SLeone files appeal against FIFA suspension

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Sierra Leone has appealed against its suspension by world football’s top body on charges of government interference.

After a crisis meeting on Monday with the government, the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) sent a letter to FIFA asking it to lift the suspension so that the country can play Ghana in looming qualifiers for the Africa Cup of Nations.

It said it would dispatch a delegation to FIFA headquarters in Zurich for talks.

The West African nation was rocked last week when FIFA suspended it for government interference.

The bustup is rooted in a move by the country’s anti-corruption commission to sack SLFA president Isha Johansen and general secretary Christopher Kamara during an ongoing probe into corruption and mismanagement.

The meeting on Monday took place in State House, the official residence of President Julius Maada Bio, in the capital Freetown, ministers said.

“(The) government met with Isha and (her) secretary general so as to commence the mediation process for the lifting of the FIFA ban,” Sports Minister Ibrahim Nyelenkeh told AFP.

“We want FIFA to reverse the suspension to enable us (to) participate in a CAF pending game with Ghana this month,” he said.

“We are very hopeful that FIFA will lift the suspension after our mediation process.”

The letter to FIFA, seen by AFP, carried the SLFA letterhead and was signed by Johansen, although it was unclear whether she had been reinstated to her job.

On September 20, her deputy, Brima Mazola Kamara, had said that he had replaced her.

In addition, Nyelenkeh said that both Johansen and Kamara will be part of the delegation heading to Zurich.
Johansen and Kamara were arrested in September 2016 over alleged corruption offences.

A year later, they were indicted by the anti-graft agency on six counts of abuse of office and corruption. They deny any wrongdoing.

“I want us to resolve all outstanding issues before going to FIFA in Zurich or else it will be difficult to lift the suspension,” Johansen said after the meeting.

Sierra Leone play away to Ghana on Thursday, with the return match next Monday.

The crisis within Sierra Leone football has been rumbling on for years.

Fifteen Sierra Leonean players and officials were suspended in July 2014 over suspect matches including a 2010 World Cup qualifier against South Africa.

However, the scandal has taken on the dimension of a political emergency in the light of the showdown with FIFA, which threatens Sierra Leone’s participation in the Cup of Nations.

Bio, the opposition challenger, narrowly won a hotly-contested presidential election in March.

“We want to organise a high-level delegation to FIFA with all critical football stakeholders involved,” Chief Minister David Francis, the country’s top minister, told reporters.

“As a new government we inherited the football problem,” he said, and made a reference to FIFA’s own scandal-ridden recent past.

“We are also aware that FIFA too have been embroiled in series of corruption allegations,” he said.