A Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) congress due to take place Friday has been suspended pending “integrity” checks related to match-fixing allegations against the national side, as the nation’s football crisis deepens.
Fifteen Sierra Leonean players and officials were suspended in July 2014 over suspect matches including a 2010 World Cup qualifier against South Africa, notably implicating former Leone Stars captain Ibrahim Kargbo.
A Sierra Leonean-Lebanese football administrator, Rodney Michael, is also accused of links to sports betting company Mercury International, a major financier of sports activities in Sierra Leone.
The accusations were due to be investigated by an SLFA-appointed committee headed by the country’s interior minister Palo Conteh, but FIFA has taken matters into its own hands and says the congress cannot go ahead until its own investigators are satisfied with progress.
FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura wrote a letter to the SLFA dated July 7 saying the meeting should be postponed “until further notice” due to pending “integrity checks” on all current or potential members of the executive committee.
Samoura said “problems… persist” in the ongoing probe, with new individuals of interest identified as requiring such checks.
FIFA’s Samoura visited Freetown last November with hopes of resolving ongoing tensions between the SLFA and the government, which had reached an impasse in its own investigation of the corruption allegations.
A memorandum of understanding signed during the visit set up an investigative committee headed by Conteh which was approved by FIFA, though this agreement between the world body, the SLFA and the government now looks in jeopardy.
Sports Minister Ahmed Khanou said he was “disappointed” by FIFA’s decision, adding it was “our role to supervise and regulate the activities of sporting associations.”
Khanou said his ministry was “trying to regulate the flow of money between the Sierra Leone Football Association and FIFA,” but said FIFA would not disclose where funds sent to the SLFA went.
“We want FIFA to be transparent in their dealings by consulting us before taking decisions,” he added.
– Ongoing tensions –
The ordinary congress was meant for the SLFA to give an account of its financial activities and would also set up committees for an extraordinary congress when new executive members will be elected into office.
But tensions persist between the sports ministry and SLFA, and within the national football body itself.
The term of current SLFA President Isha Johansen is due to end on August 3, and the leading contender to replace her, Sanusi Bruski Kargbo, told AFP he was not worried by the investigation, and dismissed FIFA’s decision to suspend the SLFA Congress.
“I have no investigations hanging over my head….I am clean and I have absolutely nothing to fear,” Bruski Kargbo said.
One SLFA official told AFP that Johansen does not even sit on the same table as some of her executive officers due to the ongoing tensions.
Ibrahim Kamara, media officer of the SLFA, said: “we are obligated to accept the FIFA decision to suspend the congress until further notice.”