By Barrie Alpha
President of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, FIFA, Gianni Vincenzo Infantino, and the Confédération Africaine de Football, CAF President, Dr Patrice Motsepe, were on Wednesday 5th May 2021 welcomed with a massive protest in Freetown before they made a courtesy call on the President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio.
Hundreds of football fans hold various placards calling on FIFA and CAF to respect Sierra Leone’s sovereignty. The fans were very devoted to express their misgivings about Isha Johansen’s handling of football growth in Sierra Leone, noting that August 13th 2013, Isha Johansen was forced into office, and ever since the Sierra Leone football has been facing turmoil and a lack of progress and development.
Isha Johansen has outstayed in office despite her term has elapsed in 2017, and she is currently serving unconstitutionally with no mandate given to her.
Both the FIFA President and CAF President called on His Excellency, President Dr Julius Maada Bio at the Presidential Lodge in Freetown; and promised to improve on the country’s football infrastructure to be able to host the African Cup of Nations.
Sierra Leone’s Minister of Sport, Ibrahim Nyelenkeh, welcomed the delegation from the football world governing bodies, saying that it was history in the making that the country was hosting the sitting presidents of FIFA and CAF for the first time.
“I am not surprised. You must have heard about government’s assiduous strides and relentless efforts at developing and supporting football from the grassroots to the national level,” he noted, adding that the present government have supported sport, particularly football, more than all others in the history of Sierra Leone.
While introducing the visitors, the President of the Sierra Leone Football Association, SLFA, Isha Johansen, said that their visit was as timely and historic as it was meaningful to the country. She thanked them for choosing Sierra Leone as one of their three Africa nation tours, the others being Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia.
FIFA’s President Infantino told the gathering that it was an honour and a pleasure to be in Sierra Leone, saying that they were very committed to helping and supporting Africa shine in the world.
“We know how important football is in Africa. Football is talent, football is passion in Africa. In Sierra Leone, in particular, football is not just a game, football is life. I think the time has come where we have to move forward and look into the future.
“FIFA and CAF stand for due process, for integrity, for democracy and to make sure that we can once again put aside all negativities that have tarnished the image of football in the country in the last few years. Let us move to promote a positive and united approach because we need unity in this country,” he urged.
The Swiss and Italian national, who has been president at FIFA since 26th February 2016, also called on all stakeholders to work together to make football very attractive and a way of life. He said everyone needed to work together for the development of the country, particularly in Sierra Leone where football was much more important.
CAF’s President Motsepe first thanked President Bio for his honesty, integrity and brotherly exchange of ideas, before calling on all to work together and with him in the best interest of football and a beautiful country.
He confessed that the President represented a new brand of leadership not just for Sierra Leone but for Africa, adding that the country have also produced exceptional football players and expressed hope that it would continue to produce great players. He pledged CAF and FIFA’s commitment to supporting Sierra Leone with the requisite infrastructure to host the African Cup of Nations in the not-too-distant future.
In a brief statement, President Bio welcomed the Presidents of FIFA and CAF to his beautiful country, noting that football remained a fashion that the people of his country loved and cherished.
“It is one of the uniting forces in Sierra Leone. We are very polarised when it comes to politics, but when it comes to football you can see the passion, you can see the joy. It is a different Sierra Leone, especially with football,” he assured.
He also stated that, normally when passion clashed, there are always bits of challenges, but emphasised that the country looked forward to an SLFA leadership that would move the country as a nation. He advised that the people should not be deprived of the game that every Sierra Leonean loved.
President Bio further stated that, besides the politics of football and the few challenges with regard to infrastructure, the people of his country were friendly and good. He called on the leadership of the two world football governing bodies to invest in the infrastructure of the game in the country.
“On behalf of the government and people of Sierra Leone, I want to thank you and would like you to come again. Thank you for coming and you are welcome to Sierra Leone,” he concluded.
The football’s global heavyweights were expected to meet with other football stakeholders at the Radisson Blu Hotel, where facility inspection was done with close protection guards to FIFA and CAF Presidents, in collaboration with State Security ahead of CAF President- Dr Patrice Motsepe and FIFA President- Gianni Infantino’s historic visit to Sierra Leone.
Football stakeholders, from the provinces, were left stranded at the Radisson Blue Hotel waiting for the FIFA and CAF presidents as they were promised to meet with them, but unfortunately the meeting at the State Lodge, in the night hours, prevented the football stakeholders from meeting with their guests.
It’s no secret that the SLFA invited the FIFA and CAF Presidents, but due to the meeting at the State Lodge, which took a long time, the SLFA cancel its other events.
The big question Sierra Leoneans and members of the football fraternity are asking “did the government hijack the SLFA-FIFA event in Sierra Leone? The FIFA and CAF Presidents visited Ivory Coast and Liberia where they had successful meetings with the football families before coming to Sierra Leone.