Lebopo hopes for new era

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MASERU — Lesotho’s top runner Mabuthile Lebopo says he hopes there will be a new era for athletes after a dispute between the athletes and the Lesotho Amateur Athletics Association (LAAA) was finally resolved last week.

The LAAA this week said Lesotho’s top athletes would no longer have to worry about restrictions when it comes to competing outside of the country.

Although the exact details of the truce were still not clear, Lebopo said he was hopeful there would be a new beginning for the athletes.

“They are clearing the way for athletes to run. It will remove the stress that we were placed under in the past when it came to competitions,” Lebopo said on Tuesday.

“We had wanted this to happen for a long time but the association seemed reluctant to end the dispute. It will help us a lot.”

Lebopo said the truce will help the athletes prepare better for international competitions.

Lesotho’s athletes have dominated South African marathons over the past several years.

Over the past decade Lebopo has won over a dozen marathons in South Africa including the Two Oceans marathon last year while ‘Mamoroallo Tjoka has won the women’s race at the Soweto marathon five times, earning the title “Queen of Soweto”.

However, Lesotho’s top runners have had a history of running battles with the LAAA since the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and have been at each other’s throats since over permits, clearances and national performances.

In the most serious episode Lebopo, Motlokoa Nkhabutlane, Moeketsi Mosuhli, Lebenya Nkoka and ‘Mamoroallo Tjoka were all blacklisted by the LAAA in 2009 and were unable to compete in international competitions.

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

The LAAA had subsequently refused to issue permits to the athletes to allow them to compete in South African marathons or clearances to join clubs in that country.

The association argued they couldn’t give the athletes permits because they perform dismally while on national duties but do well in private competitions in South Africa.

On the other hand, the runners accused the LAAA of not giving them enough time to prepare for national call-ups and failing to issue clearances and permits when needed.

Last November six local athletes were not paid after their success at the Soweto marathon.

The athletes had participated in the marathon without clearance certificates from the LAAA and could not claim their prize monies because the association refused to issue the papers.

Nkoka and Tjoka, who each got M100 000 for coming first in the male and female categories respectively, and Nkhabutlane, Mosuhli, Teboho Sello and Warinyane Lebopo finally received their prizes in February.

The dispute over permits between the two parties spilled into parliament with the LAAA disowning the athletes during a meeting of the social cluster portfolio committee.

The meeting was called after the athletes sought parliament’s intervention in the dispute.

However Lebopo said he hoped the bickering will end and that the rules would be made much clearer.

“It is something that has come towards the end of the year. We are hoping next year the conditions will be clear to everyone,” Lebopo said.

Lebopo on his part said he was preparing for the prestigious Soweto marathon scheduled for November 6 but he was in a race against time to find full fitness.

“Right now the race that everybody is looking forward to is the Soweto marathon. I’m still nursing an injury (and whether I race) will be determined by the next couple of weeks,” Lebopo said.

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