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Why our sport is in freefall

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MASERU – The Olympic Games are underway in Tokyo, Japan and Lesotho only has two athletes at the event. It is the smallest team Lesotho has had since the first edition which the country entered, the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany.
Obviously, there are mitigating factors.
There has been a pandemic for the past two years that flipped the world upside-down and disrupted training for many athletes that had hopes of qualifying for Tokyo 2020.

Lesotho at the Olympics:
Games editionTeam size
1972 Munich1
1976 MontrealDid not participate
1980 Moscow6
1984 Los Angeles4
1988 Seoul6
1992 Barcelona6
1996 Atlanta9
2000 Sydney6
2004 Athens3
2008 Beijing5
2012 London4
2016 Rio de Janeiro8
2020 Tokyo2

Covid-19 caused the postponement of the Olympics to this year and its effects are worse for lesser resourced countries such as Lesotho.
That is still an excuse, however.
This year neighbouring South Africa has sent its largest ever team to the Olympics with a squad of 185 athletes, for example, even in the midst of Covid-19.

Of course, comparing Lesotho to South Africa like-for-like is folly, but it is clear the pandemic isn’t the reason we only have two athletes in Japan. Other countries comparable to Lesotho, at least in terms of sporting history, have more athletes at the Olympics than Lesotho – Botswana has 12, Eswatini has four and Namibia has 12, for example.
The point is that Lesotho’s sport is in a poor state and it is a gradual decline that is going unchecked.

Yes, there have been bright spots here and there. Triple-jumper Lerato Sechele excitingly came fourth at the Commonwealth Games in 2018. Sprinter Mosito Lehata won silver at the African Championships in 2016. Likuena came third at the COSAFA Cup in 2018.
Those achievements have caveats, however.
Athletics is a mess today with no track and field athletes having met Olympic qualifying requirements for the past two years.
Likuena, meanwhile, always send their best players to the COSAFA Cup while other nations send developmental teams, so, in actual fact, Lesotho must always be amongst the favourites to win the tournament with that being the case.

The only noticeable sporting success Lesotho is having is in marathon, which is why Lesotho’s grand squad of two athletes in Tokyo is made up of two marathon runners – Khoarahlane Seutloali and ‘Neheng Khatala.
Marathon, though, is perhaps the most individual of all sports. It is fair to say it requires the least support when it comes to the development of the athlete at an early age. Lesotho is also a highland country which should give our athletes a natural advantage because they live and train in altitude.

A budding marathon runner can run on the roads on their own. They don’t necessary need huge investment in training and, if they are lucky, they can get to a race in South Africa or further afield, do well and be seen.
A recent case is ‘Manqabang Tsibela who won the 3000 metres race barefoot at the African Union Sports Council (AUSC) Region 5 Youth Games in 2018 in Botswana.

Before then few knew who she was and it would have probably remained the same if she hadn’t won, she would have come back home barefoot.
However, Tsibela’s victory caught the attention of people including Englishman Chris Bullock, who is now the Lesotho Football Association’s deputy secretary general, who dedicated himself to help Tsibela in nurturing her wonderful talent. Today, the 16-year-old is studying at Masowe High School thanks to Bullock’s efforts.

Ultimately, that is what it takes. Support is what allows you to compete at the highest level because it is very tough up there. Competition at the elite sporting level is intense and always improving. People in other countries train three or four times a day while our athletes are fortunate to train four times a week.
Lesotho is either incapable or uninterested in helping. The structures are poor and there is no progress, instead there is more attention on infighting and court cases between sports administrators. That is why the country’s sport is stagnant and being stagnant means you are going backwards and losing ground because others are improving.

Right now the Lesotho Athletics Federation (LAF) itself spent the last two years infighting instead of preparing athletes until elections earlier this year somewhat resolved issues.
That is just symptomatic of our sports going in reverse. Taekwondo is the best example. In the nineties we were told Lesotho was ranked third in the world. While that may have only been for a few weeks, if it ever did happen, is true that Lesotho was once Africa’s top country in taekwondo.

In 1996 Lesotho won the men’s championship at the inaugural African Taekwondo Championships. At the following edition in 1998 Lesotho was the men’s and women’s champion.

EditionYearHost countryMen’s championWomen’s champion
11996  South Africa  Lesotho  Kenya
21998  Kenya  Lesotho  Lesotho
32001  Senegal  Senegal  Senegal
42003  Nigeria  Egypt  Egypt
52005  Madagascar  Ivory Coast  Ivory Coast
62009  Cameroon  Egypt  Morocco
72010  Libya  Tunisia  Morocco
82012  Madagascar Ivory Coast  Egypt
92014  Tunisia  Egypt  Egypt
102016  Egypt  Egypt  Egypt
112018  Morocco  Tunisia  Morocco
122021  Senegal  Tunisia  Morocco


Those are truly remarkable and worthy achievements. Lesotho remains fifth all-time in terms of success at the African Championships. That is super. The countries ahead of Lesotho on the medals table – Egypt, Ivory Coast, Tunisia and Morocco – are heavyweights in African sports possessing greater resources.

RankNationGoldSilverBronzeTotal
1Egypt40232487
2Ivory Coast23204285
3Tunisia20162056
4Morocco20141953
5Lesotho1591135
6Senegal13152048
7Kenya9151539
8South Africa581124
9Libya571527
10Mali462030

However, Lesotho hasn’t qualified for the Olympics in taekwondo since 2004. Last year Marumo Moloisane, Michelle Tau, and Rethabile Tjotjo all lost their preliminary bouts in Morocco in their quest to qualify for Tokyo.

Lesotho taekwondo players at Olympic Games:
YearAthleteCategory
2000 SydneyLikeleli ThamaeFlyweight (women)
2000 SydneyMokete MokhosiWelterweight (men)
2004 AthensLineo MochesaneFlyweight (women)


The bottom line is that to a young person, Lesotho’s taekwondo dominance and success is a myth.
Lesotho is not even a player in taekwondo anymore. Lesotho is currently ranked 129th in the world in taekwondo. And, in the meantime, just like its friend the LAF, the LTA has been busy fighting inside wars instead of developing the sport.

The moral of the story is that Lesotho’s administrators have their eyes on the wrong prize and, as a result, are completely off the ball.
The ones suffering are the athletes who dream of competing globally like those before them – like Thabiso Moqhali, gold medal winner the 1998 Commonwealth goal in the marathon, Moses Kopo silver medal winner in boxing at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, your Lehatas and Selloane Tšoaelis.

The country’s sporting image also continues to suffer. Likuena are back to being the butt of jokes to neighbours after losing their final two group games at the recent COSAFA Cup by a combined score of 8-0. A few weeks earlier the players were caught smoking bongs and stealing money in Mozambique.
But, can we really blame them when there is no direction from the top? Sport is constantly improving and evolving elsewhere. What was adequate even ten years ago is no longer at all.
Lesotho has two athletes at the Tokyo Olympics.
If we are not careful, next time we will have zero.

Teboho Molapo

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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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