From Miner to Major League
Mokhosi Mohapi walked a long and bumpy road before landing a dream job to work as the Lesotho Football Association Secretary General. In this heart-to-heart interview with the LeFA news department, the Roma-born football administrator opens up about his journey working for the football governing body in the Mountain Kingdom and the challenges that comes with it.
LeFA: SG, thanks a lot for taking time to talk to us. Firstly, please briefly tell us about you?
MM: I am a 47-year-old who hails from Ha Maama, commonly known as Roma in the Maseru District. I am the first born of three children. I am a bona-fide Lesotho Citizen. I started my schooling at NULIS in 1979, then moved to Christ the King High School in 1986 and completed my COSC in 1990. From there I enrolled for an Electrical and Electronics Engineering course with the Lerotholi Polytechnic and graduated in 1993. I then worked for a local computer and office automation company in Maseru, and the factory that produced floor and wall tiles in Mafeteng before moving to join Anglo American at one of their coal mines in Witbank, South Africa. While in South Africa, I decided to go back to further my studies and this time I changed from Engineering to pursue a sport science with the University of Port Elizabeth now known as the Nelson Mandela University in South Africa where I graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce in Sport Science and Management Degree (HMS).
LeFA: When did you feel the desire to become a football administrator?
MM: I started football administration fairly early in my life. I remember that when I played for the Rovers development team in Roma in the 1990s, I also used to double as a player and the team’s manager. That is when the leadership traits began showing. From then on, I have been involved in many clubs and organizations where I would somehow get elected to lead. After completing my studies at the University of Port Elizabeth, I returned home to Ha Maama and within six months I was voted into the leadership of the committee that organizing football in the town. I was at the time running my own football club-AFC Cosmos. In 2005, I got a call from the then Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Gender and Youth, Sport and Recreation to join the Ministry as a Sports Officer. I was tasked with running the inaugural Vision 2020 games which among the many projects I have undertaken, I want to believe that the event launched me onto the national scene as I had to interact with people I never met before and deliver a multi-sport event in the manner that we did. In 2006, I then moved from the Ministry to join the Lesotho Football Association. I must state that it was not because the other offer was better, in fact the returns were the same, but I felt I would do better in a football environment rather than being in the not too dynamic environment of the civil service. I had to go through three interviews before I landed the job. I guess it was due to the level of mistrust that people from Ha Maama were associated with following the acrimonious split of the football organization in 2000. Within three months of being appointed to the Administration and Facilities Management functionary I was appointed to act as the Association’s CEO, which is the Secretary General inter alia. During my first tenure in the position, I changed a lot of things and mannerisms of the secretariat. Many things had to change and indeed they did. I have acted on two occasions serving under two Secretary Generals whom I had already known from my days at Rovers FC, the first was Mr Mafole Sematlane who used to be our coach at Rovers FC and Mr Mofihli Makoele, a legend at Rovers FC. LeFA: What has it been like being the Secretary General of one of the biggest organization in Lesotho?
MM: To be honest, I would not trade my experiences and service as the Secretary General of LeFA for anything else in my career besides my other passion which is sport science. I am grateful for the Lesotho Football Association under the Presidency of Advocate Salemane Phafane (KC)for the opportunities and trust he placed on me. The position has opened up a whole different view to life and how the world operates. I have travelled extensively, learned a lot from heavy weights in the world of football. I have had the opportunity to learn from the leadership of FIFA, the then President of FIFA Mr Sepp Blatter and also the current FIFA President Mr Gianni Infantino, the then CAF President Mr Issa Hayatou and the current President Mr Ahmed, the COSAFA President Mr Suketu Patel. Locally I have learnt a lot about governance from the current LeFA President Advocate Phafane and his Executive Committee. I also learnt a lot from Mr Ashford Mamelodi who was the FIFA Regional Development Officer, Mr Makalo Theko who was Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Gender and Youth, Sport and Recreation. These are the people I have always modelled my approach on. There is of course the FIFA, CAF and COSAFA Secretary Generals who have had an impact on me and my former lecturers at the University of Port Elizabeth. I have contributed a lot to football in this country, I have led the transformation of the competitions and administration under the auspices of the LeFA thanks to the support from the LeFA NEC and Staff as well as the members of LeFA and Clubs under LeFA.
LeFA: The Corona Virus pandemic has caused havoc as far as the beautiful game is concerned in Lesotho and world-wide. How difficult will be to pick up the pieces?
MM: Given the extremely shaky economic situation in Lesotho as well as the prevailing volatile political situation, it is going to be very difficult for football in Lesotho to continue the upward trajectory in the manner it was prior to the pandemic. You are probably aware that football in Lesotho is driven by individuals with very little input and or support from the business sector. The pandemic has adversely impacted the resources held by the passionate football person and club owners alike. The situation in Lesotho is sad in that people who are employed and earn a salary are the ones who support 99% of our teams. The wealthy hardly do not do anything for football. So, if there are going to be job losses, this will impact heavily on the situation at the clubs. In fact, there could be a number of clubs that will not survive the pandemic and will unfortunately be forced to fold.
LeFA: The Lesotho Football Association hired Coach Thabo Senong late last year to lead the senior national team after a successful spell with the South Africa football Association. What’s his mandate?MM: When LeFA hired Coach Senong, the observation at the time was that the National Team had reached a phase where they could no longer improve under the then technical team. Besides, a number of players were aging and would soon be lost to the National Team. His mandate is that he develops and revamps the Senior National Team so that in the next two or three years it will be a competitive team. He has hit the ground running and there are visible changes in the way the team plays, this was even evidenced by the FIFA President during his recent visit to Lesotho where he on several occasions stated that the whole world was watching when Likuena in spite of going down 4-2 to the Super Eagles. Likuena frustrated their opponents for a great part of the match.
LeFA: He replaced Moses Maliehe who had come close to securing a spot at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and had also won bronze at the 2018 COSAFA Cup…
MM: We are very grateful for the exploits of the Senior National Team and what Coach Moses Maliehe has achieved during his tenure as the Head Coach. Yes, many out there may use a different measuring instrument to judge the team, but if you consider all matters; economic, technological, infrastructural, level of the local league, only naivety will cloud comprehension and appreciation for the strides we have made in the past period. Yes, we are the first to agree that we need to up our game and I hope that the foundation laid by Coach Moses and the changes made by Coach Senong will consolidate the development. But the future looks bright in a bleak perspective.
LeFA: The junior teams on the other hand have failed to live up to the expectations in the regional and continental competitions. Lesotho last qualified for the Africa Youth Championship in 2011 under Leslie Notši?
MM: Yes, of late our youth teams have underperformed. We have tried a number of coaches to no success to say the least. But we can’t blame the coaches, we would rather look at the current scenario within. The level of youth football development has just changed and therefore cannot yield instant results which could permeate to the international scene. Well there was some resurgence two to three years ago when the Under 20 boys’ team qualified for the COSAFA Youth Competition in Zambia. The spate of bad results prompted the LeFA leadership to reconstitute the National Teams coaching setup and placed Coach Senong in charge of all the men’s national team and now he is the National Teams Coach as opposed to only being the Head Coach of the Senior National Team Coach. We have also beefed up his technical team and he now has four assistants working with him. Hopefully the changes we have seen in the Likuena style of play will cascade down to the junior teams.
LeFA: The Women’s Senior national team as well has not been doing well in several competitions in recent years. What needs to be done to help them improve?
MM: The Women’s Senior team as well as the girl’s national teams have had a tough period. There are a lot of reasons to this. I personally think we need to appoint a certain calibre of coaches to assist the current crop of coaches. The attitude of the players also derailed their performance, but that has since been dealt with. The team was coming well until the uptake of about 60% of the national team into the LDF setup. Hopefully after their military training, they will resume their representation of the country on the football scene. Also, there has been an exodus of talent to South Africa and this has affected the team’s training sessions. As for the youth teams, it may take longer to develop strong teams given the number of girls playing football which is too low. There are cultural and other sociological aspects to overcome in order to increase the number of girls playing football.
LeFA: Our clubs have also struggled to rise to the occasion in the CAF Champions’ League. Bantu are the only side that managed to get past the preliminaries over the last two decades. Surely this is a concern?
MM: There has to be a great mental shakeup within the club environment. Many a club boss are operating within comfort zones and are not doing football justice. Many club bosses do not devote enough time to football hence the stagnant and lack of initiatives geared towards improving their entities. Another issue is that of the unhealthy relationship between the top clubs. The mudslinging has led to a situation where there is no collective bargaining to the detriment of the product. Finally, our clubs need to consider integrating business principles in the manner in which they operate. Probably this will create a product that will entice the business world to partner with.
LeFA: Through the assistance of FIFA, LeFA has managed to develop a few sports facilities across the country, but sports infrastructure remains a big problem in the country. Can it get better if the government comes to the party with building of more sports facilities?
MM: I have been with LeFA for almost two decades. During this period, I have tried to get the Local Government Ministry to give us an audience regarding the use of sport as a tool to achieve their mandate, by creating sports facilities and allowing football to use their facilities. I do not know whether it is because all this time the Ministers who have been assigned to the Ministry are not interested in sport in general or whether there are alternative priorities. With Government not developing sport infrastructure, the Association has to find ways of providing facilities hence the reason why LeFA will be developing two of its facilities to add to the facilities that are already in use.
LeFA: What should the football fraternity expect post the corona virus?
MM: A period of difficulty. Yes, difficulty because I do not see spectators attending matches anytime soon. There will be extremely tight criteria for the resumption of sport as we have seen in Germany as well as other European countries. As I have earlier stated, there will be clubs that will find it difficult to resume activities if their club bosses get adversely affected in terms of financial resources. Yes, in the long-term things will improve, but in the immediate future, I see a period of difficulty. Ask any club boss, they will probably avoid answering this one and instead state that if there is relief funding then they will continue serving the sport.
LeFA: The Association last year launched the U-15 National League. How crucial will it be in unearthing young talent across the country?
MM: There is one thing the Association has got right after experimenting with some approaches to development, then this is the one. This will be very integral in getting the best talent in the regions to start playing a more organized form of football. The Association has invested quite a lot of money in the program and we need to monitor it well and keep improving it. If handled well, in the next five years we will begin to see and feel its impact. We need to be patient though.
LeFA: There has been a lot of pressure from the football fraternity and media to commit funds meant for LeFA operations from FIFA to be used as a relief package to assist clubs overcome their financially woes brought by the Covid-19. What’s the way forward on this topic?
MM: FIFA has warned the Associations that it would be very risky for them to use operations funds to finance relief to their members. Well, it is up to the Associations to do whatsoever they feel like doing with the money, but FIFA will not be in a position to bail them out as the Associations will only get Operations funding in January 2021 upon receipt of financial and governance reports from the Associations. As for the relief fund expected from FIFA, nothing has been communicated at this stage. We are all hopeful that FIFA will provide something in order to rescue the situation in the Associations particularly in the Clubs, but until then, I guess we have to keep our fingers crossed.
LeFA: What role can the new government led by Dr Moeketsi Majoro play in helping football and sports in general recover from the damage caused by this pandemic?
MM: You know every time there is a change in any organization, Government alike, there is fanfare and expectation. The situation is the same even today. I have been in this industry for over twenty-five years now, the rays of hope diminish with every change in Government. I don’t mean to criticize but to be honest. One tool of management and strategy is a PEST analysis. Just do the analysis and I can bet we will reach at one conclusion; hope is not a deliverable in this day and age when it comes to political leadership and Government. There is and will always be an excuse to exclude sport and football from the Government’s agenda. I can challenge anyone on this and they will come out worst. Every time we are inundated with hope and promise, but within a very short time we wake up to the reality we know. Yes, I may harbour hope, give me an interview in the next month and probably you will open up by saying that I did allude to the sport fraternity going back to its normal situation of being excluded faster than you thought.