What next for football in Sierra Leone?

By Mohamed Fajah BarrieBBC Sport, Freetown
Isha Johansen

After Isha Johansen was elected unopposed as the first female president of the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) she promised to bring the resumption of the Premier League and peace to the country's football family.

But four weeks into her reign, Johansen is finding it very difficult to achieve despite international support from football governing bodies Fifa and the Confederation of African Football.

Johansen was in Zurich last week to meet with Fifa President Sepp Blatter while other executive members of the SLFA were busy trying to find solutions to re-start the league, which has been on hold since July.

The Johansen-led executive is determined to restart the league even if clubs maintain their stance to boycott the country's top football competition.

Ten out of 14 Premier League clubs boycotted the league in protest against the decision of then-SLFA Normalisation Committee to disqualify Sierra Leone football legend Mohamed Kallon, Rodney Michael and Foday Turay from contesting the FA's Presidential election that brought Johansen to power.

This forced the Premier League organisers to subsequently suspend the league indefinitely.

The Johansen-led executive has had several meetings with the aggrieved parties, including the clubs, but there is deadlock at the moment as certain conditions remain unsolved.

Even the country's President Ernest Bai Koroma has hosted three meetings since the elections between the different factions but his intervention has not changed things.

The aggrieved parties are calling for the sacking of the SLFA acting secretary general Abdul Rahman Swarray and public relations officer Sorie Ibrahim Sesay, who is currently in police custody for non related football matter.

Swarray and Sesay have both been accused of allegedly falsifying the names of some delegates in the elective congress a month ago in order to form a quorum to give legitimacy to the Johansen-led executive.

Both have, however, denied any wrongdoing.

Former Sierra Leone international Brima Mazola Kamara. who is the First Vice-President of the SLFA, told BBC Sport that they have asked for more time to look into their conditions.

He said: "We believe we were legitimately elected. We cannot just sack people like that and that's why we've asked for more time to look into their demands.

"We'll have a final meeting with the aggrieved party on Tuesday for them to see reasons to restart the league.

"If they refuse, we'll go ahead with league with the teams that are willing to play.

"Elections have come and gone and Fifa and Caf have endorsed the process, so we're appealing to the aggrieved party to cooperate with us. Sierra Leone is bigger than all of us, let's let bygones be bygones.

"The footballers are suffering because they are not playing. Football is their career and they can't improve and earn their living if they are not playing."

But Kallon, whose club Kallon FC are part of the teams that have boycotted the league, says the only way forward is for their demands to be met.

"We are willing to play the league but only if our key demands are met," Kallon told BBC Sport.

He added: "As far as we are concerned, Swarray and Sesay manipulated the elections in favour of their preferred candidates and gone are the days when people do bad things and get away with it.

"They must be sacked and it's the only way out of the current situation."

Already, the locally-based footballers have started feeling the effects of not playing regular football as only one of them is included in the Leone Stars 20-man squad to face Equatorial Guinea 2014 World Cup qualifier in Freetown on Saturday.

If the stand-off continues, and even if the SLFA decides for the league to resume without the aggrieved clubs, it will not end the problems.

Many football enthusiasts in Sierra Leone believe that the game will instead continue to deteriorate if all parties cannot work together with the aim of promoting their most cherished sport in the west African country.