Where is Sierra Leone’s football heading – FA president Isha Johansen speaks out

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 July 2017

Football may be a beautiful game to many across the world, but there is nothing beautiful about football in Sierra Leone. It ceased to be a beautiful game in Sierra Leone, after the politicisation of its management by the ruling APC in the 1980s, and criminal syndicates took control of its purse strings.

After recent concerns about match fixing syndicates taking control of the management of the beautiful game, and the near comatose state of the organisation responsible for effectively managing the affairs of the game – the Sierra Leone FA, questions are being asked as to how long before the country is banned from international football for lack of good governance.

The relationship between the ministry of sports and the FA is not unsurprisingly a bed of roses, a chasm that dates back to the tenure of the former embattled and disgraced sports minister – Paul Kamara.

With the country’s national football team simply ambling along from one mediocre performance to the next, someone must take responsibility for the disgraceful manner with which the authorities and the FA are managing football in Sierra Leone. Where is the leadership from State House?

Sierra Leone has never produced a great performing side on the African continent, but for millions of fans across the country who have given up on the way the beautiful game is played and managed, there is always the hope that one-day things will change.

So when Isha Johansen was elected as the head of football in Sierra Leone – and indeed the first woman to head football in Africa, that glimmer of hope for change began to look achievable.

But there were always going to be challenges for Isha, not the least tribalistic, sexist resistance from chauvinist and bigoted fools, who regard their well-established, powerful control of the management of football in the country as their birth right.

Sections of the media’s love affair with brown envelope journalism has not helped either. Negative press reporting against Isha Johansen has done little to build confidence in the SLFA and football in Sierra Leone.

For many decades, the poor management of sports generally in Sierra Leone, political interference and the lack of funding, have conspired against any chance of the country excelling in any form of sports, let alone the beautiful game of football.

Many in and out of Sierra Leone are surprised that despite all the hounding and harassment suffered by Isha, she has lasted this long as head of football in Sierra Leone. So, what happens now?

This week, she called a press conference to speak openly about recent allegations, rumours about the Sierra Leone FA, her future and a possible roadmap. This is what she said:

Dear Football family, Press, all of you present in the hall and for those tuning in to watch or listen to this statement release. I thank you for respecting mine and that of the executive’s call to this gathering.

As you are all aware, my mandate as the President of the Sierra Leone Football Association will officially end on the 3rd of August 2017 as will that of my entire colleagues in the Executive Committee.

It has been an eventful four years in my life to say the least and one that will no doubt leave lasting memories in not just the lives and homes of people I hope I have brought meaningful and positive changes to, but it will mark the day when four years ago the first woman in the history of Sierra Leone was elected to lead a male-dominated industry in Sierra Leone- football.

This is a role which eventually positioned me as the only female FA President in the African continent and one of only two in the world. My best friend and role model my father also turned 80 on that day, making it even more symbolic for me.

This is a feat very few are able to achieve in a lifetime, and therefore I feel truly blessed, grateful, privileged, and honoured to have been able to bravely soldier on despite the often turbulent, even precarious four-year term.

My mission and vision has not altered. “PUT SIERRA LEONE FIRST” is what I said I will do four years ago, and will continue to say. The past few weeks have been particularly worrying, not only for the football family in Sierra Leone, but I would like to believe Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad will also be concerned.

For whilst football infighting seemed to have found its way into being almost common place acceptance in our society, recent developments in which the Minister of Sports – Hon Ahmed Khanou – took to the media to make misleading and inciteful statements about the SLFA and pronouncements questioning my ethics, coupled with his Deputy Hon Al-Sankoh’s  vitriolic and defamatory statements about myself and the FIFA General Secretary Madam Fatma Samoura. This gives cause for grave concern.

I believe that my decision not to react instinctively to the barrage of insults, and smear to my character and institution provoked by the minsters’ national tour around the media houses spreading misinformation was the most appropriate, mature and professional approach for me to have taken. I believe that like a storm, in time the dust will settle. It is only then that one will be able to see clearly.

The dust may not have completely settled, but I believe that now is the time to put my side of the story across so that you can all have some clarity.

The fact is that not everyone is able to see beyond the acrimony which SLFA is best known for especially if you do not belong or subscribe to the football world or national football. In that case I do hope the credible and unbiased media houses and journalists here will able to share the success stories of my four-year tenure. You will find in the leaflet attached to this speech.

As journalists, you are not doing ISHA JOHANSEN a favour by publishing the truth. As custodians of the nation’s conscience, you simply owe the nation the TRUTH.

On the 18th of October 2016, a FIFA delegation headed by its General Secretary Madam Fatma Samoura and the Head of African Development Affairs Mr Veron Mosengo travelled to Sierra Leone as directed by FIFA President Gianni Infantino to address and try to resolve the escalating tensions between football stakeholders, political parties and the SLFA.

The meetings held between His Excellency President Koroma, the Minister of Sports and the FIFA Delegation were very cordial and respectful with all parties in agreement to respect and uphold the integrity of the nation’s pride and not only football but sports on the whole.

On the 19th of October 2016, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the FIFA Secretary General, the Sports Minister and myself as the President of SLFA. The MOU was an agreement marking the first steps towards the sustaining peace, sanity and sanitizing the football family.

The Minister was delegated the task of overseeing the process which was to be led by the FA. Among the seven agreed steps to be taken were that INTEGRITY CHECKS WERE TO BE CONDUCTED FOR POTENTIAL SLFA delegates.

The Minister chose to lead the process, and for reasons best known to himself decided not to allow for the integrity tests to go ahead for delegates, especially those wanting to secure an executive position in the SLFA.

The Minister had breached the agreement that he was a party to, vide his signature on the MoU with FIFA. And during the extraordinary congress held in April this year, in my presence on an open speaker phone conversation,

FIFA’s Mr Mosengo categorically told the Minister of Sports that FIFA would not endorse or recognise persons or bodies that have not gone through integrity checks per our agreement. The Minister claimed it was a political decision and one geared towards bringing peace.

I cautioned the Minister against the backlash of his decision but he did not adhere to my misgivings.

I had hoped that despite his failure to comply to the integrity rule, and after being given the verbal disapproval by FIFA, the Minister would find ways of addressing the issue before moving on to the ordinary congress.

Again he dismissed this, and proceeded to lead the process according to how he saw it best to do.

It was at this stage that FIFA decided to stop the SLFA from proceeding with plans for its ordinary congress as we would more than likely be faced with the same conflict that the FIFA delegation had taken time and effort to fly out to Sierra Leone to resolve.

The purpose of halting the ordinary congress temporarily was to allow for the process to go per terms of the agreement. The letter obviously caused a lot of upset amongst those who are opposed to being subjected to an integrity or eligibility test.

It would also appear that with the kind of anger and strong words emerging from the Minister of Sports (Photo: Ahmed Khanu – sports minister), who himself should bear the burden of blame for failing to go in accordance with the agreement, for failing to inform the stakeholders, and I am also presuming he failed to inform His Excellency whom I am certain would not have approved for the Minister to breach a signed agreement.

We are now not any wiser, amid a breakdown of trust between all parties and our international reputation has now reached an all-time low.

All this simply because a genuine and well-meaning stipulation which, by all intent and purposes, should serve as a clean and safe foundation for any candidate wanting to administer or run football or in any establishment for that matter should not be opposed to.

My relationship with both Ministers of Sports has been unfortunate. I have, at all times tried to be respectful and understanding. I have had to endure incidents of humiliation, deception and unethical practices which have emerged from the Ministry of Sports but have never brought it out in the public domain out of my overriding desire to protect the country’s image and the respect for the office of the President who in turn has shown me great respect and patience throughout my tenure of office.

As you are all probably aware by now, FIFA has asked the SLFA to forward to the Minister of Sports a letter in which they have asked that one person be proposed by the Ministry of Sports to form a part of the four-man task force comprising of a FIFA, CAF, SLFA and the Sports Ministry representative. This will be the first step towards conducting the eligibility and integrity test. The deadline date for submission of this name is the 28th of July 2017.

I would also like to confirm to you today that per my correspondence with FIFA prior to making this statement, an international investigative body is being set up which will, together with one appointed person from Sierra Leone, look into the match–fixing allegations surrounding some Sierra Leone football officials and players.

I would also like to clarify the persistent misguided statements about the FA not convening a match-fixing enquiry.

A three-man committee with Rtd Major Palo Conteh as Chairman, Mrs Memuna Jalloh Conteh and Mr Drucil Taylor was set up in 2016 after the Ebola-free declaration.

Letters were served to individuals who were of interest to the committee. There were three witnesses who gave statements to the committee, but all the individuals who were served with letters refused to attend the enquiry; according to the Secretary of the committee Mr Drucil Taylor.

I hope that with a new independent body we will be able to proceed with the enquiry and bring the dark hovering cloud of match fixing issues in our football to a speedy closure once and for all. As this era in Sierra Leone football history approaches its end, the dawn of another era is about to be borne.

My lasting memories will be of the smiles I managed to put on the faces of the people in the streets, while my appreciation will be for the smiles that the youth and children in the streets of Sierra Leone, have brought to my face over the years.

My journey in football has never been about Isha Johansen. It was and always has been driven by my passion and commitment to give our youths a chance in life and football was the channel I used to help them chase and live out their dreams.

The FC Johansen story is about the dreams and hopes of a better Sierra Leone through football. I had a dream and worked with the youth of this country to chase that dream.

I have left it to posterity to judge how effective my dreams were, and how fulfilled they were not to myself but to the youth I vowed to serve as President of SLFA.

My dreams still remain my dreams and I will continue to use football to aim to better the lives and create a good foundation for the youngsters in Sierra Leone and beyond.

I believe that we can be proud of the way we have conquered unforeseen challenges, won unexpected victories and achieved many milestones that will set Sierra Leone’s fledging football industry on its path to global success that its players and people deserve.

I pray that the day will one day come when the realization that the pride of a nation should be paramount to any SINGLE individual’s pride or a that of a group of individuals.

Yes it has been an eventful four years but most of all it has been a lesson and I am grateful to all for the privilege.

May God bless us all, and as usual we ask that you allow peace and calm to prevail as we take the football family to congress.

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