Dispute sucks in South African athletics club

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MASERU — The ongoing dispute between the Lesotho Athletics Amateur Association (LAAA) and local athletes over permits has sucked in a South African club. 

Seven Lesotho athletes are registered with Mr Price Athletics South Africa which also sponsors their sportswear.

Mr Price Athletics is linked to Mr Price, a clothing retail company with a shop in Lesotho and operates 988 outlets in southern Africa.

Some of the outlets specialise in sportswear and home wares. 

LAAA is refusing to give permits and clearance certificates to local athletes, including some sponsored by Mr Price Athletics, accusing them of deliberately underperforming when they are on national duty.

Without permits and clearance from LAAA local athletes cannot participate in international tournaments.

Most of the athletes do not have permanent jobs and rely on international tournaments to provide for their families.

The athletes recently sought parliament’s intervention after the association refused them permission to participate in the Two Oceans Marathon scheduled for April 23 in Cape Town, South Africa. 

Concerned by the standoff, two officials from Mr Price Athletics came to meet LAAA last Wednesday but the meeting fell through after senior officials from the association failed to turn up.

Christopher Lionnet, Mr Price Athletics’ team manager, told the Lesotho Times they wanted to resolve the dispute over permits and clearances for their athletes but the LAAA had refused to meet them.

Lionnet was accompanied by Marten Nkoenya, another senior official of Mr Price Athletics.

He said the company was worried that the disagreement could affect their local athletes.

“We are trying to clear the misunderstandings between local athletes and LAAA over the issue of clearances and permits,” Lionnet said last Friday.

Nkoenya said apart from dealing with the dispute, they also wanted to check if the LAAA could register Mr Price Athletics as a local club.

 “We went to meet with the president but they did not give us proper information needed to register a club,” Nkoenya said.

“We were willing and ready to establish, register and pay any amount of money needed for us to have Mr Price Lesotho.”

LAAA president Mokebe Maketela however denied he had refused to meet Lionnet and Nkoenya.

LAAA officials, he said, had failed to attend the meeting because of “some unforeseen circumstances”.

“What do they mean when they say we refused to have a meeting with them?”

“I dispatched a two-man delegation to go and listen to them, give explanation and guide them. The meeting however did not proceed as planned because one of our officials had an emergency on the day of the meeting and the other person went to explain this to them,” Maketela said.

He alleged that by the time they were ready to have the meeting Lionnet and Nkoenya had already “rushed to present their case to parliament”.

“By the time we wanted to proceed with the meeting they had already run to Parliament. After that we could not find them because they had already left,” Maketela said.

Lionnet said Mr Price was concerned that the squabble over permits and clearances might affect local athletes who want to compete in South African competitions.

“We needed to sort out this issue before it destroys these guys’ talents and careers,” Lionnet said. “What we need to understand is that they (athletes) are always running for Lesotho, not Mr Price.

“When they run, there is always a Lesotho flag, their name and Mr Price.”

In November last year, the LAAA refused to give the athletes permits to compete at the Soweto Marathon in Johannesburg, South Africa.

LAAA said it will not give the athletes permits because they intentionally underperformed while on national duty during the Commonwealth Games in India in 2010 and the Olympic Games in China in 2008.

The seven athletes, who participated in the Soweto Marathon in November last year, struggled to get their prizes because the LAAA had not given them permits to participate in South Africa.

Athletics South Africa later came to their rescue after agreeing to give them their prizes without permits from LAAA.

A report by the Sunday Express last week revealed that LAAA spokesperson Sejanamane Maphathe was accused of soliciting bribes from the athletes in exchange for permits and clearances.

Maphathe was accused of saying he would in future want the athletes to pay around M1 000 each for the permits and clearances.

The damming accusations against Maphathe came after he and six LAAA officials proposed that athletes pay between M5 000 and M60 000 to take part in any international tournaments.

The LAAA has however vehemently denied the allegations.

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