Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Gambian Sports Locked up in Power Struggle for a Whole Year

This setback served as a benchmark for the country’s lack of participation and poor performance in international competitions

Fight for power nearly killed the game in 2013. In this photo, Gambia 0-3 Ivory Coast, Independence Stadium, Bakau, Saturday June 8, 2013, Brazil 2014 qualifier. (Photo Credit: Modou S. Joof/TNBES/June2013)
The poor-performing nation has been locked up in power struggles, allegations and counter-allegations at The Gambia National Olympic Committee, GNOC, and The Gambia Football Federation, GFF in 2013. This setback served as a benchmark for the country’s lack of participation and poor performance in international competitions.

The power struggle at the GNOC which began in 2010 reached peak high when the ministry of youth and sports announced in September it is banning the GNOC from organising any sporting event. Through the National Sports Council, NSC, the ministry said it will not recognise the current executive board of the GNOC until what it called an “acceptable electoral process” is conducted. It encouraged ministries, departments, institutions, parastatals and other stakeholders not to deal with the current executive members of the national Olympic committee in any capacity relating to GNOC matters. “I am directed to inform the current self-proclaim Executive Bureau of the GNOC to stop representing the Gambia in any capacity relating to Gambian Sports and or organize any sporting activity locally and internationally until an acceptable process of election is held,” NSC acting executive secretary, Fabakary Touray wrote.

Under a controversial atmosphere, Momodou Dibba was elected to serve a four year term on Feb., 12, 2011. He was re-elected on August 3, 2013 but the ministry of sports declared the results and the elections “null and void”. “The Ministry and the Sports Council jointly condemns this undignified and insolent act,” a statement said. “The Ministry will not recognize any results of any so-called bogus and sham election that was held on 3rd August 2013 and hereby declares those results null and void and not binding.” They claimed the process was conducted in a blatant lack of respect to official authority and called the newly elected executive of the GNOC “disgruntled elements” and “self-appointed”.

But the GNOC described the Ministry’s statement as a “gross misunderstanding” of the GNOC Constitution. It argued that the election process started since February 11 when the first notice was given scheduling the elections for March 23 only for the opposing party to lodge an injunction that stopped the process. The GNOC said once the injunction was lifted on June 25, it means that the election process should continue and, in fact, another 30 days notice was given for an Extra Ordinary General Assembly to be held on July 27 where delegates agreed on August 3 as the election date.

Earlier on April 11, the International Olympic Committee had  said everyone will have to accept the sovereign and final decisions (whatever they are) made by this Extraordinary General Assembly in accordance with the GNOC Constitution, the Olympic Charter and the IOC instructions. It also called for an immediate withdrawal of ongoing court case(s) against the GNOC at the time. It stated that all pending internal issues of the GNOC must be freely discussed and decided within the NOC and by the GNOC’s competent bodies. Meanwhile, Mr Dibba remains the president and presided over the GNOC 15th annual National Awards and Sports Banquet on May 17.

GFF power struggle

On October 26, the GFF lift the ban on ousted president Seedy MB Kinteh, whose executive committee was dissolved by Gambia’s sports ministry on March 2, 2012 and banned by a local football normalisation committee on July 15, 2013 from holding office for five years.

Kinteh and his former vice president Adama Halla Samba were banned after a GFF Normalisation Committee (NC) Disciplinary Committee accused them of “financial misappropriation” and “managerial irregularities”. They denied the allegations and accused the NC of presiding over a “smear campaign and witch-hunting.” Senior staffers Abdou Salam Jammeh, assistant secretary general; Terema Dahaba, director of National Technical Training Centre; Kemo Ceesay, treasurer, Jammeh EK Bojang, secretary general, Omar Sampo Ceesay and Lamin King Kolley – all former executive members of the Federation (formerly Gambia Football Association) were also banned. 

Mustapha Kebbeh, President of GFF, said the ban is scrapped with “immediate effect” to pave the way for unity. Kebbeh had pledge to unite all stakeholders in Gambian football after a long running war of words between his camp and that of the then NC prior to his election on 31 July.

When the five year ban of Kinteh and 15 of his dissolved executive committee was announced, amid rising tension, local journalists said they saw it coming ever since the GFF NC granted itself “sweeping powers” in a letter purportedly sent to it by FIFA. Namorry Trawally, a senior sports journalist, said the NC wants to kick against public opinion by vowing at a secret meeting to disqualify Mr. Kinteh and Mr. Samba from contesting for the presidency. “This recent overture from Mr. Omar Sey (NC Chairperson) has not come as a surprise to most of us because he has an old score to settle with either of the two,” alleges Trawally, the Editor-In-Chief of Sports View.

On June 8, former FIFA Deputy General Secretary, Jerome Champagne, said he is dissatisfied with attempts to block candidates running for GFF presidency. “To block candidates is not correct and frankly we should have an open election,” Champagne told WCR. “Football is about democracy, and football is about giving a chance to everyone.” A few hours to the July 31 election, Brikama United FC and Bakau United FC withdrew the candidature of Seedy M.B. Kinteh for the presidency of GFF. “This decision was reach in the best interest of national peace and security,” the clubs said. 

On July 17, the NC rescinded the ban imposed on Regional Representatives after an appeal filed by Messers Abdoukarim Sey and Ousainou Darboe, the representatives of West Coast Region and Banjul. Both told an appeal hearing presided over by the NC that during the period under review (2009-2011) they were merely on the peripheries of the administration of the Seedy Kinteh-led executive. Meaning lifting a five year ban on the following regional representatives: Alh Omar Sowe - Upper River Region, Saikouba Ceesay - Central River Region, Wandifa Kinteh – Lower River Region, Lamin Dampha – North Bank Region, Ousainou Darboe - Banjul, Abdou Karim  Sey – West Coast Region, and Sulayman Drammeh – Kanifing Municipality.

On April 13, presidential hopeful Kebba Yorro Manneh was barred from attending a GFF constitutional adoptive congress. The former GFA sectary general tried to force his way past uniformed men and women on guard saying: “I am only coming to observe as an upcoming president”. However, he was denied entry to the conference hall. “I’m here to make sure that Omar Sey and his Normalisation Committee are out of here as soon as possible because we are tired of the normalization,” Manneh said.

During that Saturday's congress, GFA delegates voted 27 to 20 to finally adopt the new constitution. One person abstained from voting and five eligible voters didn’t turn-up at all. Local journalists said delegates were involved in “serious arguments” before ballots were cast including those disenfranchised. An earlier December 12, 2012 GFF constitutional adoptive congress was labelled “biased” and “unrealistic” by FIFA, football’s world governing body.    

There have been conspicuous differences as to how Gambian football should be run ever since the Government sack the FA Committee in March 2012. Football stakeholders have showed they cannot agree on anything tangible.

Afcon 2013 and Brazil 2014

On June 15 The Gambia ends its disastrous Africa cup of nations (Afcon 2013) campaign. A 4-1 thrashing and a humiliating 6-2 on aggregate was more than enough to end the Scorpions qualifying campaign for South Africa. Goals from Algerian striker Islam Slimani, and one each from Foued Kadir and El Arbi Hillel Soudani gave Algeria an emphatic 4-1 dumping off Gambia in the second leg encounter in Algiers.  Gambia’s Scorpions went into the game following a 2-1 lost to Algeria’s Fennecs (Desert) Foxes in Banjul during a February 29 first leg preliminary round. Gambia’s participation has been marred by reports of divisions within the squad, poor travelling arrangements and unpaid match bonuses.

On June 8, Ivory Coast dashed Gambia’s “mathematical hopes” of progressing to the final stage of the Brazil 2014 World Cup qualifiers after the elephants emphatic 3-0 win over the scorpions in Bakau. The scorpions were eager to win their last three matches and hope group rivals Ivory Coast and Tanzania or Morocco falter along the way – to give it at least a chance for a play-off to the 2nd round. But such hopes were ruined by the visitors with goals from Lacina Traore, Wilfred Bony and Yaya Toure in the 13th, 61st and 90th minutes. The Gambia also lost 3-0 to Ivory Coast in March in Abidjan.

The Scorpions went on to lose 2-0  to Morocco at the Stade de Marrakech on June 16. Abdelaziz Barrada put the Atlas Lions ahead within 4 minutes and Younes Belhanda wrapped it up with a beautifully coiled goal from within 19 yards in the 51st minute. The home fixture was a 1-1 draw against Morocco. Having earlier lost 1-3 to the Taifa Stars in Dare es Salam, the Scorpions claimed a 2-0 win over Tanzania in the reverse fixture at home. Captain Mustapha Jarju (Toubabo) netted twice against in the final first stage group qualifiers but his country crashed out with only 4 points.

During the year, the U-17 (Baby Scorpions) and the U-20 (Darling Scorpions) were deprived of participation in international competition. The Gambia for Gold, a fundraising committee that was setup to finance national football teams said it was cash trapped. As a result, the football association was also forced to withdraw the U-23 from partaking in the London 2012 Olympic qualifiers. 

On May 19, the NSC Executive Secretary Mamudou Max Jallow was pronounced death at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital in Banjul where he was taken ill on May 18. He was laid to rest at his home village Brufut, Kombo North District, West Coast Region. Jallow was appointed executive secretary in February 2011, and has worked at the Council since 2001. Jallow will best be remembered for his commitment to restructuring National Sporting Associations, NSAs, and his great role in the successes of the annual Brufut Marathon.
He has also supported the revival of wrestling, a traditional sport in The Gambia. “I think local government authorities need to provide recreational facilities to all sports, particularly wrestling,” Jallow told The North Bank Evening Standard in July 2012. “There is not one wrestling arena in the whole country.”

The year ended with an insignificant leap for the Scorpions in December’s FIFA Coca-Cola World Rankings. The Gambia moved three places up, to 131 in the world and one place up, to 39 in Africa.

Compiled and written by Modou S. Joof & Omar Bah for the Serekunda-based privately-owned The Voice newspaper where a version of this report first appeared on December 30, 2013

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