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Omicron costs Lesotho weightlifting tourney

Chris Theko

Two top Lesotho weightlifters, Machachamise Ntšinyi and Thapelo Sebota failed to make their trip to the ongoing World Weightlifting Championships held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan because of travel bans to the Central Asian country. 

The duo was dealt a heavy blow as their trip was cancelled at the eleventh hour on account of the Covid-19 Omicron variant which is yet to be identified in Lesotho but was first reported in neighbouring South Africa. 

Since discovery of the first case in South Africa, several countries of the world barred travellers from Southern African countries including Lesotho from entering them. 

Uzbekistan announced on Wednesday that travellers from Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, eSwatini, Tanzania, South Africa and one none African Country, Hong Kong are banned from the country. 

The athletes were set to jet out of the Kingdom on Saturday with the Championships set to begin on Tuesday December 7 to Friday 17 December 2021.

Lesotho Weightlifting Federation (LWF) Secretary-General Advocate Bothobile Shebe confirmed that the trip was cancelled due to the travel ban. 

“Uzbekistan imposed a travel ban on Lesotho among other countries and this meant the trip had to be cancelled,” Shebe said. 

She added that there was no other way around this because even if the final destination country did not impose the ban it would still be a challenge for the trip to take place. 

“If Uzbekistan had not imposed the travel ban, it was still going to be difficult for Team Lesotho to travel the country since the journey is not completed in a single straight flight from here to there (Uzbekistan),” she said.

Lesotho has no ariline, therefore travelling to Uzbekistan requires flying first from Maseru to South Africa (the Omicron variant hub) then to Dubai and Hungary before reaching Uzbekistan. 

The missed trip is a huge blow for Lesotho and the athletes as the Championships are used as qualifiers for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games to be held in July and August next year. 

However, after missing the opportunity to go earn points and fight for their spot in the commonwealth games, the athletes still have one more chance at qualification in next year’s African Championships to be staged in February. 

Shebe mentioned that they have already written to the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) to find out how they are to address the matter. 

“We have written the IWF to ask how they are going to address the issue of countries who are missing the championship because of travelling disruptions as this matter is beyond any person’s control,” she mentioned. 

The championships were to be followed by the IWF elective Congress from 20 to 21 December but that has also since been postponed indefinitely.        

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