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Starlets rescue domestic tennis

Teboho Molapo

MASERU – Last month, Lesotho’s young quartet of Lebelo Mosehle, Paseka Motsamai, Mpho Kotsie and Ntsoaki Mokhele qualified for the upcoming African Junior Tennis Championships with impressive performances at the Zonal Junior Tennis Championships in Zimbabwe.

This is in stark contrast to last year, when Lesotho had eight hopefuls at the regional qualifiers in South Africa where only two made it to the continental tournament. In addition, the foursome’s displays have granted Lesotho two extra spots at the continental championships to be held in April in Abuja, Nigeria.

Motlatsi Morolong, president of the Lesotho Lawn Tennis Association, believes the results are an indication of the progress made since the serving LTTA executive was elected nearly seven months ago.

Last April, following accusations of mismanagement, an independent commission was set-up to probe the LLTA. It discovered in the three years leading up to February 2009, the association had spent over M500 000 and that by April 2009, LLTA was M250 000 in debt.

The board was immediately disbanded and in July 2009, a new executive was elected for a three-year term.

And now, according to Morolong, the fruits of stability are slowly being reaped as Lesotho’s tennis looks to regain its footing.

“It is one of the rewards, when you work well as a committee. There is some progress, especially when you consider the situation we found here,” Morolong tells the Sunday Express. “For example, we found a M136 000 water bill (owing to the previous board). You ask yourself how that could happen, and where a struggling association like ours will get that kind of money (to repay the bill).”

That, in a nutshell, is the challenge facing the LTTA— absolving the sins of the past.

“Our tennis courts are in a bad condition,” Morolong laments. “For us to host an international tournament, we need to have at least six international-class courts; we don’t even have one. There is also no equipment. For example, when we took office we found out that 13 out of 14 backdrops belonging to the association were gone – each costs M10 000.”

According to Morolong, the first seven months of the LTTA board’s tenure have been about balancing the books, before it can proceed with its own plans.

One of those plans, Morolong says, is to construct a wall around the National Tennis Courts, thereby removing the distracting sight of passing Mpilo Road vehicles. However this project, quoted at M250 000, might have to be a long-term plan.

In the short-term, lack of tournaments desperately needs to be tackled, says Morolong.

Apart from the annual Lesotho Open, which is held later in the year, there are no high-profile events on the local tennis calendar.

“We had a visitor from the ITF (International Tennis Federation), Carl Davis, recently. He grew up in Lesotho and he was pointing out that in the past, there were tournaments all around the country, but sadly the situation is different now,” says Morolong.

“We are planning to hold an Easter tournament. We are also planning to have another tournament in June, (but) we still have to find concrete sponsors for them,” he adds.

With the budget for sporting associations from the Lesotho Sports and Recreation Commission (LSRC) coming out in April, the LTTA can expect the M100 000 to finance their year once more. The LTTA’s resources will be stretched as they seek to send a team to the African Junior Tennis Championships, properly prepared.

“When a team doesn’t have a kit, it doesn’t reflect well on the country. We also have to make sure the team has proper accommodation and the players are properly catered for when they are in Abuja.”

“We also have to arrange with Lehakoe (Club) because we want the players to do some gym work and maybe also a bit of swimming, because that is also a good form of exercise. But they have to start that now; they can’t begin preparations a week before they leave.”

But Morolong says there is progress with getting sponsors on board to support the sport. And buoyed by successes at the Zonal Championships, Morolong remains positive about the prospects of tennis in the country.

“When you have 100 pupils in a class, your aim as a teacher is to pass at least 90 of them and that 10 should attain first-class,” Morolong says.

“In five years, we should have 50 of Africa’s top players and five competing on the world stage. It can be done. Of course, there are distractions – there are a lot of sporting codes available but we are hoping tennis can be the sport of choice for the kids,” Morolong insists. “If we can take two players to the ITF Centre in Pretoria next year and then two again the following year, then that is the start we need. Our focus now is on development.”

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