Liberia: Invincible Park "A Promise Kept", Pres. Weah Says
For President George Weah being a soccer icon, it would have been a shame if he had ended the first term of his Presidency without making any significant investment in what brought him to prominence — sport.
And after nearly 4 years of doing nothing toward this dream, the President, to the surprise of many on February 9, 2021, broke ground for the construction of a multi-purpose sports park as part of his flagship program that would be replicated across many parts of the country.
The park, while being constructed, came under heavy criticism due to its proximity to a commercial airport -- but President Weah was determined to rid the field which now host the Invincible Park of its noteriority -- ground for open defecation and criminal activities.
"Today we are here to open a sports park that no one expected. I come from sports! I am today as President of Africa’s First Independent Republic because of characteristics which have been embedded in me from sports. And what are these character traits to which I am referring? They are perseverance, respect, discipline, and teamwork," Pres. Weah said.
"These are core values from sports that must be drilled into our young people for them to succeed in whatever they choose to do in life," he added. "For this reason, the concept of sport as a national development tool is one that I hold very dear to my heart."
The Invincible Sports Park — the field on which it is constructed, had a very strong connection to the President as it remains one of the fields on which he trained during his formative years as a footballer. Weah set his first record in the high school league right here on the same field by defeating the famous Wells Hairston High School when he played for the Muslim Congress High School in the 1980s.
Pres. Weah, therefore, considered the place as one to receive the credit for producing the first and only Liberian and the first and only African to have won the FIFA World’s Best Footballer title, and the European Ballon d’Ór.
The Liberian leader, who is contesting for reelection in 2023, took the decision to construct the Invincible Sports Park in honor of Invincible Eleven, the local football club from which he launched his football career.
The transformed field includes a standard FIFA football pitch, two football practice patches, and two basketball courts, as well as a tennis and a volleyball court.
It also includes a track and field stretch, a mini children's playground, and parking space. The dedication of the project marks one of the few sports infrastructure projects undertaken by the Weah administration and comes a few weeks after the national government commenced works at the SKD sports stadium for the installation of artificial turf and completion of the placement of bucket seats at the facility.
"During the years since I became President of this country, as I have driven past this site in the course of carrying out my official duties, I have often wondered why, after all these many years since my youth, no government has seen it fit to improve this space, for it to provide our people the simple pleasures of recreation and relaxation in the open air," the Liberian leader said.
"And so I decided that I would do something about it. I feel a strong sense of obligation to this community because of what this place has contributed to my success in the world of soccer," the president noted. "The transformation of this space into a modern sports and recreational facility for the public is not only pleasing to me, but is a realization of my childhood dream to GIVE BACK to my people and my country. "
Critics, some of whom are experts in aviation policy and safety, have warned that the park area is too close to the nearby James Spriggs Payne airfield and is a potential safety hazard. However, President Weah feels justified by the fact that the same field has been a mainstay in the sporting community for decades, even while the Spriggs Payne Airport has been in operation.
"I therefore want you to know that I have developed this public park as a promise kept, to improve our urban and civic spaces," the President said.
"So you can see that I know this area very well. I used to live here, right across from the Airfield. Although this piece of land was undeveloped, it was used for recreational purposes for many decades by the general public in Monrovia," Weah disclosed. "As I look across the street, I can see the Ellen Mills Scarborough Junior High School, where I obtained my Junior High School certificate. This was our soccer field. I can also see the Bench Old Timers Field on the other side of the airfield…right over there."
Pres. Weah later recalled that the field, on which the park is built, played another important and very meaningful role in the country — it served for many years as the site where hundreds of Liberian women, wearing white, prayed for peace to return to the nation.
"They were here as Prayer Warriors for our Nation, in the heat and the rain, laying on the ground and in the sand, with no shelter from the elements," he said.
Park will be clean
Pres. Weah noted that while the park was built in record time, he is aware that to operate this Sports Park efficiently and in a sustainable manner, there are rules and regulations which have to be strictly observed.
He added that the park needs to be kept clean and absolutely "no alcohol or drugs will be sold or allowed at the park because children will be in the park as well," he stressed.
"Closed-circuit security cameras are installed to enable us to enforce this ban, and there will be constant surveillance to ensure that this Sports Park is drug-free and alcohol-free," Weah added.
Meanwhile, Pres. Weah has said that when he arrived on the site to commence the construction works for the park, he was saddened and concerned to see the plight of the residents living around its periphery, many of them in makeshift shacks and dilapidated houses.
In all good conscience, he said could not rehabilitate and develop a brand new park in the face of these citizens while they continued to live in such unfortunate circumstances.
"Therefore, the government was instructed, through its relevant agencies, to relocate the residents into temporary shelters, while their existing homes were demolished to make way for new housing units," Pres. Weah noted. "Today, I am pleased to inform you that a comprehensive housing project, consisting of fifty (50) new 2-bedroom housing units, is being built around the perimeter of this Sports Park. "
"Thirty (30) of these houses have now been completed, and the remaining forty (20) units should be completed within the next 60 days. Giving back is a blessing because I came from a humble family. My only source for sponsorship was sports. My school fees were paid from sports scholarships. They were the foundation that prepared me for the legendary career I had in football."
Meanwhile, President Weah has announced that as a mark of recognition for the numerous contributions that the following individuals have made to sports in Liberia in a very special way, "I hereby name the various sectors of the park in honor of the following persons:
1. Children Training Soccer Field:
Is now named the The Thelma Bernard Training Field;
2. Children Playground:
Is now named the The Clar Marie Weah Children Playground;
3. The Official FIFA Standard Field:
Is now named The Alhaji G.V. Kromah Soccer Field;
4. The Youth Training Field:
Is now named The Willis Knuckles Youth Training Field;
5. Basketball Courts:
Is now named The Solomon C. George Basketball Courts;
6. The VIP Lounge:
Is now named The Alexander Trokon Kpui VIP Lounge;
7. The Housing Estate:
Is now named The Samuel Burnette Housing Estate;
8. The Volleyball Court:
Is now named The Otis Nyanneh Volleyball Court;
9. The Lawn Tennis Courts:
Is now named The Togba Nah Tipoteh Lawn Tennis Courts.