The third round of the 2019 African nations Cup qualifiers get underway from Tuesday across the country but there is uncertainty and confusion around the Group F fixture between Ghana and Sierra Leone scheduled for the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi on Thursday.
The Leone Stars were last week suspended by FIFA from all football activities due to government interference after incumbent Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) President Isha Johansen and Secretary General Chris Kamara were hounded out of office by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).
Johansen and her entire executive committee’s problems with authorities started back in 2016 when she and her senior executive members were arrested by the ACC and they spent a night in a Freetown jail charged with alleged corruption and misuse of football funds.
Johansen and her Vice President Brima Mazola Kamara as well as Chris Kamara (SG) were all released a day later after been granted bail. All deny any wrongdoing.
Johansen later charged that she is being persecuted because she dared to institute a Commission of Enquiry into corruption and betting syndicates allegedly manipulating football in Sierra Leone as well as Match Fixing which she claimed was rampant in the West African country.
A year after assuming office, three referees, administrators and 15 national team players were suspended for alleged involvement in the outcome of a 2008 African Nations Cup qualifying match against Bafana Bafana which ended in a goalless draw.
At the time, Johansen revealed that they had received “credible and tangible” information on the alleged involvement of the group of players and officials in match fixing and that the players, among them then captain Ibrahim Kargbo, Ibrahim Koroma, Samuel Barlay and Christian Caulker, would have no more involvement with the national team.
Johansen, whose term of office was supposed to have ended last year, also called for the introduction of Integrity checks for individuals wishing to get involved in the running of football in Sierra Leone.
The Commission of Enquiry she set up was allegedly frustrated by powerful individuals within the country and never really got off the ground. And a couple of weeks ago, Johansen and her executive were barred from running football until “their legitimacy to govern had been proved.”
It was under the prevailing circumstances, that FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura first sent a warning letter to Sierra Leone’s government to back-off, giving the country seven days to allow Johansen and her executive back into office or run the risk of being suspended for third party involvement.
But when the warning was not heeded, FIFA suspended the country from all football activities, a suspension that affected their upcoming AFCON fixture against Ghana in Kumasi this Thursday.
“Look, I cannot comment right now,” said Johansen from Free Town today. “I’m going to the State House for a meeting regarding this matter and I believe the Attorney General as well as the Minister of Sport are already there. But I honestly and sincerely cannot comment if you understand my position. I can however, confirm that we have been suspended by FIFA.
“There could be developments after the meeting and depending on whether all the FIFA requirements are met, perhaps the suspension could be lifted but I do not even want to speculate about the status of Sierra Leone in relation to FIFA and our proposed matches against Ghana at this stage.”
The Ghana Football Association (GFA) Communication Director Ibrahim Saani Daara, speaking from Accra, said they were also awaiting for communication from FIFA regarding whether the game will proceed as initially planned or would be called off following the suspension of their opponents, but added that the Black Stars would continue with preparations in Kumasi.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) spokesperson Omega Sibanda revealed from Harare on Monday that since there had been no directive to the contrary from the Confederation of African Football (CAF), the three referees appointed for the match will proceed to Kumasi as scheduled.
The trio – Norman Matemera, Thomas Kusosa and Luckson Mhara – depart from Harare on Tuesday morning to officiate in the match unless informed to the contrary by CAF before they depart, according to Sibanda.