Former Lesotho international football referee and now full-time sports administrator, Maponyane Letsie, is living testimony that a sportsman will always be a sportsman.
The 47-year-old sports administrator who retired in 2012 as one of Lesotho’s top referees (and in 2020 as secretary of the Lesotho Referees Association), is the founder and President of an organisation called Football for Youth Foundation.
Letsie is also the Chief Executive Officer for the Mohale’s Hoek B-Division based side, All Aces FC, simulteneously serving in the same position for premier league rookies, CCX FC.
Growing up, Letsie used to play football like any other boy of his age but also competed in athletics as a primary school learner at Koro-Koro Primary School. He continued playing football, going on to compete in sports as a high school student. Letsie was a short sprint athlete, competing in 100m, 200m and 400m.
“I played for Moshoeshoe II High School in Matsieng, and Nkoeng FC of Nkoeng in the C-Division. I was playing either position 7 or 9, for all the teams I played for. “I was the striker and I used to score many goals as I was a fast runner in those days,” he recalls. He has also played for the former premier league side, Mabeoana, which at the time campaigned in the lower divisions.
“I also went on to play for Lijabatho of Morija, and for the B-Division team, Majantja, for a very short-time when I was visiting my relatives in Mohale’s Hoek,” he continued. Letsie started a career in refereeing in 1998 while he was a sports teacher at Qhomane Primary School before he started officiating in lower divisions.
He says, “I was instructed by Mr Ratšiame Khampane and the late Mr Leletse Ratsiu.” After he attended an intermediate course, Letsie was promoted to officiate in the A-Division before he eventually officiated in the premier league after some years.
Letsie made it to the FIFA panel for the first time in 2004, becoming a referees’ assessor in 2015, a role in which he served until 2020.
“I also became a referees’ technical instructor after I attended a referees’ instructor course which was held in Tanzania in 2017. I wanted to be the FIFA Match Commissioner but was denied that by my supervisor at the refereeing department.”
Letsie further says: “I also hold several football coaching courses, having attended many (coaching courses) under CAF and FIFA, FA, Netherlands and Germany.”
He has also recently been co-opted as a Marketing Officer for the Lesotho Cricket Association (LCA), and has also been coordinating the Roof of Africa Rally since 2017. “That big event (Roof of Africa Rally) is managed by me,” he says, adding he returned home inspired from a workshop which was held in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2018, dubbed ‘Lending in Sports’.
The workshop was co-organised by the Global Fund and the South African Aids Council. Letsie did not waste time as he established the Football for Youth Foundation the following year, 2019 which he says was inspired by the Manchester City’s HIV & Aids concept while attending the same workshop.
“Football for Youth Foundation is an NGO which is registered with the Law Office, has a constitution and a committee, with a president, vice president and other members.”
The foundation, Letsie says, uses the popularity of football to spread HIV & Aids awareness. “Football for Youth Foundation uses the popularity of football because it attracts many people. It has a football academy team that comprises boys and girls with Under-12, Under-15 and Under-17 teams.
“We are focusing on youth, targeting adolescence in HIV and Aids awareness.” Letsie says even though his organisation is focused only on football, it could not turn a blind eye on girls who are not participating in football.
“As we are aiming to go to schools to further spread HIV & Aids awareness, we will also include girls because HIV & Aids issues affect everybody. We are looking to utilise every opportunity we get whenever there are football activities, be it Christmas games or league games.”
The Manchester City Foundation, which is the one that had inspired Letsie to start the Football for Youth Foundation, has been around for over 30 years now and they have a partnership with the Global Fund.
With over 30 years behind it, Manchester City have been successfully spreading HIV & Aids awareness using football hence they signed partnership with the Global Fund.
Letsie says Manchester City fans and people who used to attend the England champions’ home games arrive on time at the Etihad Stadium so that they would test for the HIV, others during half-time and some after the games.
“That seems to have worked well for the Manchester City Foundation and this is the concept that I had from them while I was in Cape Town in 2018 for the lending in sports workshop which was organised by the Global Fund and South African Aids Council.
“They gave us that concept; how it works and so forth and as a footballer I found it to be a good concept. So when I came back home in 2018 I started preparations for the establishment of the foundation and that eventually became a reality in 2019 after I got people who shared the same vision with me.”
Letsie says for them to be able to reach out to many youth, the Foundation needs funding, adding they had since applied for funding from the Maseru US Embassy but unsuccessfully.
“We have again applied for funding from the Global Fund but could not succeed simply because we have less than five years in existence.
“However, we have also applied for another funding, once again from the US Embassy and we are yet to get feedback.”
Letsie says funding would also be crucial for his organisation in that it would afford to touch even in remote areas in the country.
He says it would again be great help since the Foundation would be able to partner with organisations like PSI Lesotho and others who are directly dealing with HIV & Aids issues.
Football for Youth Foundation’s academy team is based and trains in Masianokeng under the guidance of Coach Tlokotsi Ndlovu.
“We have players in Masianokeng and we are working with Tlokotsi Ndlovu who is one of the qualified coaches,” Letsie says.
Apart from being the founder and president for the Football for Youth Foundation, Letsie works for the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Sports as a senior sports organiser – a job he started in 2000.