Khatala speaks out

…amid row over the Olympic universality slot


MASERU – Lesotho’s top female marathoner, ’Neheng Khatala, has accused the Lesotho National Olympic Committee (LNOC) of harbouring severe animosity towards her. This revelation comes amidst the tension between the LNOC and the Federation of Athletics Lesotho (FAL) over the universality place for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

The LNOC submitted Mokulubete Makatisi’s name for the universality place, a decision FAL contested, arguing that Khatala was more deserving of the slot. Universality places provide crucial opportunities for athletes from underrepresented National Olympic Committees, aiming to enhance the diversity of participating nations across the Olympic Games’ sports programme.

These places are integrated 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, which includes representatives from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Association of National Olympic Committees, and the Association of Summer Olympics International Federations.

According to the Olympic Charter, subsection D.2, under Universality Places (Unqualified Athletes), an NOC with no male or female qualified athlete or relay team may enter their best-ranked male or female athlete in either the 100m, 800m, or marathon. World Athletics (WA) must confirm in writing the approval of the entry. “The application forms of all unqualified athletes must be submitted by NOCs to World Athletics no later than May 31, 2024,” the charter reads.

“Following the end of the qualification period, World Athletics shall confirm the number of athletes having achieved the entry standard plus the approved unqualified athletes and shall subsequently determine the athletes qualified by virtue of their World Athletics World Rankings position.” Khatala is ranked 357th, while Makatisi is ranked 413th in the World Athletics Women’s Marathon rankings.  Both marathoners failed to meet the qualifying standard for the Paris Olympic Games, leading FAL to argue that Khatala, with her higher ranking, deserves the Universality Place.

Khatala shares FAL’s sentiment, stating she deserves the slot more than Makatisi based on the World Athletics rankings. “I have made peace with the fact that LNOC officials hate me,” Khatala said. “So whatever the outcome, I am okay with it.” Khatala added: “But what they have done does not mean I will not represent the country if I qualify in the future. I will still represent the country whether they submit my name or not.”

Khatala traced the fallout with LNOC back to their demands for better allowances ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021. She and her husband, Khoarahlane Seutloali, were the only Lesotho athletes who qualified for those games. “The fallout began when we asked for better allowances for the Tokyo Olympic Games,” Khatala said.

She revealed further tension following accusations that she influenced her teammates to demand extra allowances ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, in 2022. “They thought it was me again, but it wasn’t. But because it was generally believed to be me, I decided to apologise for the sake of peace.”

Khatala reiterated: “I did not start the strike in 2022, and those who were with me won’t tell the truth because they do not want to lose their jobs or benefits from LNOC.” The 2022 incident resulted in Khatala losing her Olympic Solidarity sponsorship. LNOC terminated her scholarship after the Birmingham Games and awarded Makatisi an Olympic Solidarity Scholarship instead. Makatisi had put up a better performance at the Commonwealth Games, finishing eighth in the women’s marathon, while Khatala withdrew from the marathon to compete in the 10,000m due to a back injury.

Sources indicate that Khatala’s actions during the strike over allowances led to the termination of her scholarship. Following this, the KAO Mine offered Khatala a M250,000 sponsorship specifically for her Paris Olympic Games qualification preparations. It is reported that the KAO Mine is currently dissatisfied with LNOC’s decision not to consider Khatala for the Paris Olympic Games Universality Place, despite her being the highest-ranked female marathoner in Lesotho.