Wrestling in the country couldn’t have faced a madder moment than last year when the out-going Gambia Wrestling Association (GWA) executives held the arena to ransom by refusing to accept their dissolution causing delay start to the season.
The rancor was borne out of agitation for a change of leadership by arena stakeholders having grown disillusioned over Matarr Jarju and co’s reign, whose spell at the helm is described by opponents as a tenure of false promises.
As in any institution, break in bond between the top dogs and surrogates is mark of impending crises. In Jarju’s case, it was beginning of an end to his presidency.
The fall-out started off with accusations of malpractices. The drama began with few delegates pointing fingers of blame at the executives. The number of accusers soon swelled.
Matarr – a former wrestler – is said to have failed to make available a suitable office complex where the GWA could have been housed – a thing made mandatory by Sports Council as standard requirement for all sporting associations.
Allegations, ranging from failing to hold an AGM with utmost transparency, to executives disguising as wrestlers to travel to international wrestling events in a bid to rake in per diems, were all directed at Jarju’s leadership.
While the second one is difficult to substantiate, with the executive getting little bothered to repudiate these assertions, inability to provide a constitution – after four years in office –did little to enhance a much tattered reputation.
However, giving majority delegates of the GWA comprised largely people with little knowledge about the running of an association, there wasn’t much fuss made until a sudden agitation, prompted by incessant campaigns on radio call-in wrestling programmes, saw the tables turn around. This set the pace.
The rallying cries for an extra-ordinary congress were instigated by the longing to know the body’s state of finances.
Delegates were, by this moment meeting secretly at the Serrekunda West Field, to trump up support in efforts to attain a quorum enough to force the association’s heads into summoning an extra-ordinary session. Soon, associations of wrestling club managers, promoters, coaches sprung up, potentially swinging the balance in case of elections with their voting rights.
Jarju and his cohorts new the game was up and their days in office probably on the brink of being numbered, when stakeholders notified the regulatory body, the National Sports Council (NSC) copying it to the Ministry of Youth and Sports, regarding the crisis in the arena.
Silence was no longer sufficient answer and the GWA realized they must be seen to be talking or risk been perceived to be all around faulty in the wake of allegations thrown at them by vociferous but unified delegates. Exchange of tirades between the two camps by now became common place.
Stepping in, the NSC urged the executives to, amongst others, put up a draft constitution subject to voters’ approval and hold a congress.
With a chunk of his promises in the previous polls unfulfilled, sitting President Jarju opted against seeking a renewed term at a time his popularity has sapped and in the teeth of robust opposition from friends-turned political foes.
In the meantime, the council had given an ultimatum for the GWA to go to congress or face its ire which could, at worst, mean dissolution. Weeks, months, passed, without a session being held. The council’s patience was now being tested.
By September last year, the holding of the event has been postponed thrice. Compilation of dossiers in readiness for the congress was blamed for the postponements.
A month later, the pressure for a congress had softened with a plethora of people fearing the worst at news of the formation of a coalition party ready to give then sitting leader Yahya Jammeh run for his money, in an Election Year.
The agitation subsided and the dust temporary settled until few days following the historic dethronement of Jammeh’s 22-year reign.
The country’s fate hung on a threadbare at this juncture with the 52-year-old leader’s refusal to concede defeat to property-seller-turned president-elect Adama Barrow, the talking point.
War looked on the brink during these times, but undeterred, wrestling delegates still pestered, anticipating a decision from the NSC.
A month following the country’s political impasse, the council made the pronouncement of dissolving the Jarju-led GWA leadership, informing they will oversee an election process which will allow wrestling stakeholders usher in a new set of people to run affairs of the association the next forty-eight months.
That promise was fulfilled with Serign Modou Faye elected unopposed as the new Gambia Wrestling Association president in a congress held at the Friendship Hostel.
False promises of handing over
In-coming executives are able to assess their predecessors’ performance by getting access to association’s documents through a handing over procedure.
The process entails the official transferring of all documents for essence of transparency.
However, Matarr and his aficionados had other ideas –doing a Jammeh by declining to accept the NSC’s ruling, and, baulked at the idea of handing over documents in their custody to the new executives.
Start of the wrestling season had to be delayed in these torrid times of the sport as a result.
A stand-off looked imminent but it sure was a case of exploring dangerous waters for the out-going executives. Newly-elected president Faye and his surrogates needed to know the body’s state of finance to begin their new phase of life as movers and shakers of the GWA.
Interestingly, a new trajectory popped up with Jarju and team reversing their initial stance not to handover. Cracks were by now beginning to show. Former SG Habibou Nyassi was, during this stage, the sole outspoken man from the outgoing executive and said this about his team possibly handing over when asked by Foroyaa Sport in a previous interview: ‘We have written to the Sports Ministry about the situation and are waiting for them. The handing over will be done because the documents aren’t ours and that could happen probably before the season finishes. Our boss (Matarr Jarju) has traveled and is not in the country.’
Pleasing as it may have sounded, this, it was hoped, will signal end to the long drawn out saga. To the dismay of many, the rancor continued and the handing over had to be canceled, inexplicably, on four different occasions.
In last year’s AGM (Annual General Meeting), a report was presented offering breakdown of how much Jarju’s reign had in income and incurred in expenses.
It turned out, that D23, 619.00 (twenty-three thousand, six hundred and nineteen dalasis) was what was left as bank balance after an initial total income of D184,574, a figure of which D160,955 was used on expenditure for the year 2015-2016.
The sums are a sharp contrast from the D100, 010 the new executive managed to rake in as profit after just eight months in office.
The initial revenue made by Faye’s leadership was pegged at D230, 350 -obtained from combat contracts, registration of licenses and donations – out of which D130,340 was forked out on expenditure.
The difference in the profits registered between the old and new executives sent a ripple of concern to the delegates present at the hall.
At the height of his powers, ex-GWA boss Matarr Jarju was the most discussed figure in the arena. In the weeks following dissolution of his leadership, allegations were hurled all over him. Prominent among them was claims of impersonation.
In the time Matarr and his surrogates refused to handover, they were accused of manipulating the association’s official email account, which they reportedly alone had access to.
This way, it’s purported, communiqués including international travel invitations from affiliate international wrestling bodies, were hijacked without knowledge of the new executives.
Matarr is alleged to have attended a five-day international conference dubbed the United World Wrestling Africa Elections at the African Championship in Morocco.
At the Rabat convergence, he is purported to have introduced himself as president of the Gambia Wrestling Association, even though he was removed from office three months earlier.
The information leaked after vice president of Senegalese Wrestling Federation, also in attendance at the Morocco confab, reached out to the current GWA boss Faye regarding Matarr’s presence at the occasion.
A video reportedly taken of Matarr at the event did the rounds. So strong was this assertion that it courted interest from the National Sports Council but the government body baulked from their tracks after failing to lay hands on the footage as ground evidence for possible investigation.
Unfazed, Matarr didn’t bother to dispel the rumours about his personage. Efforts to seek a reaction from him in those moments, proved vain.
A new dawn
Fast forward to the recent occurrences, there’s a different vibe reverberating around. With a renewed sense of hope and foresight, the ills that once dogged the arena seem to have faded. The new leadership of the GWA currently enjoys popular support but how long this continues remains to be seen.