Sports

Sierra Leone Football: The Way Forward

By  | 18 August 2010 at 02:15 | 1631 views

Commentary

I have been a religious follower of Sierra Leone football for the past two decades. I first served as Secretary General of Mighty Blackpool Fan Club and later Assistant Secretary of the parent club with Alpha Timbo as the Secretary General. At the national level, I have served as President of the Sport Writers Association of Sierra Leone (SWASAL), Chairman of the Media Committee/Public Relations Officer of the Sierra Leone Football Association, Executive Member of the FA and as BBC Fast Track Correspondent. With the above CV, it will not surprise anyone if I indicate that I have travelled to over 20 African countries all in the name of the game of football. It will also not surprise anyone if I boast that I know a lot about Sierra Leone football and its attendance consequences.

NPRC Days

Their Human Rights records might be appalling. Theirs was a military junta, etc, etc. But one major achievement the NPRC could pride itself of which no civilian government has achieved, is the love of the game by that government and the level the country’s football attained during the NPRC era. Before the emergence of the NPRC military junta, Sierra Leone had hosted the Amilcal Cabral Zone 11 tournament and lost. The country’s national team was a regular participant in the African Nations Cup qualifying competitions. However, despite all these participations, it was only under the NPRC that Sierra Leone hosted and won the Amilcal Cabral Zone 11 tournament in 1993, just a year after the soldiers catapulted themselves into power. Two years later, Leone Stars successfully defended the title away in Mauritania.

It was again under the NPRC that Leone Stars consecutively qualified for the African Nations Cup Finals in 1994 and 1996.

The success of football under the NPRC could be attributed to one major factor- the determination of the government. This determination led to the massive injection of cash into the national team and the mobilisation of all Sierra Leoneans including top business houses, both local and foreign to support the national team. I could remember one instance when Leone Stars had a very crucial qualifying match against Gabon in Freetown and three Leone Stars players, Lamin Junior Tumbu Conteh, Ibrahim Junior Parade Koroma and goalkeeper Osaio Marah had stranded in Conakry with no flight to Freetown on the very Saturday of the match.

On hearing the news, the NPRC wasted no time in hiring a helicopter that flew from Freetown to Conakry to pick up the three players just few hours before kick-off. The chopper returned and landed right at the centre of the stadium amidst thunderous uproar from the spectators when the three players disembarked. This was the peak of Sierra Leone football.

SLPP Reign

The SLPP was good at yielding to pressures (either locally or internationally) in establishing institutions, but supporting those institutions to work effectively was far-fetched. One such example was the separation of the Ministry of Youths and Sports from Education.

The expectations of the Advocates at the time, was that with such separations, much attention would be focussed on the development of Sports in the country. To the utter dismay of all, the much trumpeted expectations became a nightmare. The only achievement in football throughout the 11 years of SLPP rule was the winning of a silver medal by the Under-17 team in the African Youth Championship in Swaziland and the subsequent qualification of the U-17 to the FIFA Youth Championship in Finland in 2005. However, it was under the SLPP that Sierra Leone experienced the most disgraceful evens in her sporting history with the rampant disappearances of our sporting talents ranging from Footballers to Athletes. In all, we had over a dozen footballers and half that number of Athletes bringing shame to the nation by abandoning national duties for want of greener pastures.

The SLFA & Sports Ministry

I served both the Justice Tolla-Thompson and Nahim Kadi led executives. I resigned my post from the FA in 1998 after my recent appointment to work as a diplomat in Europe. In all my years in the FA, the two football bodies with the responsibilities to administer sports in the country especially football (SLFA and Sports Ministry) have always been strange bed-fellows with the latter creating major stumbling blocks, thereby preventing the former from achieving its laid down aims and objectives.

The Sports Ministry is unarguably the supervising ministry of the FA and has the absolute power to guide the FA in its operations. But what is glaring and peculiar in the Sierra Leone case is the dictatorial tendencies applied by the Ministry insisting that they dictate what the FA should do, who and who should be invited for a particular match etc. This has been the case and I hope the same scenario will not continue under this new administration.

Recommendations

My first and humble recommendation is for the separation of the Ministry of Education from Youth and Sports. I have always argued and still insist that blending Youth and Sports with any other ministry is counter-productive with sports carrying the brunt.

For us to succeed in sports, there should be a separate Ministry of Sports requiring the maximum attention and financial input of the government.
The government must fully support the FA to acquire the services of a professional European coach. There are thousands of qualified European coaches scattered all over Europe itching to test their coaching skills in Africa at a very minimal cost. Senegal tried it with Bruno Metsu, a relatively unknown European coach who took Senegal to the Semi-Finals of the African Cup of Nations and to the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

Our local coaches have been given the opportunities to prove their mettle on many occasions, but each time, they let the nation down. Football nowadays has gone scientific and requires coaches with high academic standards, not coaches whose only qualification is to be a retired footballer who played for Sierra Leone at the time when players played with no boots and no nets at the back of goal posts.

The FA must avoid playing to the gallery of footballers who are in the habit of calling the Secretariat pleading for invitation even though some of them have no teams in Europe. Invitation must be based on players with teams.
Above all, much emphasis must be laid on youth football as the present crop of Leone Stars players have either reached their peak or about to.

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