesotho Defence Force) was involved full force in the sport. At that time the association (LTA) even had money. At one point LTA was given a budget of M500 000 but now we get less than a quarter of a million.
What went wrong with women’s taekwondo in particular? It used to be of the most successful sporting codes in Lesotho?
Yes, most of our Olympians here in Lesotho are women. Our strength has always been in women, hence why the elite of the elite are women. Likeleli Thamae, Lineo Mochesane these are Olympians.
There is the team of 1999 which won everything on offer at the All Africa Games that were held in South Africa. They won gold medals in every category we were represented. I know it sounds too good to be true, but it is. But, today women are scared to join taekwondo because it is a contact sport. Our Olympians were LDF members. Taekwondo was also financed by LDF soldiers and their withdrawal from the districts due to the 1998 disturbances also seriously affected the development of the sport.
Women’s taekwondo had successful athletes, such as Likeleli Thamae and others. What is LTA doing to tap into their knowledge in orderto grow the sport?
In 2013, we took Likeleli and put her in the Lesotho National Olympics Committee (LNOC) international coaching programme to make her an elite coach that is qualified on the international level. Today, she is one of the qualified coaches in the country.Last year, we took Lebohang Lenono into the same programme. The training takes a year and she will complete it in July. In terms of administration, we took Nthati Molapo last year to undergo training to become a trainer’s trainer. She is doing a programme at LNOC. These are women empowerment programmes. We thought it is important to involve women everywhere from coaching to administration.
What is LTA doing to improve women’s taekwondo on the ground? What are you doing to make sure there are opportunities for women that maybe interested in taekwondo?
Lucky enough coach (national coach Du-Khwi) Lee loves women because he says physically it takes time to teach and train women taekwondo but once they get it, they do not forget what they learnt and they excel. He is always scouting. Because we do not have championships that we can say assess people, we are still collecting our database of players, especially women. I think after the trainers training at the end of the month I would have a proper figure and their grades. The data gathering was ordered five years ago and it is on-going.
But, are you doing enough to popularise the sport and to attract support?
As the association, we have learnt and studied such things, and (we have) decided on what to do to bring back the spirit of taekwondo. Coincidentally, the former grand master was Joachim Lee and the current one is Du-Khwi Lee as well. Taekwondo is a contact sport. A lot of people are scared, especially women. Now that the soldiers went back to the barracks, the popularity has declined because they were helping with funds.We decided to put down the strategies to help the situation. We put systems in place. First, we started looking for a coach to help train the coaches and coach players just like (Joachim) Lee was doing but our main focus right now is to make sure that he (Du-Khwi Lee) imparts the skills to the local coaches.
Will we see women’s taekwondo qualify for Olympics in the near future?
If we can be successful in our strategies, we are confident that at the 2022 Olympics in Tokyo we will qualify not just with one athlete but with many. For now we are just waiting to see if Moloisane Marumo qualifies (for the men’s Rio 2016 tournament) through the universality place, we have realised that we can.
Are they any prospects in the women’s taekwondo at the moment?
We have an athlete that is very promising in Michelle Tau. Tau was at the All Africa Games last year. She is not a senior and she is so promising that we are confident that if she can hold on like this, she will be there in 2022 in Tokyo. Apart from Michelle, some the ladies we have are towards the end of their careers. Michelle is hardly 21; she still has time while others are nearing their 30s.
When will we see Lesotho dominant again on the international stage?
The coach now (Du-Khwi Lee)does not only want the fact we were once the African champions, his vision is taking us forward from where (Joachim) Lee left. He wants the players to be world champions. That’s his primary goal, hence why you see us training people. For example, Marumo was injured when he went to Morocco (African Taekwondo Union Olympic qualifying tournament in February) but he still managed to come with a bronze medal. We are confident that after setting up systems and giving (Du-Khwi) Lee what he needs we will be on the right path.
Where do you see women’s taekwondo in ten years?
Coach Lee is going to last for 10 years in Lesotho; we want an Olympic medal before he leaves. We want to put his skills to good use so we can be able to produce the best players ourselves. We want to be able to produce Olympians ourselves, we don’t want to participate in the Olympics but compete. In 10 years we will have gender equality within the LTA. Right now we have two women in the administration; we are working towards having more women within the association by sending them to trainings.
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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