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‘We need 20 years to win a gold’

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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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Lifofane in dreamland

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Lifofane are enjoying their best top-flight season since winning promotion in 2019.

The Butha-Buthe side are seventh in the Vodacom Premier League after a four-match unbeaten run and a win over relegation-threatened Manonyane on Sunday could see them catapult into the top six and within touching distance of an improbable top four finish.

The roots of Lifofane’s success can partly be traced back to 2020 when they shocked the country by capturing the Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) Top 4 tournament.

The Buthe-Buthe outfit bagged M195 000 for winning the knockout competition in Matšonyane and that money has helped the upstart club progress.

Lifofane were able to buy training equipment and gear to improve their on-field product and, off the field, some money was saved to cover the team’s food and transport costs on away days.

Five years later and Lifofane are reaping the benefits of their prudent management.

Their management choices include the hiring of Katiso Mojakhomo as coach in March last year and his arrival has been a home run – Lifofane have developed into a disciplined, well-oiled machine this season.

Mojakhomo is one of Lesotho’s most successful coaches having won back-to-back league titles in 2007 and 2008 with the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) and his experience has allowed Lifofane to punch above their weight which was perfectly epitomised in their last two matches, a pair of 1-1 draws with Matlama and defending champions Bantu.

Both opponents were traditional giants desperately chasing the league title but Lifofane matched them blow for blow.

Mojakhomo said he is delighted with the improvement he has seen in his charges but there is still room to grow.

“It is our expectation to see the team at the top by the end of this Premier League season and we are going to work as hard as we can to make this happen,” he said.

Lifofane, of course, are not the league’s first surprise package.

Many clubs have had a good season or two before fading away.

Sundawana and Sky Battalion are just two teams over the past decade that have taken the elite league by storm for one campaign only to vanish from memory.

Mojakhomo said Lifofane’s vision extends beyond just doing well this season.

He said the club are determined not to allow their smaller stature to hinder their ambitions of establishing a long-term status in the premiership and competing with the big boys for seasons to come.

“There are many challenges that the team faces but we try to overcome them in as many ways as possible,” Mojakhomo said.

“The team’s management work together to come up with solutions.”

Moipone Makhoalinyane

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Seema wins top award

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Lesotho football legend Lehlohonolo Seema has praised his Sekhukhune United players after he was named Coach of The Month for February and March in South Africa’s DSTV Premiership.

It is the first time Seema has won the prestigious award in his coaching career and it rewards the impressive job he has done at Sekhukhune since joining the club in November from Polokwane City.

Sekhukhune United, or “Babina Noko”, are unbeaten over the last two months.

In the process, they have scored 11 goals and conceded just three times to shoot all the way up to fourth place in South Africa’s elite league.

Their unbeaten 2024 includes a five-match winning streak in which they beat Richards Bay 3-1 and Golden Arrows 1-0 in February and then dispatched Royal AM 1-0, Swallows 4-1 and Soweto giants Orlando Pirates 2-1 in March.

Seema told thepost he is delighted to receive the recognition, especially because it is his first time winning the award.

He also praised his players for their role in the team’s success.

His captain, Linda Mntambo, was named the DSTV Premiership player of the month and it is the first time a player and a coach from Sekhukhune United win the award.

“This recognition is the first-ever recognition in my life and for ‘Babina Noko’,” Seema said.

“I honour my players a great deal because, without them, I would not have been recognised. Their effort and passion has brought us this far.”

Seema said it is not easy coaching in the pressure cooker that is South Africa’s top-flight but his side have managed to navigate through the challenges they have encountered.

“The pressure in the DSTV Premiership is real. Every team is fighting but what helps me and the team is taking it one game at a time,” Seema said.

The highlight of Sekhukhune’s run over the past two months was their stunning 2-1 win on March 30 over Orlando Pirates, a side Seema captained during his playing days, which must have made that particular victory all the more sweeter.

The former Likuena captain said beating big teams like Orlando Pirates is not an easy assignment and Sekhukhune United’s victory showed him that the team was growing.

Now, Seema is gunning for nothing less than a top four finish at the end of the season.

A first-ever CAF Champions League spot for Sekhukhune United is also possible.

Finishing in the DSTV Premiership’s top two spots earns a coveted ticket to Africa’s premier club competition and Seema’s side are four points behind second-placed Stellenbosch with eight games to go.

Sekhukhune United’s next opponents?

Stellenbosch, at home, next Wednesday.

“Now we have to prepare well, more than before,” Seema said.

“Our schedule for the next games is very tight. If we will be playing against Stellenbosch on the 17th (of April) and on the 20th we are playing again against Cape Town Spurs, two days will not be enough – we have to start now to prepare for both games,’ he said.

Seema said his appreciation also goes to Sekhukhune United’s supporters.

“Their presence lifts us to win.”

Relebohile Tšepe

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Linare players set for windfall

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Linare players are dreaming of walking away with M330 000 at the end of the season by snatching second place in the Vodacom Premier League.
‘Tse Tala’ have won five of their last six matches and are the hottest team in the top-flight right now.

Linare are unbeaten in the league since February 10 and no team has collected more points than the 16 the Hlotse side have amassed in that period.

Their fine form continued on Sunday with a 2-0 win over Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and now Linare’s players want second place, at least.

Linare are fourth in the Vodacom Premier League with 43 points from 24 games, 11 points behind second-placed Matlama with six games to go.

It is a longshot to crack the top two, but ‘Tse Tala’ believe they can do it and midfielders Tšepang Sefali and Tšepo Makhanya said they have not given up hope of even stealing the league title.

“We would be so grateful if we can reach second place but if (league leaders) Lioli lose three or four games, we will have the opportunity to be the champions,” Sefali said.

Linare’s confidence is soaring high because they don’t know what a loss feels like since Bob Mafoso took over in early February.

Their only defeat came last month in the People’s Cup semi-finals against Matlama and that was on penalties.

Mafoso took over after Leslie Notši’s departure in January and Sefali and Makhanya said they have felt the difference.

Linare finished second in the Vodacom Premiership last season under Notši, an impressive feat, but they had dropped to seventh place by the time he departed.

With a top four finish slipping away, Linare found a new spring in their step when Mafoso arrived and Sefali said they hit the ground running because they knew what their new coach demanded and expected of his players.

“Almost all the players in the team have met and faced (Mafoso) before (when he was coaching other teams) and they all understand his strategies and techniques,” Sefali said.

“Our players already knew what he wants from the players, so we do not want to waste any time but do exactly (what Mafoso wants),” he said.

“Yes, coach Leslie Notši did a good job and we appreciated his effort but now we are seeing what we expected in the league because of the presence of (Mafoso),” Makhanya said.

Sefali said the competition for places has skyrocketed over the past two months and that is pushing every player to work hard and fight to play every match.

“There is too much competition; everyone wants to prove his talent to coach. Everyone wants to play every game but I am happy that our coach gives every player a chance to play which makes the team improve,” Sefali said.

“Even though we have not had much time with (Mafoso), his presence has brought a positive impact on the team,” he added. “I believe going forward; we will do more than what we are doing. I believe it is not early to praise him.”

Makhanya said one of the keys has been the togetherness Mafoso has brought to the team and they are confident to say they will stay in the top four and even finish the Vodacom Premier League season in second place.

A top four finish would be real progress for ‘Tse Tala’ because they have not had consecutive top four finishes since 2004, mainly because Linare have been consistently inconsistent from year to year.

Mafoso told thepost on Monday that very experienced coaches mentored the team before his arrival. He said his predecessors, Notši and South African guru Teboho Moloi, did a lot of good work so the reception of the players has made his job easier.

“I would like to appreciate the reception they gave me,” Mafoso said.

“Every team is good because of the players it has, so I accepted the assignment (to coach Linare) because of the quality that I believed the team could have. It is a long process that is at its start, but we are happy with how we are growing,” he said.

Mafoso said Linare are ready to win as many games as they can to finish the season on a high note.

“The dedication and attitude of the players satisfies me a lot, it is why we are doing well,” Mafoso said.

Relebohile Tšepe

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