“The Future Belongs to Those Who Prepare for It”

Liberia’s British coach Peter Butler (L) speaks with his players during the FIFA Qatar 2022 World Cup qualification football match between Nigeria and Liberia at Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos, on September 3, 2021. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP).  

For many Liberians, the defeat of their Lone Star National Football Team at the hands of the Nigerian Super Eagles was indeed hard to take. Of the many Liberians this newspaper spoke to, most seem to hold the view that the loss to Nigeria was painful.

But even more painful is the hard fact and realization that the Lone Star will be playing a home match against the Central African Republic so far away from home in the Republic of Cameroon. This means Liberians will not be able to watch their beloved Lone Star play at home, where they will congregate in their numbers to support the team.

More to that, the disappointment and feeling of being let down by the banning of the Samuel K. Doe Stadium from hosting international football matches due to lapses of our own can, in the opinion of those spoken to, be attributed to failure on the part of the Liberian government led by world-renowned former professional footballer, President George Weah.

And they could be right, indeed. The question being asked is just how come under the watch of this world-acclaimed footballer, now leader of his nation, the renovation and upgrading of the playing pitch and related facilities at the SKD Stadium would falter and result in the banning of the SKD Stadium? 

According to informed sources, the Federation of International Football (FIFA), following assessment, provided an amount of US$4 million to bring the stadium up to par. Further, according to sources, the money was provided before the current president of the Liberia Football Association(LFA) Mustapha Raji was elected to the position.

If this is indeed true, the question is under whose leadership of the LFA was the money received from FIFA? Further, was the Minister of Youth and Sports, Zeogar Wilson, in the know of such transactions as many are inclined to believe?

Most of all, was President Weah (himself a former FIFA official) aware that FIFA had made such a contribution intended to boost football in Liberia? By all accounts, according to a former Lone Star player (name withheld), President Weah must have known that FIFA had provided money to upgrade the SKD. So then, why was the retrofit of the SKD not done as was expected?

By the way, who were the signatories to the account? If President Weah has not by now realized the hurt, shame and disgrace which has befallen this nation, first by the failure to prepare the stadium and second by the ignominious 2-0 loss to Nigeria, he must take action and must do it sooner than later to get at the bottom of why the upgrading of the SKD went awry, even after FIFA had allocated funds for same.

Further, informed sources have told this newspaper that relations between the current president of the LFA Mustapha Raji and President Weah’s top officials, possibly including himself, are allegedly very tenuous, badly strained to say the least. Sources further say Raji appears to have wracked the nerves and patience of some top government officials by his insistence that any official demanding the surrender of FIFA funds should sign an official receipt, but which they have allegedly and consistently refused to do.

Whatever the case, looking back four years ago when President Weah took office, many Liberians harbored strong hopes that the President would have used football as a means of mobilizing the people, raising the strength and belief in their own capabilities. 

Through such, their creative energies, especially of the youth, whose numbers account for more than 50 percent of the population of 4.5 million, could be unleashed and channeled into productive purposes. Liberian football had fallen into the doldrums since our ignominious exit from the 1998 World Cup qualifier.

Many Liberians had hoped that President Weah, having won the highest accolades in world football, would have considered the immediate launch of a national football development program.  One sure way to have begun the process of reviving football, it was generally believed, would have been the creation and establishment of a national football academy where coaches and players would be trained.

But such concerns, it appears, have never factored into President Weah’s considerations and priorities. And truth be spoken, the development of a national sports program, including football, through which the creative energies of Liberian youth could be developed and tapped for national benefit. It must not be forgotten that sports are also a cultural and development issue.  

Disappointingly, this has yet to happen. According to sources, the budget for the Lone Star team, for example, is a paltry US$700,000 -- nowhere near enough by far. How then can we expect results when little or no incentives are provided to encourage the athletes? Only in heaven, perhaps, but certainly not here on planet earth, can anyone plant peanuts and harvest oranges. President Weah must take cue from this recent defeat and act with some urgency to set things right. He should commission an investigation into reasons why Liberia failed to upgrade the stadium to meet FIFA standards and make public the findings. 

With two years left remaining on his term, there is probably not much he may be able to accomplish. What he could do, however, is to set the foundations for a national sports development program, especially football.  We can avoid future shame and disgrace only if we make adequate preparations. Above all, it must not be forgotten that “the future belongs to those who prepare for it”.