Festus J. Lahai
During the 2018 Presidential debate organized by the Consortium of Civil Societies and Africa Young Voices (AYV), President Julius Maada Bio promised the people of Sierra Leone that his administration will revive sports and create employment within the sector.
Three years down the line, has the President been able to fulfil that promise under the New Direction Administration? The simple answer is yes! And here are some of his fulfilled promises in sports development:
*Establishment of National Sports Authority
The NSA was established in December 2017 by an Act of Parliament. It replaced the National Sports Council Act 1964. However, the NSA only became operational under President Bio following the appointment of Board Members in December 2019.
With support from the Government of Sierra Leone through the Ministry of Finance, an enhancement budget was approved for the rollout and implementation of the activities of the Authority. The NSA is supervised by a statutory Board besides the Ministry of Sports in Sierra Leone’s leading sports agency.
As enshrined in Section 23 of the NSA’s Act of 2017, the Authority has been able to register about 35 sporting disciplines across the country, including sports NGOs, NOC etc., and this is a testament that Sierra Leone is a sporting nation.
Before the coming of the NSA, many sporting associations had internal wrangling. Although some of the associations still have disputes, the NSA has been able to resolve most, and the Authority is still committed to resolving the remaining problems, especially in athletics, cricket, rugby and power and weight lifting.
The Technical Committee of the NSA headed by the Deputy Executive Director, Dr Abdul Rahman Swaray, has already begun separate engagements with members of these associations with the aim of having lasting resolution.
As part of its plans, the NSA has been able to map out infrastructural developments across the country, ranging from building indoor and outdoor facilities to have a football pitch in the new districts of Karene and Falaba and also upgrade old ones.
To protect the Kenema artificial turf from pitch invasion and other forms of misuse, the NSA through the Government of Sierra Leone financed the erection of an inner perimeter fence at the field worth millions of Leones. The NSA is planning to do the same for the Koidu City Field in Kono District.
The NSA, with support from the GoSL, has offices in Kenema, Bo, Port Loko and Falaba districts. This is to decentralize sports in the country. The Authority is considering doing one facility in Bonthe District as the Council in that district has opted to provide 150 hectares of land to the NSA.
In August 2020 at State House, President Bio assured the NSA of not only his moral support but also financial support to be able to move things, and this is now unfolding.
*Resumption of the Sierra Leone Premier League*
One area President Bio’s New Direction Agenda scored high marks is the resumption of the Sierra Leone Premier League. The 2018-2019 Premier League Board steered by Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai Esq., for the first time in the history of Sierra Leone, received financial support of Three Billion Five Hundred Million Leones (Le 3,500,000,000). The league, which brought together football administrators, coaches, players and fans, was described by many as ‘successful’. Super Sports TV said the SLPL was the second most-watched league on the African continent.
The FC Kallon Vs East End Lions encounter realized over 400 million Leones-the highest gate taking ever in a single league game in the country. That league was a success because it did not only provide employment for players and other sports officials, but it also exposed most of our young players to international contracts in Europe and other parts of the world, and those players are now doing great; a case study of the twin brothers (Alhassan and Alusine Koroma) in Spain. Several players have also been scouted and are now plying their trade in Europe.
During the State Opening of the Third Session of the Fifth Parliament of the Republic of Sierra Leone in May 2020, President Bio said: â€œMr Speaker, Honorable Members, my Government reactivated football after years in limbo and committed 3.5 billion in start-up fundingâ€¦â€
Again, the government’s commitment to sports continued the following season as One Billion Five Hundred Million Leones was allocated to the 2019 -2020 Sierra Leone Premier League Board headed by Allieu Vandi Koroma Esq.
*Support Sporting Disciplines to Participate in International Competitions*
The Ministry of Sports and National Sports Authority, with support from the government, has supported many international competitions ranging from the All African Games in Morocco to the National Football Teams participation in CAF and FIFA qualifiers, WAFU Zone A U20 and U17 hosted in Guinea and Senegal respectively.
WAFU Female tournament hosted in Sierra Leone for the first time; Tennis tournament in Benin in which Sierra Leone won medals, Athletics in Niger where 13 medals were won, Beach Volleyball in which for the first time Sierra Leone qualified to the World Beach Volleyball Championships in Germany, Para Olympic Grand Prix in Tunis in which 4 medals were won, Golf in Ivory Coast and West African University Games in Nigeria.
The government also assisted the Zizo U14 football club as it participated in Spain in 2019. The team emerged as runner-up in that tournament and made big headlines in Europe.
Huge Financial allocations to Sports Development
The New Direction Administration, in just 3 years, has disbursed *Sixty-eight Billion, three hundred and eighteen million, six hundred ninety-four thousand, six hundred and thirty-two Leones (68,318,694,632.75)* to both the MOS and NSA for the promotion of sports, including the supporting of international competitions and administrative purposes.
Whenever the NSA and Ministry of Sports request funds to support Leone Stars or other sporting disciplines, the government, through the Ministry of Finance, does not even hesitate to make the cash available. This is the more reason President Bio should be commended; he is pouring a huge amount of resources into the game because of his passion for sports.
Job creation for Young People
The over 5 billion Leones allocated to the last two Sierra Leone Premier League seasons, created jobs for many young people in the country. Coaches, administrators, players, drivers, among others, started receiving monthly salaries; the PLB allocated money to each club.
The Board was able to employ stewards and security personnel at various venues. Those who sell tickets were also getting money at the end of the day, and those who coordinated matches were also paid. Traders were able to employ people to help them run their businesses in the various venues during match days.
The league provided thousands of employment for the youths and generated revenues of over Le 1.7 billion.
*Economic impacts on Businesses*
Petty traders at the various sporting venues across the country maximized profits during matches. Hotels and restaurants boomed in the provinces when matches played. Fixtures like Kamboi Eagles vs East End Lions, Bo Rangers vs FC Kallon and Diamond Stars vs Mighty Blackpool saw the influx of fans into the districts to support their teams. They booked hotels, ate in restaurants and paid their ways to and from the various venues, and the transport sector was also making extra cash.
Lifting of Ban on School Sports
The lifting of the ban on school sports was a step in the right direction. The school is the place where young talents are identified for our national teams. The resumption of school sports across the country saw the hosting of the National Football and Volleyball Championships in Bo City.
The President of Sierra Leone, HE Julius Maada Bio, was commended for this and has promised to make sure that young talents are always identified for future national assignments.