MASERU — Tennis, as with Lesotho’s sports in general, lacks funding.
Even so, tennis has in recent years suffered problems — both on and off court — that have threatened to sink the game altogether.
Depressing facts are readily available: Lesotho hasn’t featured in either the Davis Cup or Fed Cups since 2001, while no local player progressed past the second round of the International Tennis Federation Junior Championships held in Morocco earlier this year.
The man now tasked with the unenviable job of getting the sport back on track is Motlatsi Morolong.
After years of crippling mismanagement, an independent commission headed by Morolong was set up in April to scrutinise the Lesotho Lawn Tennis Association (LLTA).
The commission’s findings were damning.
They included the abuse of funds, a severe lack of cooperation between the association’s executive members and the consequent incompetence of the LLTA as a governing body.
The outcome of the probe was the immediate disbanding of an LLTA board which had begun its three-year term in 2006, followed the establishment of an interim executive board led by Morolong.
The subsequent months have calmed several storms.
In two weeks’ time a new LLTA board will be elected.
Nevertheless Morolong, speaking exclusively to the Lesotho Times, remains under no illusions about the challenges facing the game in the country.
“It’s going to take a long time and a lot of hard work to get tennis back to the level it was 10 years ago,” Morolong admits.
Ten years ago Lesotho was one of the region’s high-ranked tennis playing nations.
Also 10 years ago Morolong was president of the LLTA before stepping aside in 2001.
Now with tennis in dire straits he hopes companies that sponsored the local game during that era can breathe life into tennis again.
“Sponsors are interested, but they will never get involved when they don’t have belief in the organisation,” Morolong says.
“Tennis has been poorly run.
“When you are elected to a post you have a responsibility.
“In Lesotho we have a tendency to occupy posts without the required expertise for the job.”
He adds: “They (previous board) also had the problem that they were not working together.
“Management of funds simply was not there.
“I tell you a member (of the previous board) claimed M1 600 for petrol, travelling from the tennis courts to these headquarters — a 10-minute walk.
“With that amount I can travel to Botswana and back.
“There was no organisation when we needed a core of people that would properly manage the already small resources.”
Indeed it was discovered by the independent commission that in the last three years the LLTA had spent well over M500 000, some of which remains unaccounted for.
By April the association was M250 000 in debt.
In addition, more than half of the LLTA’s executive board had resigned by the start of this year due to internal squabbling.
Lesotho’s national tennis courts meanwhile have remained undeveloped.
“We are not entirely blameless as stakeholders of Lesotho tennis,” Morolong says.
“We let these people run tennis the way they did, without care from our side.
“In the first year they had already fired the national coach, the head of development and the vice treasurer.
“You can see how important those people are.”
He adds: “But then I praise them for realising their mistakes and calling for a commission that would inspect them and make recommendations.”
So now that mistakes have been identified and suggestions made, where does tennis go from here?
Where and how does it improve?
“Organisation we can set-up within the next twelve months — we can rectify that with these upcoming elections,” Morolong says.
“Improving performance is the most challenging at the moment,” he continues.
“The talent is there. At under-18, 16, 14 and under-12 we have more than 500 players.
“(But) it will take us another five years for us to compete at continental and regional levels or at ITF games. I don’t want to lie.
“There is no way we can make it next year. If we have worked well maybe five years.”
Morolong concedes that the incoming LLTA executive’s main priority will be proper planning and accountability.
“If we don’t plan we will always find ourselves in the red,” he says.
“A short-term goal should be to get players that will be of a good standard.
“The incoming committee also has to strive to have a family atmosphere so that there are no fights.
“Finally there has to be a proper strategic plan. Without a strategic plan you can’t function.”
Morolong believes if everything is done properly the future of the game in Lesotho is bright.
“If we learn from our mistakes then there is a bright future for tennis in Lesotho . . . we could easily have had one or two players playing at Wimbledon,” he says.