Over the weekend, a national football icon, Dominic Vava George was laid to rest. With the exception of family members and a few friends, the event went largely unnoticed by the national government and the public at large. Prior to his passing he had been sick and needed urgent and proper medical attention which was never forthcoming, despite promises and assurances from President George Weah that he would have received the needed assistance to send him to the Ivory Coast for treatment rather than the SOS clinic in Monrovia.
That promised assistance was never to come, despite several but fruitless attempts by friends and family members to reach President Weah to impress on him the urgency of Vava’s situation. Vava, as he was popularly called, came into the limelight when playing for the Great Bame football team in Monrovia. His amazing dribbling and ball control skills drew the attention of local football authorities who invited him to join the Lone Star team where he contributed massively to the elevation of football in Liberia to a truly national sport. The passing of famous football star Wanibo Toe in 1965 left a vacuum on the national team in the midfield which was soon filled by Vava George.
He played alongside other Liberian football greats such as the indomitable Josiah Johnson and Mass Saar. His call to national duty took him to many countries, amongst them, the then West Germany where the Lone Star played several matches against local German sides. It was there he sustained a foot injury that would haunt him for the rest of his life, and which ultimately led to his untimely passing. Regrettably, the Liberian government including the Liberia Football Association (LFA), did little to help Vava access modern medical treatment for his injury.
Upon their return to Liberia, Vava resumed football activities despite his ailment. Following his retirement from football, Vava George became a football coach coaching a string of local teams including the Lone Star Team. It was under his tutelage that the Lone Star qualified for the African Cup of Nations in 2002. Aside from that he coached a string of football teams in Liberia including Bame, Mighty Barrolle, NPA Anchors, etc.
That he had been ailing for a some time was a well known fact. It was in desperation that his family finally turned to the media in order to draw President Weah’s attention to the departed national hero. According to sources, his family had long sought help from President Weah, which was not forthcoming until news of his ailment came to public attention through the media. There is absolutely no rational explanation to justify the official neglect of Vava.
But Vava’s case does not stand alone. The Daily Observer editor Omari Jackson recalls that such was the case of former Lone Star goal keeper, Mana Wleh, whose story was carried in the Observer of the many fruitless attempts he made to seek medical assistance from President Weah, himself a former player of the Lone Star team. He died not ever receiving the assistance he sought. Incidentally both individuals hailed from the same Kru ethnic group.
And indeed there were many in the pubic who harbored an ardent belief that football aside, shared ethnicity with President Weah would have factored into considerations for the wellbeing of Vava. And rather disappointingly, according to some family members, President Weah did not even attend Vava’s funeral, preferring instead to attend the funeral of a close relative of Foreign Minister Gbezongar Findley. Instead, the pages of news outlets have been full of praise for President Weah for committing to underwriting Vava’s medical expenses at the SOS clinic in Congo Town.
Truth be told, President Weah did not do well on this score and he needs to be told the truth no matter how bitter its taste. Going forward, President Weah needs to step up to the plate. Long before his rise to prominence on the football scene, there were others who played well their part sacrificing for the nation and their heroic services to this nation must be recognized. Why, for instance, is veteran football star and national icon Josiah Johnson (JNJ) not receiving an official pension, especially at a time when a former footballer reigns as President of Liberia?
And just what can explain what appears to be a benign neglect of the national football team, the Lone Star? It is difficult to digest the fact that in the last budget a measly sum of US$200,000 was provided for the national football team. Moreover, there is no program for the development of the country’s football teams including the senior team, the Under 15, Under 20 for both men and women. And what can explain the fact that the country, to date, lacks a national football academy to train future stars?
Recently a female playing team travelled to the US state of Minnesota to play in a tournament in which they emerged champions. To date, there has been no formal recognition of their accomplishment by President Weah, himself a distinguished world class former footballer. Well some things, perhaps are better not said and so much the better.