World football governing body, FIFA, has suspended a Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) congress pending “integrity” checks related to match-fixing allegations against the national side, as the nation’s football crisis deepens.
Fifteen Sierra Leonean players and officials were suspended in July 2014 over suspect matches including a 2010 World Cup qualifier against South Africa, notably implicating former Leone Stars captain Ibrahim Kargbo.
A Sierra Leonean-Lebanese football administrator, Rodney Michael, is also accused of links to sports betting company Mercury International, a major financier of sports activities in Sierra Leone.
The accusations were due to be investigated by an SLFA-appointed committee headed by the country’s interior minister Palo Conteh.
However, Fifa took over the matters into its own hands, saying the congress cannot go ahead until its own investigators are satisfied with progress.
Fifa secretary general Fatma Samoura wrote a letter to the SLFA dated July 7 saying the meeting should be postponed “until further notice” due to pending “integrity checks” on all current or potential members of the executive committee.
Samoura said “problems… persist” in the ongoing probe, with new individuals of interest identified as requiring such checks.
Samoura had visited Freetown last November hoping that the ongoing tensions between the SLFA and the government would have been resolved.
The government had reached an impasse in its own investigation of the corruption allegations.
A memorandum of understanding signed during the visit set up an investigative committee headed by Conteh which was approved by Fifa, though this agreement between the world body, the SLFA and the government now looks in jeopardy.
Speaking on the development , Sports Minister, Ahmed Khanou said he was “disappointed” by FIFA’s decision.
“Our role is to supervise and regulate the activities of sporting associations,” he explained.
Khanou said his ministry was “trying to regulate the flow of money between the Sierra Leone Football Association and Fifa” but said Fifa would not disclose where funds sent to the SLFA went.
“We want Fifa to be transparent in their dealings by consulting us before taking decisions,” he added.
The ordinary congress was meant for the SLFA to give an account of its financial activities and would also set up committees for an extraordinary congress when new executive members will be elected into office.
But tensions persist between the sports ministry and SLFA, and within the national football body itself.