Festus J. Lahai
In the New Direction Manifesto, dubbed ‘The People’s Manifesto’, to transform and rebrand Sierra Leone, the key strands for Sports hinged on five priority areas:
Provide huge capital for sports developments;
No political interference in sporting associations;
Reintroduction of sports in educational institutions across the country;
Take Sierra Leone to the continental stage of Sports.
During a high-level meeting at State House in Freetown, President Julius Maada Bio told Members of the National Sports Authority Board: “We have great talents, but we need to nurture them, and I leave that task to you to help the Sports Ministry to bring these talents together so we can compete again at the international level”
“We are going to fight and make sure that you get not only the moral support but also the financial support to be able to move things.”
The mandate of the National Sports Authority is to coordinate, regulate, promote and support competitive sporting activities; to also promote national cohesion, professionalism, excellence in sports and international recognition.
In Part 1, we discussed how the 3.5 billion Leones invested in the Sierra Leone Premier League (2018/2019) organized by the Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai administration, allowed a crop of players to go to Europe and other parts of the world to ply their trade.
All the promises towards Sports Development in the New Direction Administration have been accomplished, including qualifying Leone Stars for the 2022 African Cup of Nations in Cameroon.
It is on record that President Bio is the first sitting Head of State to have visited Leone Stars during training before the team proceeded to play Liberia in a friendly match to commemorate their independence celebrations.
Under his leadership as President of Sierra Leone, H.E Bio’s biggest achievement in football was the successful 2018-2019 Premier League. This campaign is still regarded as the best for many reasons since independence.
It is under President Bio’s administration that the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) conducted free, fair and transparent elections, and there was a successful transfer of power from Madam Isha Johansen to the new President, Thomas Daddy Brima.
This move by Government will go down the annals of sports, and the new leadership at the FA should now unite one of the most divided sectors as we prepare for Cameron 2022.
In 2013, the SLFA Congress at Kingtom Police Hall saw the disqualification of potential candidates, including Rodney Michael. Former Sports Minister, Paul Kamara, interfered with the process and was widely criticized.
As stated, the process leading to the SLFA Elective Congress in Makeni 2021 was free from political involvement, as the Sports Ministry and National Sports Authority did not support any candidate but allowed delegates to elect new leadership, replacing Madam Johansen who took 8 years at the helm of affairs.
With Government’s intervention and its love and agenda for sports development, Sierra Leone qualified for the 2022 AFCON, after beating Benin 1-0 in Guinea. This sparked wild celebration across the country, including Kenema to Kabala, Makeni to Bo, Freetown to Kono and, Kambia to Port Loko.
The celebration that followed Leone Stars’ qualification was a true reflection of the ‘One Country, One People’ slogan of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). This unity must not just be limited to Leone Stars but in every aspect of our society.
What you can’t take away from President Bio’s New Direction Administration, which led to this success, is the huge amount of money invested in the Leone Stars’ squad, including the motivation of $10,000 and a plot of land for each of the players and technical staff.
No one can dispute that in the country’s history, this is the highest financial reward athletes or sports personalities have received from a government.
In all of this, Coach John Keister and his backroom staff should be commended for their disciplined tactics and commitment to the team. The players must be hailed and praised for giving Sierra Leone the ticket to the next continental tournament. Others have tried for decades but couldn’t succeed. Bravo!!
President Bio addressed a multitude of Sierra Leoneans including Leone Stars at the National Stadium the following day:
“We will continue to strive for higher height, no more small dreams. When I promise, I deliver. I promised that I will take Leone Stars to the continental stage. This did not come to me as a surprise at all. I believe in the boys and I have inspired them enough in the same way I have always wanted to inspire this nation.”
The government is committed to supporting the National Team throughout the preparation period, as well as the tournament in Cameroon next year.
A TOTAL OF 51 players were called up to represent Leone Stars during the AFCON QUALIFIERS
Solomon Morris (GK)
Hassan M Sesay
Abdul Sesay (Buduski)
John Tyre (GK)
Mohamed Kamara (GK)
Abdul Bundu (GK)
Musa Noah Kamara
Abdul Razak Conteh
Francis Koroma (GK)
Ibrahim Sesay (GK)
Unisa Conteh (GK)
Isaac Caulker (GK)
Hassan Milla Sesay