3 November 2017

Lesotho: Bad Publicity Hampers Our Work - LNOC

interview

THE Lesotho National Olympic Committee (LNOC) has been in the news since their controversial elections in February were disputed by some of the affiliates leading to an arbitration award by Advocate Rasekoai which called for fresh polls.

The same committee headed by President, Matlohang Moiloa Ramoqopo, was recently returned to the helm of the association.

In this wide ranging interview, Lesotho Times Sports reporter, Mikia Kalati (LT) speaks with LNOC Secretary General, Morake Raleaka, (MR) on the performance of Lesotho in international competitions, the power struggles within the organisation as the controversy regarding the Olympic Solidarity scholarships.

 Lerato Sechele and Mosito Lehata recently returned home after completing the Olympic Solidarity scholarship in Senegal and Mauritius respectively. The feeling within the sports fraternity is that their performance would have been much better had they been taken to countries with a rich history of athletics. Why Senegal and Mauritius when both countries are not powerhouses as far as athletics are concerned?

Let me provide a full brief on the procedure for applying for Olympic Scholarship Programmes. The Olympic Solidarity (OS) begins by informing all the national Olympic committees (NOCs) that there is an open window for scholarships. It is the responsibility of the NOCs to call on their national federations (NFs) to file applications or submissions of their athletes who are potential recipients of the scholarships and these must be seeded in the International Federations' (Ifs) databases.

As part of eligibility assessment, the OS will forward the applications received from NOCs to respective IFs for objective evaluation and benchmarking assessments.

Every application must indicate whether the NOC (guided by the NF) prefers the High Performance (HP) placement option or NOC Training option (which refers to domestic placement training supervised by the NOC).

The onus remains with the IF(s) to advise the OS whether or not to approve an application.

Neither OS nor NOC(s) have a say in the choice of the HP Centre where the athlete is placed. The IF(s) technical evaluation of athlete's performance (technical profile) is the one that determines his/her needs and therefore the HP Centre or country where the athlete is placed.

Furthermore, the IF retains the right to recommend an athlete for HP Centre placing or to suggest that an athlete remains under the NOC Training option. The IF does this in consultation with the OS irrespective of whatever option was applied for.

Thereafter the OS advises the NOC(s) of the proposed allocation of the scholarships where there is any.

Based on the Lesotho Athletics Amateur Association (LAAA) guidance upon its application (for 2013 - 2016 quadrennial) with us, the LNOC applied for Mosito and Lerato (and other athletes from LAAA such as Selloane Tšoaeli) where we requested for the duo to be channelled under the HP Centre Option.

The IAAF recommended for Mosito to be returned to and placed under the Mauritius HPC while Lerato was recommended for the Senegal HPC.

The other athletes' applications were declined. And despite our application where we recommended HPC placing the other three athletes (two boxers and one swimmer) their respective IFs only approved a local NOC training option for them.

Perhaps Lerato was referred to the Senegal IAAF Accredited HPC because the same centre produced a gold medallist in triple jump at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. The athlete was from Cameroon.

Unfortunately the coach who had been at the centre got a better offer in Russia and left soon after the 2008 Olympic Games. The HPC had pledged to find a coach with similar attributes but this was not to be.

The same centre also used to produce good 400m athletes under the great Cameroonian coach who unfortunately passed on during the recent quadrennials and the centre subsequently failed to secure a coach with similar capabilities.

It is very unfortunate that through repetitive deliberate efforts, you have tainted the LNOC image by claiming it was negligent in choosing the HPC for the athletes when the onus sits 100 percent with the Ifs and not even OS.

Make no mistake, the LNOC has no ethical right to negotiate with the IAAF but only the OS should things come to a head. Instead, the LAAA is the one that has a right to plead and negotiate with the IAAF about evaluation of its athletes' profiles.

The LNOC's role on Olympic Scholarship Programme is mainly to mobilise resources on behalf of Lesotho athletes- a role it has been executing exceptionally despite the poor rankings of most of the Lesotho athletes.

We have negotiated with the OS to plead with the IFs to allocate more opportunities to our athletes as their profiles are usually shady due to poor performance, limited and/or lack of appearance at IFs accredited events as their respective NFs often fail to participate at such events.

Contrary to your previous publications of articles about the same subject, the LNOC and OS did not choose Mauritius and Senegal for the athletes but the IAAF did on the basis of their technical evaluation.

And unfortunately due to several complaints that most of the NOCs (Lesotho included) filed with the OS about the poor performances of some of our athletes placed at certain IAAF accredited HPCs and other reasons, the OS has terminated its partnership contract with the IAAF on athlete HPC placement in respect of the 2017 - 2020 Olympic Scholarship Programmes.

Now, the onus sits with the NOCs to look for better value and directly negotiate what could be best for its athletes with the HPCs within the OS' monthly allocable budget.

Does LNOC have any plans to help the two athletes get back to their best again based on the fact that their standards have dropped badly over the last two years?

Yes the LNOC have clear plans and we have secured six Olympic scholarship programmes for four NFs. The two athletes are included along with another athlete and this is in preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Currently, we are busy negotiating possible placement of Lehata under one prominent coach in South Africa who works closely with one university that we have special relationship with. Negotiations are at advanced stage and there will be a full disclosure once an agreement has been reached.

Sechele was recently quoted in the media saying her stay in Senegal was very painful so much that in some days she struggled for food while her standards dropped badly. Was the LNOC following her progress in Senegal?

It was not the role of the LNOC to undertake daily routine checks of the athletes under HPCs option but that of the LAAA.

But contrary to expected practice, the LNOC assumed that role to a point where held several discussions with the director of the centre in Senegal about Sechele's performance as it was evident that she was not getting the support expected.

We even elevated the matter with OS where we requested its intervention and the OS gave us with the monthly reports from the HPC signed by Sechele where she acknowledged her training procedures, needs and general welfare were all in "great" condition.

The portfolio of evidence compromised our position and that of the OS, more so when it was not even our responsibility but that of the LAAA to make periodical aggressive follow ups with the HPC on their athletes on the pretext that training programmes are better understood by the NFs as it speaks technical relativities.

Did we stop as the LNOC? No we did not, we pushed the Senegal HPC hard that at some point we even made it clear that if Sechele does not qualify for Rio 2016 we would not compromise for her as we secured her resources in order to advance her chances for the Olympic qualifications.

Yet it is very unfortunate that blame has been shifted to us from those that abandoned their roles. And this was done without even asking the position of the LNOC on the matter. It was so disturbing.

Is LNOC happy with the progress of the five athletes that were under the Olympic Solidary scholarship over the last three years?

Yes and no. For every investment there is always an expected positive return on the investment. The LNOC dug deep to unearth opportunities such as the OS Scholarships. It does not come on a silver platter as people think, it's a survival of the fittest to secure just one opportunity more so when many, many countries score zero despite their applications. The LNOC application went through the same screenings as other countries and what always differs is how each country packaged its value proposition on each athlete - a skill that the LNOC secretariat survives on to leverage the sustainability of the NOC operations.

So, having three athletes qualifying for the Rio 2016 has been an average performance for us as we aimed for better. However, considering all the odds in the scene that the Lesotho Government has not made any definite timely investment in our athletes' preparations for the Olympic Games, three then gets a satisfactory acclamation.

Now, the two athletes that did not qualify obviously weakened our hopes for success as the aim was for two out of the five to advance to the semi-finals at Rio 201- an objective that was not realised.

There have been reports from sports association and former LNOC members that these two countries were chosen in order to boost chances of some members of the LNOC to get seats in sporting bodies such as ANOCA and IOC?

How awful. Such speculation is baseless and utter nonsense as none of the two countries are performing to the level of Lesotho NOC when it's comes to NOC overall operational performance.

Representation at any international governing structure is purely determined by each individual leadership profile (personal attributes) which should be backed up the overall operations and strategic performance of the individual's NOC.

It has become a common practice in Africa that leaders want to stay in power forever. Some people within the sports fraternity feel it's the same with LNOC as some members have been in the committee for almost two decades especially the president and the vice president.

Leadership is about service delivery and practicing ethical conduct within the framework of generally accepted standards. If one is able to deliver to the expected standards while given all the necessary resources, it is my view that it is within their rights to make a choice to seek re-election as long as they do not contravene any constitutional rules.

But if the person is given all the resources but still fails to perform, then, I for one, believe that it is only prudent for that person to conduct self-introspection and decide whether or not to seek re-election.

Is it not time for them to make way from fresh ideas since Lesotho has continued to be a laughing stock on the big stage as was the case at the Rio Olympics and other competitions?

The question is whether this would address the root causes of Team Lesotho's dismal performances or whether that would simply satisfy the appetites of those who do not want to address the cause of the problem as opposed to its effects.

LNOC does not own athletes but the NFs do. The role of LNOC is resource mobilisation to help advance the NFs' preparation programmes for any major games while the NFs remains entirely responsible for developing and implementing high impact preparatory programmes.

But in reality most of these NFs in Lesotho have no capacity to develop a convincing evidence based intensive training programme.

Save for cycling, most of the NFs still do not have selection criteria benchmarked on the best in the world.

The LNOC recently gave them guidance with development, implementation and enforcement of programmes despite resistance that was encountered.

Sport in Lesotho is not run professionally by the mother-bodies who fail to hold NFs accountable and enforce punitive measures and also by the Ministry of Sport which lacks a sector plan.

This leaves the decisions pertaining to sport development programmes to be made on emotions/subjectivity at the expense of objectivity.

Several researches have shown that competitive performances at the Commonwealth and Olympic Games are no longer dependent on natural talent but on extensive investment in an athlete's training, comprehensive sports science support, adequate exposure and all-inclusive coaching support.

Lack of timely funding from the government including lack of interest in athletes as well as lack of timely progressive training patterns and due diligence to ensure that mother-bodies allocate resources timeously is part of the problem.

Other challenges include the failure by the Ministry of Sport, the mother bodies and NFs to mobilise private sector to invest in sport as a result of poor quality data management and lack of reliable statistics to substantiate value propositions.

There is also the lack of governing and technical performance instruments by NFs to serve the interests of the athletes due to the fact that sport in Lesotho is managed mainly by volunteers. Limited attention is given towards the professionalisation of NFs' operations by such volunteers especially when there is no consistent financial commitment from government.

The LNOC is not being subvented yet it is expected to prepare a team which shall participate and compete with the world's best that are supported financially and heavily by their governments.

At the ministry level, there is no national sport policy, there is lack of sector plan, lack of transparency on how the national budget of sport in derived and its distribution which has resulted in continuing misunderstanding between the LSRC and the LNOC.

Now, would the stepping down of the LNOC Committee will solve these underlying challenges that mostly are out of their control? For me, what matters most is solutions and timely quality service delivery.

LNOC has made headlines over the elections that were held in February with arbitrator Advocate Rasekoai calling for fresh elections. According to his report the LNOC elections were irregularly conducted. Why did your committee refuse to recognise the arbitration award when the LNOC agreed to his mediation in the first place?

The LNOC pulled out of arbitration and it called a press conference to explain why it pulled out. The LNOC filed an appeal with CAS and this will set the direction for the LNOC Board.

How is the working relationship between LNOC and the associations that challenged the LNOC elections?

There are no restrictions and we cannot punish members for exercising their constitutional right for as long as they don't contravene the LNOC Constitution and/or the Olympic Charter.

What is the way forward based on the fact there are games to prepare for in the near future such as Commonwealth Games and Olympics?

MR: The LNOC will continue with its plans to secure and facilitate resource dispensation accordingly and hopefully, the HP system will be done and launched before the end of this year which will make the LNOC athlete management project much easier.

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