By Paul Nicholson
October 8 – FIFA has carried out its threat and suspended the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) with immediate effect. FIFA, which has long been battling for the preservation of the incumbent administration in Sierra Leone led by president Isha Johansen, took its action despite on-going criminal investigations into the leadership.
FIFA cited “government interference” as the reason for the suspension and a number of letters from FIFA to the Monistry of Sports in Sierra Leone expressing concern about the removal of Johansen and her general secretary Chris Kamara.
The two had been shut out of the SLFA premises by the police while the investigation has been on-going, though FIFA had requested that they were allowed back into the offices “to ensure that the operations of the SLFA, including FIFA-funded projects, are not jeopardised.”
“The suspension will be lifted once the SLFA and its recognised leadership (led by SLFA President, Ms Isha Johansen, and SLFA General Secretary, Mr Christopher Kamara) have confirmed to FIFA that the SLFA administration, premises, accounts and communication channels are under their control once again,” said FIFA.
Under the suspension the SLFA cannot play in international competition or continue with any FIFA development programmes, including courses or training from FIFA or CAF.
Cynics would argue this will make little difference except to Johansen’s favoured few in the country as under her leadership the top tier of the game in the country has barely been played. The Sierra Leone National Premier League has not been competed for since 2014, partly due to the ebola crisis initially but then due to the SLFA’s refusal to support the clubs, most of whom Johansen said were involved in betting related match-fixing.
Meanwhile FIFA money has been poured into the country with very little evidence of football development.
In September Sierra Leone’s anti-corruption commission (ACC) seized control of the SLFA, forcing Johansen to step aside and handing responsibility to SLFA vice-president Brima Kamara and deputy general secretary Abdul Rahman Swarray.
The ACC is investigating Johansen and Kamara for abuse of office and public funds.
FIFA has effectively been acting as Johansen’s bodyguard for more than a year as multiple allegations of corruption and misappropriation of football funds have emerged. Johansen has forged a strong international powerbase within CAF, where she is an executive committee member, and within FIFA where she sits on a number of FIFA committees.
She has forged a strong personal relationship with FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura (pictured right with Johansen), without whom Johansen would unlikely still be in the football picture. It appears sshe has more friends in CAF and FIFA than she does in her own football community.
Football elections on Sierra Leone are overdue but a task force had been set up to explore a route to those elections. With FIFA’s own elections for president taking place next May, they will want Sierra Leone back in the African voting block and Johansen in place to support and promote the current regime. For that to happen and for the SLFA to return to world football competition, the Sierra Leone anti-corruption commission and the Sierra Leone government will have to step down and forget their corruption investigation. Or come up with some over-powering evidence condemning Johansen that forces FIFA to review who its friends in Sierra Leone are.
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