In a rare and exclusive interview the head of Sierra Leone football pulled no punches invoicing the issues affecting the game in the country.
The 50-year-old Isha Johansen who led the Sierra Leone Football Association for over a year now told American broadcaster CNN of her challenges in developing the country’s most popular sports.
From Ebola to corruption and maladministration, the Iron lady of Sierra Leone football addressed some main issues.
“The FA was in total tatters before I came in,” she says.
“We had a bad reputation internally and externally. We had no structures.
“Sierra Leone Football integrity was at an all-time low.
“There was no discipline.
And in a country where football and gambling go hand-in-hand, Johansen’s zero tolerance was a hard pill to swallow.
“If people choose to gamble as a recreational pastime, well that’s up to them,” she says, hands clasped around a mug of mint tea.
“But you cannot have people in high administrative offices participating in gambling or betting. It’s a no-no.”
When it comes to corruption allegations at the highest levels of football’s international governing body, FIFA, Johansen is less willing to talk tough.
“All these things that are swimming around, these controversies, is something that I really wouldn’t like to get involved in,” she says.
Meanwhile, it could be recalled that fifteen people involved in Sierra Leone football already suspended amid allegations of match-fixing a 2008 African Nations Cup qualifier against South Africa.
Four national team players including former skipper Ibrahim Kargbo, defender Ibrahim Koroma, Samuel Barlay and goalkeeper Christian Caulker, the match in question was a 0-0 draw against South Africa.
Three referees and eight other officials are facing indefinite suspension following the sports ministry and the football FA jointly press released signed by minister Paul Kamara and SLFA boss Isha Johansen July this year.
One of the officials suspended is football administrator Rodney Michael and was also disqualified from running for FA President on August last year on allegations that he had links to a sports-betting company.
Johansen who is only one of two women in the world to have head a national football association also stated her devastation the Ebola epidemic has caused Sierra Leone as a nation with around 17,517 affected cases in West Africa and almost 6,200 total deaths.
“Football is like a second religion in Sierra Leone.
“Beyond the deadly virus itself, are the psychological effects on a naturally ” touchy, feeling amongst people, no more hugs or hold hands,” said Johansen.
“It’s a very strained and difficult place to be in mentally. You have to reprogram yourself,” explained Johansen.
Meanwhile, Isha herself since elected in August 2013, has been involved in few controversies, with sports minister Paul Kamara and Sierra Leone legend Mohamed Kallon.
Her executive is under pressure to reform as critics of the Sierra Leone Football Association are calling for an extraordinary congress to be held on Saturday 20th December, 2014.
Executive Members of the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA), the stakeholders in a Press Release 18 November 2014 stated that they have unanimously resolved to invoke Article 28 of the SLFA’s Statutes.
According to the Stakeholders, this came as a result of the abnormality and serious lapses within the administration of Sierra Leone Football Association, gross violations of its statutes and the total disregard of the membership by the Executive Committee which has brought the game into disrepute.
By Alie Bittar