Ebola-free Sierra Leone gets green light to host internationals

Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is now free to host international football after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the country free from ebola on Saturday.

The West African country last hosted an international fixture on home soil on 19 July 2014 when the Leone Stars defeated Seychelles in a 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Freetown.

The Confederation of African Football (Caf) imposed the ban 15 months ago to stop the spread of the virus which affected 8,704 people in Sierra Leone, claiming 3,589 lives.

Caf's decision came just after the the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) suspended all football activities in the country for the same reason.

But the SLFA lifted the suspension a year later after the country's president Ernest Bai Koroma relaxed some restrictions on public gatherings.

Caf also extended the ban to two other West African countries affected by ebola, Guinea and Liberia.

Liberia was given the green light to host matches after they too were declared free from the disease six months ago.

The SLFA welcomed the go-ahead to resume hosting international matches on home soil.

"The end of ebola is welcome news to the SLFA considering what we have gone through in the last 18 months without hosting international fixtures in Freetown," SLFA head of competitions Sorie Ibrahim Sesay told BBC Sport.

"We have been prematurely eliminated in various competitions we had participated because of the simple fact that our home games have been played in either opponents' venues or other venues where we could not command our usual home advantage" Sesay added.

As well as the difficulties of not being able to stage matches, Sierra Leone's players and fans also had to deal with the stigma of ebola.

"Our players and officials have in this period under review faced all sorts of humiliation and intimidation from supporters of our opponents which most times accounted for our defeats.

"Our fans back home have been deprived also of not only watching their various national selections but at the same time have missed out on the opportunity of seeing top African stars in live action in Freetown" Sesay said.

Sierra Leone paid the price for surrendering home advantage to opponent's teams, losing five out of eight matches involving Leone Stars 'A' and home based teams as well the national U-23 team.

Amongst the defeats was a loss to lowly-ranked Chad in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers which led to Sierra Leone's elimination.

Sesay believes that the Leone Stars will improve now that they have chance to play matches in Sierra Leone.

"We are optimistic that our teams will get the right place they deserve in Africa and world football," Sesay added.

"Our Fifa world ranking, which has been disastrous in the last couple of months, will improve and Sierra Leone will be a force to reckon with once more."

Sierra Leone will host their first official home fixture post-ebola against 2017 Africa Cup of Nations hosts Gabon in March.

The SLFA President Isha Johansen told BBC Sport that her association was in contact with other football associations to have friendly matches for Leone Stars.

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