has been sport in Sierra Leone since the 19th Century during colonialism.
Sierra Leone has many games that are been trained and played in the country,
these games include Gulf, Basketball, Tennis, Swimming, Volleyball, Javelin ,
Long Jump, High Jump, Athletics (Sprint and Marathon, Huddles) and Soccer the
most talked about sport in the country.
The Sports that would be discussed in this chapter is the most talked about which is soccer; this volume will be limited to only soccer (football) in Sierra Leone.
Football in Sierra Leone is adored by most youths. Since the league came back to life in 2018 after it was banned during the Ebola, the league has gained tremendous height locally. The Sierra Leone national football team represents Sierra Leone in international football and is controlled by the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA). The team is affiliated to the West African Football Union of CAF and they have never qualified for the World Cup. Sierra Leone’s first match was at home on 10 August 1949 against another British colony, Nigeria, and was lost 2–0.
1954 they played another British colony and British Administered U.N trust
territory, Gold Coast and Trans-Volta Togoland (now Ghana), and lost 2–0 away.
On 22 April 1961 they again hosted Nigeria and lost 4–2.
On 12 November 1966, they hosted Liberia in their first match against a non-British colony and earned their first draw, 1–1.
A week later, they lost 2–0 in Liberia. On 13 January 1971, Sierra Leone played their first match against a non-African team, West Germany’s B-team. The match in Sierra Leone was won 1–0 by the Germans.
Leone’s first match outside Africa was also their first against an Asian
nation, China. They lost 4–1 in China on 5 April 1974. According to the
history, Sierra Leone has played for decades without winning a game and the
problem has been there from the start. The question is, will it be solved or
should it continue?
How can we move to another direction? Why have we been receiving goals from time immemorial? Sierra Leone is ranked currently at FIFA ranking 114 (7 February 2019). Sierra Leone Football Association was founded 1923 and affiliated with FIFA 1960 and with CAF 1967.
Sierra Leone National Premier League
Sierra Leone National Premier League is the top professional football league in Sierra Leone. It was founded in 1967. The league is sponsored by the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, one of the major Sierra Leonean banks. East End Lions and Mighty Blackpool are the two biggest and most successful clubs. The National Premier League is controlled by the Sierra Leone Football Association. The season runs from March to July.
The current champions of the premier league are the East End Lions. Before East End Lions, the defending champions were Diamond stars who became the first club outside Freetown to ever win the Premier League, after winning the 2012 Premier League season.
The premier league is composed of fourteen clubs who compete in the league, playing each other twice, once at home and once away. At the end of the season the bottom two clubs are relegated to the Sierra Leone National First Division, the second highest football league in Sierra Leone. The top two teams qualify for the CAF Champions League, while the third place team or the winner of the Sierra Leonean FA Cup will qualify for the CAF Confederation Cup. If the winner of the Sierra Leonean FA Cup has already qualified for the CAF Champions League, the Confederations Cup spot will go to the third place team in the table.
Anti Drugs Strikers
Dems field Wellington
Koidu Sports Stadium
East End Lions
Eastern Tigers Stars
Source: Sierra Leone Football website
The Problem of Football in Sierra Leone
Rampant corruption, maladministration and lack of accountability have negatively impacted on the development of football in Sierra Leone. Football has turned into a billionaire dollar industry across the world but Africa in general and Sierra Leone in particular remains at the periphery of this lucrative system.
Rampant corruption, maladministration and lack of accountability have negatively impacted on the development of football in Sierra Leone. Corruption is synonymous with African football. It’s not easy to separate them, they are like twins.
The story of football in Sierra Leone is full of controversy and complex problems involving missing funds, election rigging, presidents who serve for unlimited terms, under paid players and poor infrastructure. Below highlight how Football in Sierra Leone is intrinsically linked to the lack of transparency in how the sport is been run.
Before going further; I will love my readers to know that there is corruption in sport all over the world yet somehow when it comes to football in Africans in general and Sierra Leone in particular, the practice has devastating effects especially on the players earning a livelihood from the sport.
Despite having lots of sports in Sierra Leone, my aim in this chapter is to limit my work to football which seems to be the most popular sport in Sierra Leone, the fact that Sierra Leone has not qualified for both Nations Cup and world cup has sparked a lot of debates as to why we still face these challenges and negativity since 1967.
While other country’s performances receive praises, ours turn to disputes and administrative problems, rather than to celebrate the talent of the teams and mobilize great players. While it is important not to suggest that all African teams encounter the same problems, or that the same solutions will work for all similar issues, this chapter attempts to outline some changes that would help to make Sierra Leone more competitive at both Nations cup and World Cup qualifying.
Work on the Domestic League
One of the ways
forward is to improve on the country’s domestic league; it should be paramount
and this helps the country spot good and talented players without any strings
attached; and this I mean by favoritism, nepotism and regionalism.
For example, Egypt boost its domestic League and this had led to the growth in football as most of their players are home based. Working on domestic leagues should not be undermined as it has led to the formation of great national teams; for example, The Spanish League for Spain, The premier League for England, Seria A for Italy and the Bundas League for Germany. It is not a magic that the stronger your league, the more chances you have to forming a perfect national team. While these Leagues are set up, they enjoy from other stars and have benefitted from foreign-born talent; it was notable that almost half of their squad are mostly foreigners that naturalize. The main essence of domestic football leagues is to give local talents a platform to be unearthed and polished for the benefit of the national set-up.”
Track all Diaspora Players
Sierra Leone has lost some of their best players to European nations. Some were born in other countries but they are Sierra Leonean by nationality. Players should be tracked and convinced by the Sierra Leone Football Association to play for their country. The classic example is watching the premier league and other leagues that we see Sierra Leonean players. To improve the chances at the Nations and World Cup, Sierra Leone needs to trace their Diasporas.
Lots of European teams are built on African players, for example France has benefited lots from African players; Germany, Belgium, England and other countries across the world.
Diaspora also encourages managers to turn to players who have perhaps enjoyed a
typical football education or who bring different, varied qualities to the
national side. Experienced are shared and football grows professionally.
Some of the veterans and unqualified players deserve to be shunned. There has to be strong decision ahead any tournament to phase-out the likes of players that do not report for trainings or those that did not make it in the trials. A player has to be picked based largely on merit rather than reputation. The same can be said that a player has to be chosen based on his performance not based on political connections. Can we do this as a country for the love of football?
Big names could be
faded names. Most times players who have played enough are most times veteran
that needs rest but cannot make this decision based on the financial status of
the country. Many are tired and they should retire on their national teams. The
flip side of the previous slide, the encouraging of a meritocracy, is to
eradicate the culture of individuality that performs poorly.
Once again, The Sierra Leone Football Association has “administrative problems.” While much of the post-World Cup criticism of Africa’s performance has called for “transparency,” it’s not totally guaranteed that this solves the continent’s problems.
Sierra Leone, for
example, has had problems with administration. One could say the administrative
problems ranges from leadership status to the selection of the squad; then to
funds dispute. The problem is so holistic to be discussed as it replicates the
national issues. But transparency in administration should be paramount, even
in sports. Rather, I believe that problems are identified and solved better
through “accountability” as much or even more than “transparency”.
Just like the continent’s federations will improve not simply by revealing the problems, but by identifying them and cultivating a climate in which they can be worked through and improved. Sierra Leone football must fashion an environment where administration is for the good of the game, for both players and fans; not for the enrichment of those holding public posts.
Politicization of Sports
use their powers to interfere in football. In Sierra Leone, the team’s coach
has only a pitch role to play but it is politicians that play the major role
behind the scenes and who mainly decide on the team’s formation. Since the
genesis of football in Sierra Leone, corrupt politicians, and other
stakeholders has formed around the national football team.
This fact was proven by lots of players from the Sierra Leone Premier League, who totally agreed to the fact that, playing for the national team, strictly had to be based on who favors you and not your skills. For them; this is the major problem in the Sierra Leone football; not only in Sierra Leone but Africa as a whole. Countless examples of other African countries prove that the situation is no different elsewhere. Politicians can involve in football in a positive way through complementing the players’ effort by surprising them, either throw a party for them or show their appreciation through gifts but not by influencing the decision of the national team. Whenever politicians interfere in the selection of the squad, there is always a gap. Most times I wonder why we have so many players but yet still unable to qualify for even nation’s cup.
Invest in Football
There is also a problem of poor investment in football. Stadia in most areas resemble junkyards with poor drainage systems, bumpy pitches, no changing room or poor changing rooms, concrete sitting and no cover or shade for fans.
Some fields have poor entrance and exit points, which make it extremely difficult and dangerous to enter or leave some of the field. Sometimes, it is very unsafe as hooligans go along to watch these games without proper security and these games most of the times end in theft and robbery as people return to their homes. Some people living around these fields have been persistently complaining about the havocs that is been carried out every time a game is played. Unlike in Western Europe where clubs own stadiums or lease stadiums from local councils, in Sierra Leone, the government own and controls the stadium.
Sierra Leone clubs do not have the economic capacity to run and manage the stadium. This has led to decaying of the national stadium, which are in many ways dangerous for players. In Sierra Leone, there is only one national stadium which is in Freetown and all big games are played in it. Meanwhile, other fields are small compared to the size of the fans and the growing love of football in Sierra Leone.
Investing in Football include sponsorship and commercial endorsements. It’s not a magic that we see the growing love for football in Europe and we ask why. All of the European teams have sponsors and commercial endorsements that boost their financial status. For example, football across the world has proved to be a highly sponsored arena with many corporations seeking to be associated with the game. European clubs such as Real Madrid and Manchester United have become global brands with massive support bases across the world.
While European clubs are signing millions of dollars of contract with multinational cooperation and different companies, African clubs remain excluded from this exponential rise in sponsorship. Majority of clubs on the continent do not have huge sponsorship deals.
The rising love of football in Sierra Leone have led to huge followings, which usually are the main attraction for corporate sponsors but lack of transparency; maladministration and general corrupt tendencies result to little or no sponsorship.
Our leagues do not have proper professional structures thus do not have any idea on the worth of their brands. In Europe, sponsorship has grown from kits, shirts and now to naming rights of stadiums and training complexes. Of course, it is impossible in Sierra Leone to sell name rights; very few have kit sponsors and the shirt sponsorship deals remain very low.
Smart Managerial Appointments
Naturally, this is another “solution” that is far easier said than done and which looks like a self-evident thing to say in hindsight. In particular Sierra Leone, however, has a history of ill-conceived managerial appointments that have had an effect on the performance of national teams at major games. But Sierra Leone is not the only African team suffering from this disease; for example, before the 2010 event, both Nigeria and the Ivory Coast ditched the managers who had guided them to South Africa, replacing them with Lars Lagerback and Sven-Goran Eriksson ahead of the competition.
It was little surprising that both sides were eliminated in the first round. The two Swedes had little sensibility for the African game, had little time to adapt to the new conditions of the job or to learn about their squads and had tactical approaches that didn’t necessarily “fit” with the players available to them.
The coach needs to be familiar with his players and this I mean by meeting them every week for trainings so they can be acquainted to each other, thereby making communication easier in the field.
It wasn’t the first time this has happened. Recently Leicester City sacked their coach that helped them out in qualifying them to the division one and even winning the league for them and sending them to champion’s League. After this coach was sacked, Leicester City dropped drastically. Therefore, selecting a wise coach should be considerate to Sierra Leone if we wish to qualify for any major event. New contracts before any tournament could be very dangerous for Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone Football Association should make intelligent and well-thought-through managerial appointments. There needs to be at least some semblance of logic or a direction behind their decisions, and certainly in the case of some West African nations, coaches must be judged on their approaches, their qualities and their suitability, and also their nationality which matters the most.