Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio has promised to improve on the country’s football infrastructure to be able to host the African Cup of Nations.
He gave this indication when the President of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, FIFA, Giovanni Vincenzo Infantino and the Confédération Africaine de Football, CAF President, Dr Patrice Motsepe visited him.
Sierra Leone’s Minister of Sport, Ibrahim Nyelenkeh, who had welcomed the delegation from the football world governing bodies, said that it was history in the making that the country was hosting the sitting presidents of FIFA and CAF for the first time.
“I am not surprised. You must have heard about government’s assiduous strides and relentless efforts at developing and supporting football from the grassroots to the national level,” he noted, adding that the present government had supported sport, particularly football, more than all others in the history of Sierra Leone.
While introducing the visitors, the President of Sierra Leone Football Association, SLFA, Isha Johansen, said that their visit was as timely and historic as it was meaningful to the country.
She thanked them for choosing Sierra Leone as one of their three Africa nation tours, the others being Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia.
FIFA’s President Infantino told the gathering that it was an honour and a pleasure to be in Sierra Leone, saying that they were very committed to helping and supporting Africa shine in the world.
“We know how important football is in Africa. Football is talent, football is passion in Africa. In Sierra Leone, in particular, football is not just a game, football is life. I think the time has come where we have to move forward and look into the future.
“FIFA and CAF stand for due process, for integrity, for democracy and to make sure that we can once again put aside all negativities that have tarnished the image of football in the country in the last few years. Let us move to promote a positive and united approach because we need unity in this country,” he urged.
The Swiss and Italian national, who has been president at FIFA since 26 February 2016, also called on all stakeholders to work together to make football very attractive and a way of life. He said everyone needed to work together for the development of the country, particularly in Sierra Leone where football was much more important.
CAF’s President Motsepe first thanked President Bio for his honesty, integrity and brotherly exchange of ideas, before calling on all to work together and with him in the best interest of football and a beautiful country.
He confessed that the President represented a new breed of leadership not just for Sierra Leone but for Africa, adding that the country had also produced exceptional football players and expressed hope that it would continue to produce great players. He pledged CAF and FIFA’s commitment to supporting Sierra Leone with the requisite infrastructure to host the African Cup of Nations in the not-too-distant future.
In a brief statement, President Bio welcomed the Presidents of FIFA and CAF to his beautiful country, noting that football remained a fashion that the people of his country loved and cherished.
“It is one of the uniting forces in Sierra Leone. We are very polarised when it comes to politics, but when it comes to football you can see the passion, you can see the joy. It is a different Sierra Leone, especially with football,” he assured.
He also stated that normally when passion clashed, there were always bits of challenges, but emphasised that the country looked forward to an SLFA leadership that would move the country as a nation. He advised that the people should not be deprived of the game that every Sierra Leonean loved.
President Bio further stated that besides the politics of football and the few challenges with regard to infrastructure, the people of his country were friendly and good. He called on the leadership of the two world football governing bodies to invest in the infrastructure of the game in the country.
“On behalf of the government and people of Sierra Leone, I want to thank you and would like you to come again. Thank you for coming and you are welcome to Sierra Leone,” he concluded