The just ended National County Sports meet finals in which Lofa County emerged as winners of the football competition drew thousands of people together in a very festive atmosphere. It was a clear demonstration of the potential of sports to bring people together, irrespective of their differences.
It also clearly demonstrated how, through sports, the creative energies of young people can be harnessed and mobilized for productive purposes. In the case of Liberia, football has been established as the leading sport and is one which provides a ready vehicle for national mobilization of young people.
But just how much has been allocated in the national budget for sports in view of its immense potential is worrying to say the least. It figures least on the list of priorities of this government according to most people this newspaper has spoken to.
Others have been even more forthright and openly expressed themselves on the issue. One such person is Montserrado District 7 Representative Solomon George.
Responding to comments from journalists on a local radio station recently, Representative George, expressing dismay at the current state of sports in the country, declared that it was through football that Mr. George Weah, now President of Liberia, acquired national and global fame.
It was football according to Representative George, which eventually propelled him to win the Presidency but yet under President Weah, football has died, he declared. And there are many who agree with him. Critics point to what they say is the virtual absence of Liberia from international football competitions.
They attribute this dismal situation to what they say is the lack of a coherent national football program. One such individual holding such views is retired star and Lone Star footballer, Benedict Wisseh.
He has been one of those voices not only advocating for greater support from the National Government towards the development of the sport in Liberia, he has also called for national recognition of former Lone Star players as individuals (heroes) who did their best and contributed to the development of the game.
It can be recalled that a number of former Lone Star players have passed away recently – amongst them, the star footballer and later national coach, Vava George. Currently ailing and languishing on sick bed, according to sources, is former Lone Star and IE player and President Weah’s former team mate Gbelly Marshall. Promises were made but promises were broken, it appears.
But on another note, the football finals between Montserrado and Lofa county has drawn into sad perspective the issue of corruption and how pervasive it has become in the Liberian society over the years.
According to eyewitness accounts, thousands of football enthusiasts who thronged the Samuel Kanyon Doe sports stadium to watch the final match between Lofa and Montserrado bought their tickets from security officers, particularly LNP officers. Eyewitnesses have told the Daily Observer that they saw Police officers openly selling admission tickets.
Now as to whether those tickets were genuine and had been legally entrusted to them for sale remains unclear. What is clear is that the stadium was overcrowded and could have possibly led to needless fatalities. The question is, why did the security apparatus, especially the Liberia National Police, allow this to happen?
From all indications, this was deliberate especially in view of credible reports indicating that the LNP hierarchy benefitted from this dangerous practice which, sources say, is perennial and appears to have taken strong roots.
Video images aired on social media showing scenes of people being sprayed with water from a fire truck to help bring down the unbearable heat due to overcrowding attests to the danger to lives of thousands caused by corrupt greedy officials.
Other reports spoke of some spectators being pelted with urine filled plastic bags while others defecated into plastic bags and dropped them as liter. The big question lingering on the minds of the public is, what has happened to the social distancing and other health protocols announced by this government as part of anti-COVID 19 measures intended to curb the spread of the disease?
More importantly, President Weah partook in activities involving thousands of people, the overwhelming majority of who did not wear any mask as protection against COVID-19. What kind of message is he sending when he, on one hand, is urging respect for recommended anti-COVID-19 health protocols but, at the same time, participating in activities involving large numbers of people without masks?
But back to the issue, the Daily Observer is constrained to ask: just when will Liberia, Liberians get it right and see corrupt officials as actual threats to social cohesion, reject their false generosity and treat them with the contempt they deserve? Answers to this question, it appears may not be readily forthcoming.
A longtime keen sports and football enthusiast says Liberians will stumble upon the answer when public officials and security officers assigned at games stop taking bribes to grant admission to spectators. According to him, this will only happen if the example is set from the very top.
Now, whether this is likely to happen anytime soon will depend largely on the willingness of President Weah to set examples of corrupt officials as soon as yesterday. It is said that football has died under the watch of President Weah.
Can it be said also that corruption is dying under the watch of President Weah? There are those, however, who believe that football can resurrect under President Weah’s watch, only if corruption can actually die under his watch. But time is his greatest enemy. He will have to act now because TIME WILL NOT WAIT FOR HIM!