By all accounts, politics and elections dominated the national discourse even in the immediate aftermath of the Lofa County by-election. There were other important events taking place at about the same time that provided a glimmer of hope amid a gloomy economic forecast but they were apparently overshadowed by unfolding events on the national political scene.
One such event was the crowning of the youth National Football team as overall champions of a special tournament held in Austria, in which the Liberia National U-17 team competed against some local football teams. And this is not the first time that Liberian athletes including footballers have earned glory for Liberia. Only recently a young Liberian, Joseph Fahnbulleh earned a place in athletic history after winning the NCAA championship thus earning himself an enviable place as one of the faster runners in the world.
Also, the Liberian National Amputee Football team placed second (2nd) in the Amputee Football World Cup. In the previous competition, Liberia had emerged as the champion. These Liberian athletes, like many before them, have enjoyed little or no support from the national government. Their heroism has been treated or met with scorn.
The list of former Lone Star footballers who have suffered neglect, lived in penury (extreme poverty), and died “just like that” is long and this goes as well for other athletes, writers, entertainers, and artists. The names of distinguished Liberian Poets and writers, Bai Tamia Moore, Roland Tombekai Dempster, Milton D. Nassau, H. Carey Thomas, Wilton Sankawulo are hardly heard, and neither are their works being exposed to young Liberian students as they should be.
As for footballers who died in penury, the list is long and they include David Momo, a famous goalkeeper; Vava George, a midfield schemer, dribbler, and later coach; George Taylor, a nonsense central defender, etc.
The sacrifices they made to earn fame and honor for Liberia have been totally forgotten. The current crop of athletes appears to be faring no better. For example, the draft budget of the Ministry of Youth and Sports is a paltry US$785,587. This is to cover youth and sports programs.
As a matter of fact, the Minister of Finance, in presenting the budget to the Legislature, listed what he termed as “significant priority areas." They include Health, Education, Agriculture, Energy and Environment, Industry and Commerce, Infrastructure and Basic Services, Security and Rule of Law, Public Administration and Transparency and Accountability.
The Minister in his presentation emphasized that “the budget is an instrument of national development and transformation that is critical for the life of our people.” Apparently, the Minister does not consider sports as a priority area of national development.
Little wonder why sports remain underdeveloped in Liberia. As for football, in which we have achieved a little measure of success, there is very scant attention paid to the development of the National football team. This is contrary to widely held public perceptions that Liberian football under this administration would have soared to higher heights, given President Weah’s stellar achievement in global football. To the disappointment of most Liberians, this has not been the case.
The greatest disappointment of all was the banning of the SKD Stadium and the Antoinette Tubman Stadium (ATS) by the world football governing body Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), owing to the run-down condition of both stadia. As a result, Liberians were denied the opportunity to watch their team play at home. And likewise, the team was denied the opportunity to play before their home fans.
President Weah is aware of and knows the importance of home support to cheer the team to lift their spirits, which will serve to spur them to victory. How then can we realistically expect the team to win away from home without home support?
More importantly, the Lone Star football teams, U-17, U-15, U-20, and the senior national team are all underfunded. Players often have to accept less than what is promised as allowances. During President Weah’s playing days, according to informed sources, he was paid an appearance fee of US$5,000. But sadly, under his watch as President, national athletes, especially the football team, both male and female are struggling for support.
But against all those odds, our boys have indeed proved that Liberia abounds with talented youth, with their wins away from home against foreign teams, whose players receive far more in support than their Liberian counterparts. Only if our national policymakers can see and understand the need to engage the youth and help them to unlock their energies and immense creative potential and direct them into productive channels, which will ultimately prove beneficial to the nation over the long term.
Amid all the doom and gloom, the Liberian U-17 football team, by their performance has brought pride to the nation and lifted the hopes of its people for a better tomorrow. We must hail the achievements of the U-17 football team despite the very limited support they continue to receive.
They must be provided the necessary support to enable them achieve success for the nation and lift the spirits of a seemingly dispirited people. This is a duty from which President Weah cannot and must never shirk.