If President George Weah, former African Footballer of the Year, Europe’s Best and 1995 World Best footballer cannot help Liberia in football, then for heaven’s sake what can he do for this nation with only two years left on his tenure, is the hard question being asked by the public.
This is a very relevant but troubling question to which answers have been hard to come by since news broke of the imposition of a ban on the national football stadium. Supporters of President Weah however, see things differently.
They argue that keeping the national stadium in game readiness is not the prerogative of the President and therefore he should not be blamed for the decision taken by the Federation of International Football (FIFA) and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to ban the hosting of international matches at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Stadium (SKD).
But for heaven’s sake, President Weah is the leader of the nation and, unlike any other President in history, he has the pedigree of an accomplished footballer. He has even served as an executive committee member of the world football governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA).
President Weah came to national prominence due to football and it is/was expected that he would have done everything in his power to not just restore the glorious past of the national football team, of which he was a part and of which he served as Technical Director, but to also raise Liberian football to newer heights.
Sadly, President Weah appears to have virtually neglected football, much unlike the late President Samuel K. Doe, according to observers. President Weah was part of the Lone Star national team that President Doe sent to Brazil for several months of training. It was such support for football that undoubtedly helped propel young Weah at the time to stardom.
A former member of the Lone Star National team (name withheld), who spoke to the Daily Observer, said President Weah has not only neglected football but has neglected his former teammates and former players of the Lone Star National team.
He cited, for instance, several cases, one of which was that of former Lone Star player and coach, the late Vava George who, while ailing, made several SOS appeals to President Weah that went unheeded. Continuing, the former Lone Star player also cited what he called “strained relationships” subsisting between President Weah and several of his former teammates, particularly James Salinsa Debah.
Another former goalkeeper, and resident of New Kru Town, Mahnwleh, who played for both Mighty Barrolle and the St. Joseph Warriors, fell ill. Since he did not have money to seek medical attention, he wrote President Weah several letters for assistance that went unheeded, according to the former Lone Star player.
Also, according to him, Mahnwleh paid several visits to the Foreign Ministry, hoping to secure an appointment to see President Weah, but to no avail. Later, one of his legs was amputated and he died not too long after.
But coming back to the issue, Liberian football would not be where it is today had it not been for the likes of Joseph Richards, JJF Chesson, E. Harding Smythe, Willis Knuckles, Cletus Wotorson, Josiah Johnson and others, but not forgetting President William R. Tolbert. It was during the reign of President Tolbert that Liberia engaged in ping pong diplomacy with the People's Republic of China in 1971.
Under his leadership, Liberia established diplomatic relations with China. Several cooperation agreements were signed. One of such agreements was for the construction of a modern sports stadium free of charge to Liberia. The stadium was however not completed before the assassination of President Tolbert and the overthrow of his government in 1980.
It was during the Doe administration the modern sports stadium was completed and it was named in his honor. But had it not been for the foresight of President Tolbert who recognized the need for a new modern national stadium to replace the Antoinette Tubman Stadium (ATS), where would football be today?
President Tolbert was not and had never been a footballer, yet he supported the growth of football. Similarly placed was President Samuel K. Doe who never achieved any acclaim as a footballer.
But Doe supported football and to him can rightfully be attributed, the emergence and rise to stardom of the likes of George Weah, James Salinsa Debah, Pewu Bestman, Mark Gibson (deceased) Kelvin and Dionysius Sebwe, George Gebro, Simon Mattar and others.
But can President Weah proffer any justifiable reasons why, under his watch as President, the SKD National Football Stadium is banned from hosting FIFA and CAF approved games, owing to failure to bring the stadium up to international standards?
History recalls that the Lone Star National Football Team under the leadership and guidance of its Technical Director, George Weah, failed at the eleventh hour to qualify for the 2000 World Cup when it needed only a win or draw against Ghana.
History is also recalling that under the leadership of President George Weah, former Lone Star captain and technical director, former African footballer of the year, former European best footballer of the year, former World best player and winner of the Ballon d’Or, Liberia has failed to qualify to host home matches at the SKD. Is football failing under the watch of President Weah?
Football is said to be the heartbeat of the nation and, going by such logic, if it fails, the nation is indeed imperiled because such failure strongly suggests the failure of national leadership.