MASERU — The performance of Lesotho’s boxing team was possibly the most disappointing aspect of the country’s dreadful display at the recent Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
What made the showing worse — no boxer progressed past the first round — is that boxing has been seen as a fruitful discipline for Lesotho with two of the country’s three medals at previous Commonwealth Games coming from the ring.
In 1998 at the Kuala Lumpur Games, Lesotho won their first medal and only gold in the marathon after Thabiso Moqhali’s triumph.
In the two following editions, in 2002 and 2006, it was boxing which brought home not one but two medals with Sephula Letuka’s bronze and Moses Kopo’s silver.
The 2010 campaign was however fraught with troubles long before the Games started.
The main problem was the friction between the Lesotho Amateur Boxing Association (Laba) and the Lesotho National Olympic Committee (LNOC).
Laba claimed the Olympic body had imposed Moeketsi Liphalo as team coach just a month before the trip.
Liphalo’s controversial appointment was the result of the infighting which has dogged Laba over the past 12 months.
The Delhi squad was made up of seven boxers — Tlotlisang Matsepe, Neo Thamahane, Thabiso Nketu, Tšepo Lepoqo, Mokhachane Moshoeshoe, Kokole Paneng, and Lungile Dyamdeki.
In the end six boxers were pummelled in the first round while Matsepe collapsed before a bout.
Speaking to the Sunday Express this week, Laba secretary-general Monethi Monethi insisted a medal was possible had it not been for the fiasco of the final month.
“The team was out of our control. The Olympic committee imposed a coach on us and it derailed our training programme,” Monethi said.
“The effect of the (imposed) training programme was so much so that one of the boxers collapsed.
“Towards the end preparations were just non-existent.
“And when you look at the losses of our team, scores like 5-2 or 5-3, it shows that the boxers just lacked the final polish they would have received in the last month of training.
“If you look at (Lungile) Dyamdeki he was tied at 3-3 after two rounds but just because we were unable to train them he lost 5-3.”
Laba’s chosen candidate for the coaching post was Sibusiso Keketsi who had overseen the team since March.
“Our coach was Sibusiso Keketsi and he did a brilliant job since he started with the team,” Monethi said.
“We were only expecting him to fine-tune the team in the last month.
“We would have at least brought a medal.”
Monethi said the initial training period focused on the boxers’ physical preparation with the closing stages intended to impart the tactical and technical know-how.
Usually in boxing, in the final three to four weeks before competition training becomes more specific.
Typically a boxer will undergo bout-specific exercises including shadow boxing, bag work and sparring, for example.
“The important thing was to give them the physique they needed because when you are unfit there is nothing you can do,” Monethi said.
Instead Monethi said the final month was a chaotic one which likely didn’t follow the correct eating habits, something he believes may have contributed to Matsepe’s collapse.
“What happened at the camp in India I cannot comment on because I was not there,” Monethi said.
“But a boxer has to bond with the coach. In my opinion maybe the boxers performed badly because they were unhappy.”
Meanwhile on the horizon there is the All Africa Games next July before the big one in two years, the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
“As Laba we are ready as long as nobody interferes with our programme,” Monethi said.
Boxing at least continues to be one of Lesotho’s better funded sporting disciplines while its relative accessibility and affordability make it a common option.
Perhaps this gives it more leeway to bounce back from India’s disaster.
Monethi said boxing’s immediate focus now was on the Supreme Council of Sports Association Games in Swaziland in December.
The bulk of Lesotho’s team for the All Africa Games in Mozambique will be chosen from the Swaziland meet.
“Right now we have the team for the Under-20 in Swaziland . . . they are ready,” Monethi said.
“From that team we are going to select our team for the All Africa Games and I’m sure that they will bring a medal.”
“We are still a force, we will continue to bring medals for the country,” he added.
But the repair work first requires an end to boxing’s power struggles.