Saturday Feb 04

A word with the SLFA Normalisation Committee

Credit: Politicosl.com

By Sallieu T. Kamara

FIFA official Primo Corvaro(centre) appears to promote the interest of some groups within SLFA

Here we come again, in full cycle. Perhaps more appropriately, here they go again: the bickering, the politicking, the manoeuvring, the flexing of muscles, the racist taunts and chants, and the rest of it.

The life of the Normalization Committee set up by the world football governing body, FIFA, to administer the beautiful game in Sierra Leone is due to expire at the end of June 2013, when, hopefully, elections
will be held for the football family to elect a new executive to run the affairs of the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA). Already, the infighting, the trading of lies, the spreading of half-truths and
the exhibition of political arrogance has been accelerated into full gear.

This is how and where things stood at the last quarter of 2012. Because of the divisive politics that the key stakeholders in football were engaged in, we lost a golden opportunity to qualify for the recent finals of the African Cup of Nations in South Africa. The team was ill-equipped and ill-prepared to cope with the challenges of
modern day football, so our opponents had a field day we squared up with them. We failed where many considered minnows before the South Africa finals, succeeded.

Tunisia fixture

Once again Leone Stars have been slated to travel to Tunisia on Friday 22 March 2013 (barely one month from now) to honour the qualifying fixture for the World Cup finals in Brazil 2014.  This match will be
as challenging as it is critical to Sierra Leone's qualification to participate for the very first time in the summit of world football. But are we really serious as a nation, and as a body entrusted with the management and promotion of football in the country to follow the footsteps of Kei Kamara who made history last week by being the first Sierra Leonean to score a goal in the prestigious English Premier
League?

Our chances of sharing a table with the elites of world football in Brazil in 2014 are pretty slim: a million to one. I am not a pessimist, and I am sure those who share this view with me are not pessimists either. I am also not alluding to a lack of ability or talent in our boys to qualify for any tournament on God's green earth. No! I know and I am very much confident that our national football team has all what it takes to win laurels in every tournament and in every part of the globe. But poor leadership, coupled with the desire to promote the self at the expense of the nation, is weighing heavily on the development of football in the country.

Normalization Committee

A clear testament to this is the fact that even though the SLFA elections are still months away and the Sierra Leone-Tunisia match is just around the corner, the entire focus of the handlers of the national team is on the elections, rather than on the upcoming football match. Is there any better way to illustrate the current bad
state of affairs football in the country is facing?

It is as a result of this (or at least that's what they told Sierra Leoneans and the rest of the world) that FIFA, acting on the advice of the SLFA, appointed a 5-member Normalization Committee with the mandate to "clean up the mess" that has bogged down the development of football in the country for a very long time. The Committee is headed by no less a person than Mr Alie Forna, a man with integrity, honesty, brilliance and dedication anytime the call to duty beckons. But, perhaps, equally important is the fact that Forna has a wealth of experience in the operations and management of football in the country and has been involved in its management at different stages and at different times -good or bad - and I am sure this will stand him in
good stead in executing the mandate of the Committee.

Tasks

In his earlier public statements after his appointment, Forna did notdelude himself into believing that the work ahead was easy and simple. No! He was very much aware of the complex nature of the task at hand and the corresponding challenges he and his committee would have to surmount if they to make a difference.

"Our tasks are challenging. I am very much aware of the problems within the football family in Sierra Leone, as people are divided by ideas, interest groups and agendas...We must depoliticize the game of football because it has nothing to do with party politics...As chairman of the interim body, I have my good reputation to protect and I will not allow it to be tarnished," he is quoted in the Awareness Times newspaper of Monday 10 December 2012 as saying.

The setting-up of the Normalization Committee by FIFA is all very endearing to many football-loving Sierra Leoneans. But was it, in the first place, done in good faith? Or was it only meant as a cover to stifle members of the football family, particularly those that are refusing to toe the official line, from electing their leaders in an
open and democratic fashion? However good it may appear on paper, if it is not done in good faith, the Normalization Committee will only succeed in creating more problems for football than it will be solving.

Sinister side

Reflecting on the myriad of events that resulted in the setting-up of the Normalization Committee, I am fully convinced that there is a sinister side to its creation. Let me hasten to say that I have no problems with the integrity of members of the Committee, and I always say that it is they that will have to make the Committee meaningful to the long-drawn-out process of rescuing Sierra Leone football from the doldrums in which it has been for years.

My scepticism emanates from my suspicion over the intention of FIFA, represented here by Mr Primo Corvaro from its Department of National Associations, and the SLFA. It appears to me as if Primo and the then SLFA executive colluded to promote the interest of some groups within the SLFA and are determined and ready to do everything within their authority and influence to get their way, no matter the consequences.

We have seen over the years in Sierra Leone and in other places around how FIFA has demonstrated its abhorrence for political interference in football by applying punitive measures against defaulting countries.
But here in Sierra Leone, there were clear cases of political interference, in fact political dictatorship publicly exhibited by key football stakeholders that wielded enormous political influence, ahead of the aborted scheduled SLFA elections. FIFA did nothing, at least to the best of my knowledge. This leaves me with the impression that the world governing body can only punish political interference when there are divergent views between them and the interfering government institution.  But where they are both pursuing the same goal as is the case in Sierra Leone, the concept of political interference becomes a complete farce. In fact, instead of punishing it, it is rewarded.

Government candidate

It was no hidden secret that the APC government was (and still is) favouring one of the contending candidates for the presidency of the SLFA. We daily see and hear government functionaries employing all the tools at their disposal to suppress and intimidate democratic voices and subvert the will of the People. Interestingly, it also appears to me that the government is in it with the SLFA, the body that is supposed to provide professional advice at challenging periods like this. The only good thing about this unholy alliance, though, is the fact that the long-drawn rift between the SLFA and the Ministry of Sports that almost rocked football in this country to its knees, has lessened significantly. May be true to the saying that your enemy's enemy if your friend. Other than that, it is a case of the referee becoming the main striker. The issue here is not more about the government and the SLFA having their own "anointed one" among the flock, but more about the way and manner they are going about it.

When, after initially screening the candidates for the various SLFA positions and one of the candidates for the presidency - Rodney Michael - was disqualified from the race subject to the decision of the SLFA Appeals Committee, there were broad smiles, boundless enthusiasm and pats on the back of one another among the leadership offootball in the country. Guess what? It was Nahim Khadi himself who broke the news of the disqualification of Rodney Michael to the whole wide world. As the spokesman of the Committee, I learned about it from interviews that Nahim Khadi granted as published on Facebook and other social media sites. When some of us (I was a member of the SLFA Electoral Committee) threatened to resign because of some professional lapses, some of these very people were always on the phone coaxing and pleading with us to just stay on the Committee and expedite theprocess. Fine!

Appeals committee

Dissatisfied with the decision of the Electoral Committee, Rodney Michael took his matter to the SLFA Appeals Committee as it isprovided for in the SLFA Constitution and the Electoral Code. Nobody,not even the SLFA and Primo Corvaro, challenged the legality and legitimacy of the Appeals Committee. In fact, the SLFA Secretariat
made it abundantly clear to the contending candidates on many occasions that they should take their grievances to the Appeals Committee if they had any and the decision of the Committee was conclusive.

Both the Electoral Committee chairman and the SLFA Secretariat kept Primo Corvaro constantly in the loop on every activity and decision we took. In fact, he was apparently directing the entire work of the committee to the annoyance of some members who believed that FIFA/Primo Corvaro was indulging too much into the affairs of the SLFA or the Committee. But the excuse of the two gentlemen was that they were doing it to ensure that every step we took as a Committee had the approval of FIFA so that in the final analysis, nobody or institution would challenge the conclusions of the Committee.

Resignations

So it came to some of us as a surprise when the legitimacy and legality of the SLFA Appeals Committee was challenged only after it had reversed the decision of its sister Committee, the Electoral Committee, qualifying Rodney Michael to contest the elections. This time, instead of Nahim Khadi coming out to announce the decision of the Appeals Committee to the world, he hurriedly resigned his position on health grounds even though he was almost always out of the country on grounds of poor health throughout his tenure as SLFA president. In quick succession and following hot on the heels of this was the resignation of the Vice President of the SLFA representing the northern region, Mr Alie Commoner Kargbo.

These sudden resignations, which happened just hours to the holding of the rescheduled elections, finally rendered the SLFA impotent to move ahead with the election of a new executive and clearly paved the way
for the setting up of the Normalization Committee. I consider all of these resignations as a premeditated ploy to stop the elections from holding since the "anointed one" did not seem to garner enough support to win the elections if they were held. If anything, why did Nahim Khadi and Alie Commoner Kargbo resign only after Rodney Michael had bounced back into the race knowingly full well how their actions would automatically cripple the process?

Alie Commoner Kargbo would have done a world of good to his image and to the football family if he had resigned from the SLFA from the very time he made a decision to go into active partisan politics on grounds
of principles. Or the SLFA should have forced him to do that on grounds of principles as well. After all, the SLFA did that to Mr Alpha Timbo when he was chairman of the Premier League Board by forcing him to resign his position when he publicly expressed interest to contest for the flag bearer-ship of the Sierra Leone People's
Party. Wetin den do to Burah, den for do to Rukoh.

Also, if Primo's fact-finding mission to Sierra Leone ahead of the setting-up of the Normalization Committee was to dig deep for the truth to help FIFA make an informed decision on the Sierra Leone issue, the Electoral Committee was one sure candidate for his engagement. But he never had time to meet with the Committee, apart from meeting its chairman who had neither been prepared by other committee members before the said meeting nor did he even consult them beforehand. When he came to Freetown, some of us were upcountry on official duty. But through the internet and mobile phones, we engaged ourselves and agreed on what we should present to him so as to give him a clearer picture of the process up until the time of his visit.
The meeting was scheduled for Lumley Beach, around Family Kingdom, at 1 pm. Just as our colleagues in Freetown were edging towards Lumley Beach at about 12:30 pm for the meeting, the Committee chairman
telephoned to tell them that the meeting with Primo Corvaro had ended so they should not bother themselves. Elimination and exclusion at their best!

Referee and kingmaker

This is where I have my fears for Alie Forna and his Committee. From my experience with football in this country, the problem of football has always revolved around the SLFA. In several occasions over the
years, we see the SLFA Secretariat acting as both referee and kingmaker. Certainly, the two cannot go hand-in-hand at the same time. Therefore, the first challenge that Alie Forna's committee could face
is the failure of the Secretariat to provide them with the correct information. This could be a willful act on the part of the Secretariat to mislead the Committee, or it could be as a result of weak capacity to keep records and manage knowledge properly.

Either way, the Committee stands the risk of its decisions being challenged or its integrity undermined as it happened with the Electoral Committee. Alie Forna may know a lot of things about theoperations of the SLFA, but there are equally many other things thathe does not know for which he relies on the Secretariat for support.

Furthermore, the work of Alie Forna and his Committee will be made more difficult if senior and influential government functionaries continue to make unguarded political statements on the upcoming SLFA elections in public. It will undermine the credibility of the Committee, as well as the process it will be leading. The nation is
waiting patiently to see what the Committee will do to dispel this "government candidate" or "anointed one" stuff and remove it completely from the dictionary of the SLFA.

There is a task at hand that the Normalization Committee needs to carry out and time is not on their side to accomplish it. Inasmuch as the people of Sierra Leone are interested in knowing who should take
over the realms at the SLFA, their major focus at this moment is to see Sierra Leone start its campaign for Brazil 2014 with a resounding victory over Tunisia. Anything less than this will spell further doom
for the already gloomy state of football in Sierra Leone. Yes, the task is Herculean. But knowing the Alie Forna that I know, he will surely live up to the task. But divided attention may be a deterring factor. I wish him well.