Fifa intervenes in long-running Sierra Leone dispute

By Mohamed Fajah BarrieBBC Sport, Freetown
Christian Cole (L) and Lars Olof Mattsson
Christian Cole (L) and Lars Olof Mattsson were at the centre of the row

World football's governing body Fifa has intervened in Sierra Leone in a bid to try and solve the long-standing dispute between the country's sports ministry and the football association.

The two bodies have been at loggerheads over issues ranging from the appointment of a coach for the country's senior national team to the suspension of domestic leagues.

Fifa official Primo Corvaro has held talks with both Sports Minister Paul Kamara and officials from the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) in Freetown.

He said that his visit has helped to pave the way to both parties overcoming their continuing problems.

"Our aim is to pave the road to overcoming the problems and only the future can prove if our interventions will work or not," Corvaro told BBC Sport.

"But I'm quite confident, because Fifa is used to solving this kind of problem and as long as dialogue prevails we can overcome all problems."

The disputes started last February when Sports Minister Paul Kamara appointed Swedish coach Lars Olof Mattson to be in charge of Leone Stars' last four matches in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, on the grounds that the government finances the team and must be in full control.

The SLFA opposed the move, insisting that the minister was usurping their rights, and appointed local coach Christian Cole to take charge of the team.

The two coaches released two different lists of invited players for one of the team's home match against Niger in June in the qualifiers.

But later it was resolved that the two coaches should work together.

A few weeks ago, the sports minister announced a suspension of all domestic leagues to allow the SLFA to address certain concerns raised by some football officials.

The SLFA complained to Fifa, who threatened to ban Sierra Leone from international football if the minister failed to reserve his decision. However, the minister subsequently backed down and the threat was lifted.

"The authorities can't impose a coach against the will of the SLFA," Corvaro said.

"It can be seen as political interference and Fifa will not take it lightly. There has to be dialogue and the SLFA must be involved in the decision making."

The Fifa negotiator believes that the problems between the two bodies was as a result of a breakdown in communication.

"I think there was a lack of communication between the authorities and the SLFA and that was the main reason for the problems," he said.

"I hope my mission has eased the situation and it will now facilitate the communication between the SLFA and the ministry, who can also refer to Fifa if they feel that something is going wrong.

"I'm not in Freetown to prove who is right or wrong. It's like when you have a dispute between husband and wife, usually both have some legitimacy behind their claims.

"What is important is dialogue, when that is missing then the situation will worsen but when there is dialogue with good intention then problems can be overcome."

Corvaro's visit coincided with the resignation of the Chairman of the Premier League Board (PLB), Rodney Edmond Michael, citing interference into the running of the league by the SLFA.

The PLB suspended the league last week until an outstanding debt amounting to over US$10,000 for the use of the league's main venue, the Freetown National Stadium, was settled.

The SLFA was not happy about the decision of the PLB and ordered clubs to honour their fixtures in other venues in the country whilst they try to offset the debt.

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