PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane this week headlined a high-powered government delegation to see-off the country’s senior national football side ahead of their departure for Sunday’s African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifying match against Comoros.
Dr Thabane was sworn as premier in the aftermath of last month’s snap election where his All Basotho Convention party cobbled its 48 seats with those of the Alliance for Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) to garner enough seats (63) to surpass the 61-seat threshold required to form government.
The four party government replaced the seven parties’ coalition which was headed by Democratic Congress leader, Pakalitha Mosisili.
The former government came in for caustic criticism from various sporting associations in the country for allegedly paying lip service to the development of sport by allegedly extending measly budgetary allocations which were often disbursed late to the beneficiaries.
There have been calls from the sports fraternity for the new government to walk the talk and provide adequate financial assistance to enable the country to take its pride of place among the world’s major sporting nations.
And in a development that was described as unprecedented and a harbinger for more active government involvement in sport by the Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) President, Salemane Phafane, Dr Thabane attended the Tuesday send-off ceremony along with Deputy Prime Minister and AD leader, Monyane Moleleki and some leading cabinet ministers.
Also in attendance were Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation Minister, Kabelo Mafura, Labour Minister and RCL leader, Kekeletso Rantšo, Public Service Minister, and BNP leader, Thesele Maseribane.
“I have been in football administration for a very long time and I do not remember in the past where our teams have had such a blessing,” Phafane said of the government delegation’s presence at the send-off.
“It might have happened and if I am wrong I stand to be corrected and for that it means today is a historic day for us.
“For that we are very hopeful as LeFA that the current government will lead us into greener pastures.”
For his part, Dr Thabane hailed the impact of sport in alleviating poverty and other social ills and promised to ensure that government would play a leading role in supporting youth through sport.
Dr Thabane told the national team players that sport was another effective tool in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
“When you look at the devastation of HIV/AIDs and other things, you will find that the upcoming generation in Lesotho have a lot of challenges and must be kept busy by having activities to do after their school commitments and sport is of course the answer,” Dr Thabane said.
“So as government we should take a leading role and this is why I will push the minister of sports all the time to support the youth of this country.”
Affectionately known as Likuena (‘The Crocodiles’), the national team has been steadily climbing up the football world rankings on the back of impressive performances in various competitions including the recent Council of Southern Africa Football Association (COSAFA) tournament in in Rustenburg, South Africa where they narrowly missed out on an appearance in the final after going down 3-4 to eventual champions Zimbabwe in the semifinal.
Dr Thabane commended the team for its recent achievements.
“We are proud of the performance of the team and hope to see more success from them.”
Mr Mafura echoed Dr Thabane’s sentiments and vowed to give the players incentives if they reach the later stages of the CHAN competition.
“I am very happy that today you are going to represent the country and this why if you get to the later stages of the qualifiers you hard work will be rewarded.
But for now I asked the Honourable Prime Minister to come and meet with the team and give players a hand shake,” Mr Mafura said.