MASERU — When Lioli won the Premier League at the end of May — their first championship in 24 years — they would never have suspected that they would become victims of one of the biggest frauds in football history.
Certainly in other countries it would be.
League championship medals are normally made from the finest gold and can fetch quite substantial amounts.
Aside from their monetary value, these small, usually round, ornaments of course represent the culmination of some serious hard work.
Winning a league championship is no mean feat — just ask South Africa’s Orlando Pirates. Better still, ask English giants Liverpool.
So when a side has won the title, let alone their first in a quarter century, they would expect to receive all their medals.
In Lesotho the rules and regulations say a team is allocated 35 medals for this treasured achievement.
So after Lioli had rag-dolled Joy on a chilly Saturday afternoon in Hlotse to clinch the league honours — and then being forced to drive 40 km back to Teyateyaneng for the victory ceremony — they would have expected a king’s coronation.
They didn’t. Instead they got something way shabbier — but that’s another story, altogether.
More pertinently — and more shockingly — Lesotho’s champions never even received their rightful allotment of medals. They got 31.
“It was like a cup final and the procedures followed were like those of a cup final,” Premier League vice-chairman Motake Motake said the following Tuesday.
Just like what happens after a cup final – like the recent Confederations Cup, for example – match officials of the Joy-Lioli fixture stepped up to collect “their” medals.
It is unclear whether it is Lioli’s physio, third reserve keeper, kit-man or club secretary who failed to get one, but four Lioli team members didn’t receive any medals.
Maybe it was Lioli’s three-man executive who were the unlucky few, because they “missed” the “entire” ceremony – but again that’s a different story.
“It was a mistake,” Motake said soon after the ceremony. “But we have written to those who were wrongly handed the medals to give them back.”
Now, over a month later, have Lioli received their four outstanding medals?
“Even today we are yet to be awarded our medals,” Lioli president Lebohang Thotanyana told the Lesotho Times this week.
“We haven’t had any feedback from the Premier League as to when we will properly be given our trophy or our medals.”
Thotanyana was speaking to the Lesotho Times six weeks after the league’s conclusion.
Things have gone so bad that a letter of dissatisfaction has been sent to LEFA.
A complete re-run of the victory ceremony as Lioli want may be a tad wishful, but the simple handing over of medals to their rightful owners on the other hand shouldn’t be a difficult task.
So what’s happened to the medals?
Have those officials smelted them, bought luxury cars and skipped the country?
The officiating crew on the day were match-referee Lempotsang Mahasane, his assistants Makoanyane Seeiso and Moepi Moepi as well match commissioner Naleli Sello.
Each took home a medal.
“We were written to by the Premier League and told to return the medals,” Sello told the Lesotho Times.
“By Wednesday the following week we were being told to give them back and we did,” Seeiso added.
“They (the medals) are with the owners (Premier League).”
At least — and thankfully — the medals are intact.
Still, if the Premier League has the medals why haven’t they been given to Lioli?
The 2008/09 season is long over.
August isn’t far away.
Will the 2009/10 season start with the defending champions without their medals?
“The medals will be given to Lioli,” Premier League chairman Thlolo Letete said.
But why is it taking so long?
“We have been crying for a long time and we haven’t been listened to,” Thotanyana said. “We just want our medals.”
Lioli’s medals are out there somewhere — they just need to be returned to their rightful owners.
And quickly too.