Row over two elite athletes


LNOC enters Mokulubete Makatisi’s name for the Olimpics Universality Place


MASERU – Tension is mounting between the Lesotho National Olympic Committee (LNOC) and the Federation of Athletics Lesotho (FAL) as they clash over the Paris 2024 Olympic Games Universality Place. The bone of contention is over the choice between two elite female marathoners, Mokulubete Makatisi and ’Neheng Khatala. Lesotho, having only two qualified athletes, Tebello Ramakongoana in the marathon and Michelle Tau in taekwondo, has secured a single Universality Place for the upcoming Paris Olympics, scheduled from July 26 to August 11 in France.

Top marathoner, Ramakongoana, secured a spot for the Paris Olympics in August last year, while the taekwondo star, Tau, earned her qualification at the beginning of this year. Universality Places serve as a crucial opportunity for athletes from underrepresented National Olympic Committees, aiming to enhance the diversity of participating nations across the Olympic Games’ sports programme.

These places are incorporated into the qualification systems of specific sports to accommodate nations with traditionally small delegations. Allocation of these quotas to eligible National Olympic Committees is overseen by the Olympic Games Tripartite Commission, comprising representatives from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Association of National Olympic Committees, and the Association of Summer Olympics International Federations.

Hence, the LNOC opted to nominate Makatisi for the Universality Place, a decision that stirred dissatisfaction within FAL as they argued that Khatala was more deserving of the slot. Although both Makatisi and Khatala did not qualify for the Paris Olympic Games, Khatala holds a higher ranking than Makatisi on the World Athletics (WA) women’s marathon rankings. Khatala currently holds the 357th position, whereas Makatisi stands at 413th.

FAL subsequently urged LNOC to retract Makatisi’s nomination and, instead, include Khatala in the Paris Olympic Games marathon. In a letter dated May 22, 2024, signed by Tšeliso Pheta, FAL’s President and addressed to LNOC’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Morake Raleaka, FAL referenced the Olympic Charter, stating that the national athletics federation should be responsible for recommending athletes for the Olympic Games.

“The Federation of Athletics Lesotho (FAL) is recommending ’Neheng Khatala be entered into the Paris 2024 Olympic Games Marathon and withdrawing the runner-up Mokulubete Makatisi, whom you entered without the recommendation of FAL,” reads the latter.

“According to the Olympic Charter, it is mandatory for the federation to make a recommendation of athletes to the Olympic Games in concurrence with the NOC (National Olympic Committee), not the federation alone to rule out nor the NOC.”

FAL further quoted the Olympic Charter, in which it stipulates that “An NOC shall only enter competitors by national federations. If the NOC approves thereof, it shall transmit such entries to the OCOG (Organising Committee for the Olympic Games).”

The local athletics mother body’s letter also reads: “This rectifies the blunder that your office made by entering the athlete without considering the federation. Please re-enter ’Neheng Khatala, and she will be considered under the Late Athlete Replacement.” In the letter, FAL emphasised that their recommendation was based on Khatala’s recent performance.

“She is the best in the marathon, as she ranks higher, as per WA Rankings, among Lesotho female athletes. Her recent marathon performance in Germany maintains her position as the best marathoner in Lesotho. “She is an Olympian; she appeared in the previous Olympic Games in Tokyo.” Khatala made her Olympic debut at the previous Olympics held in Tokyo, Japan, in 2021, where she secured the 20th position. In conclusion, FAL highlighted that Khatala’s Olympic Games experience stands unparalleled in Lesotho.

“The experience tabled above is unmatched in the country and gives hope that this athlete has the potential to improve from position 20, which she got in the previous Olympic Games. “On this basis, we respectfully urge that you enter Neheng Khatala into the Olympic Games under Universality Places.” Prior to the aforementioned correspondence, Pheta had already reached out to one of the WA officials, Carlo de Angeli.

In a letter dated May 9, 2024, titled ‘Re: Universality Places Quota in Lesotho’, Pheta informed de Angeli of their awareness of his communication with LNOC’s Head Sport Services, Mark West, regarding the Universality slot. “As the Federation of Athletics Lesotho (FAL), we are aware of your correspondence with Mark West of the Lesotho Olympic Committee (LNOC), which you had on April 23, 2024, as you copied it to us. This is where you responded and showed that you had no objection to the selection of Mokulubete Makatisi under Universality Places,” reads the letter.

“We had no idea what was going on and stayed silent, anticipating that LNOC would explain everything to us before our National Executive Committee meeting on May 5, 2024. “Following this meeting, we decided that we should write to World Athletics the following week to nominate the athlete for Universality Places.”

Pheta’s letter to Angeli further reads: “It was only yesterday, on May 8, 2024, that the Minister of Sport (Motlatsi Maqelepo) invited me as President of the Federation to a meeting with the CEOs of the Lesotho National Olympic Committee and the Lesotho Sports and Recreation Committee (Commission). The purpose of the meeting was to convey to the Minister how the Universality Places selection process was carried out.”

The FAL President informed Angeli that during the meeting, he emphasised that the matter was not yet resolved. “I demonstrated that it was not yet finished and that I would complete it before the end of the day. “Mr. Raleaka, CEO of LNOC, answered, indicating that they had already submitted the name of Mokulubete Makatisi. His reaction surprised me since, as WA’s representative in Lesotho, I did not expect LNOC to make a decision without consulting with us.”

Pheta informed Angeli that the Minister of Sports also questioned LNOC’s decision to include Makatisi’s name in the Paris Olympic Games Marathon competition. “The minister suspected that the athlete who had been nominated did not rank highly in the WA rankings. Mr. Raleaka answered, pointing out that the selected athlete had an edge because she was awarded the Olympic Solidarity Scholarship.

 “He (Raleaka) added that some adjustments were made under the Universality Places, implying that athletes receiving the aforementioned scholarship have this edge.” Pheta further said: “Unfortunately, he was unable to offer any documents to substantiate his claim, whereas I was referring to the Universality Allocation Procedures and Regulations paper.”

In conclusion, Pheta conveyed to Angeli that FAL had chosen Khatala as the representative for Lesotho at the Paris Olympic Games under the Universality Place. “As a result, FAL stands by the regulation and asserts that Neheng Khatala is the athlete Lesotho is presenting, being the highest-ranked woman according to the World Athletics Rankings.

Furthermore, Pheta stated in the same letter that Khatala currently holds the 372nd position on the World Athletics Women Marathon Rankings, while Makatisi holds the 427th position. Additionally, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, Sports, Arts, and Culture, Pokello Mahlomola, wrote to the LNOC CEO. The ministry’s letter dated May 28, 2024, under the heading ‘Ministerial Instruction to Consider Federation of Athletics Lesotho’s Nomination of Universality Candidate,’ instructed LNOC to withdraw Makatisi’s name.

“As you are aware, the Federation of Athletics Lesotho is in dispute with the candidate nominated for the Universality slot on the basis that they were not consulted as required by the regulations and that the highest-ranking athlete has been overlooked unfairly,” reads the letter. “A meeting was convened by the honourable minister, where you were invited (though you tendered an apology), and LSRC and FAL attended.” 

The Ministry’s letter specified that the supporting documents considered comprised the Olympic Charter, XXIII Olympiad Games, Paris 2024 Olympic Games Tripartite Commission Universality Places, Contracts between LSRC and LNOC, and World Rankings. According to the Ministry, Khatala currently holds the 365th position on the World Athletics Women’s Marathon Rankings, while Makatisi holds the 423rd position.

“These documents and findings point to the fact that universality in athletics must be submitted by the National Federation, and it is given to the best-ranked athlete in the World Athletics Rankings,” reads the letter.

“Based on the above, the Ministry feels that the process has not applied fairness. I, therefore, by the honourable Minister’s instructions, instruct you to withdraw your initial submission of Mokulubete Makatisi with ’Neheng Khatala, who has been recommended by FAL, and such must be done before May 30, 2024.“ The Ministry’s letter concluded: “Your prompt response in changing the names will be highly appreciated.”

Public Eye has learned that the Ministry has withdrawn the letter following a meeting held on Monday this week, attended by the Minister, the Principal Secretary, members of the LNOC and LSRC, and Pheta. Sources said the Minister requested LNOC, Pheta, and LSRC to resolve the issue as soon as possible. LNOC’s CEO, Raleaka, told Public Eye yesterday that the progress on the issue was yet to be finalised.

However, Raleaka confirmed that WA had approved LNOC’s submission of Makatisi under the Universality Place. “NOC, as the mother body that enters athletes’ submissions for the Olympic Games, had submitted Mokulubete Makatisi’s name, and its submission was approved by the World Athletics,” said Raleaka. “However, the President of FAL (Pheta) has been disputing LNOC’s submission, and so we are yet to get to the bottom of this issue.” If the decision is to proceed with Makatisi’s Universality Place stands, this will mark her first appearance in the Olympic Games.

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