By: Sulayman Bah
It’s being tipped to be an intriguing showdown as Lamin Kabba Bajo and Malick Sillah fight it out to become the country’s football boss.
Incumbent Kabba is seeking a renewed four-year mandate following elapse of his first term.
Delegates will be deciding who to trust with their votes as the Gambia Football Presidency go up for grabs on Saturday.
Build-up to the weekend’s congress has been charged up with matters at one point reaching the courts.
From the time Seedy Kinteh was jettisoned from the seat in 2011, the two congresses that followed in Gambian football have been a subject of controversy.
Fall out between rival camps wasn’t unexpected but to the extent of resorting to the courts –this week – took many aback.
How did we get here?
All had looked normal with Gambian football in the new dispensation until then newly appointed Youth and Sports minister Henry Gomez, out of the blue, launched a scathing remark on the Football House, accusing it of misappropriating funds from the world soccer body meant for the refurbishment of the FIFA-Goal Project.
Exchange of words, as predicted, ensued with football boss Lamin Kabba Bajo hitting back saying Gomez’s comments are ‘contrary to the reality.’ Weeks later, the Minister and Bajo made a conducted tour of the said facility at the request of the latter.
Gomez declined to grant his impression of the area to the local press as initially agreed and only made mental notes of the site then yet to be completed, before hurriedly leaving on board his waiting government vehicle.
A general apprehension hovered in the weeks following the Minister’s tour in Yundum and not much transpired between the GFF and the Ministry until two months later when Borri Darboe – a member of the dissolved GFF Executive in 2014 – rose to the rank of chairman at the National |Sports Council.
Darboe, a businessman and a board member at second-tier club Bakau United, was part of the Mustapha Kebbeh-led federation era banned by FIFA for age-cheating and dissolved by Yahya Jammeh’s government for what it then called a ‘national embarrassment.’
That era is replaced by Lamin Kabba Bajo who now heads the Football House, a thing of which inevitably had many questioning Darboe-led NSC’s interest in the current federation.
The council publicly insists that their fury with the GFF is not a case of witch-hunt or with a vendetta.
Days prior to his appointment as NSC boss, Borri headed a group of disgruntled delegates dubbed Concern Stakeholders who pointed fingers of accusation at Bajo, alleging that the military man-turned football president is running the Football House at his whim and squandering funds amounting to millions.
This trajectory prompted majority into claiming that Darboe is using the government institution to settle personal scores, an assertion he denies.
Weeks later, the sports regulatory body announced they’ve obtained flurry of complaints from aggrieved football delegates implicating the GFF of fraud, corruption and meddling with the congresses of Regional Football Associations (RFAs).
The NSC set up a panel whose membership comprised individuals GFF have had issues with in the past, raising objections with the taskforce’s impartiality.
As hoped, the NSC’s move was met with pockets of resistance from the federation who insists the council is wandering out of its regulatory role and instead ‘interfering with the administration of football.’
Bajo told Foroyaa Sport then that the government institution lacks the mandate to probe into their affairs and they wouldn’t mind taking it to the courts. Soon, the government revealed that it had suspended five top dogs of the GFF including president Bajo to allow the investigating panel to carry out its functions unhindered.
The ‘suspended’ quintet refused to heed NSC’s pronouncement with Bajo particularly seen at the FA’s complex, located at urban settlement Kanifing, several times.
In the heat of the moment, FIFA SG Fatma Samoura from neighboring country Senegal, flew over to Banjul to hold talks with the government. The proposed visit had to be called off with then Sports minister Henry Gomez out of the country on official duty.
Several attempts to engage government officials later proved in vain, according to FIFA in a statement.
The government institution, in a hasty move, arranged a press conference, on Friday, 24th in the afternoon and said: “Their stance on probing the FA is irreversible even if it means incurring the trouble of FIFA.”
NSC was initially thought to be working without the influence of the Ministry but the press conference implied otherwise with Minister Gomez and Darboe gladly posing for the cameras in the aftermath of the convergence.
So who would have been hit most with a FIFA ban?
Gambia is a country with an embarrassment of talents with players in many major European leagues but remains yet to qualify in any senior international competition.
Despite losing away 1-0 to Benin in the 2019 AFCON qualifiers, there’s a glimmer of hope of the impossible being achieved in the games against Cameroon. However, that would have been seen washed down under, had FIFA swept in.
The U-17 Lady Scorpions due to host Ghana’s Maiden Queens in a World Cup qualifier game on December 2nd, 2017 then would have risked being expelled from the tournament.
Similar consequence would have faced former league winners Armed Forces FC and Football Federation Cup holders, Hawks FC in their respective CAF tournaments; CAF Total Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup.
Bakary Papa Gassama, the continent’s three-time best referee award winner, would have been left bereft and teetering on the brink.
Among six picked African referees who attended a three-day seminar for Russia World Cup, the 38-year-old’s ambition of going to the World Cup would have been ruined.
The saga in recent times took a purely financial turn with the Sports Council accusing the GFF of failing to withhold and pay the Gambian taxman of an amount quoted to be D900, 000 for a D10 million contract awarded to General Procurement Service (GPS).
Parliament’s select committee called for the probing of GFF and recommended action be taken.
Appearing to misinterpret the legislative branch’s position, the Council swiftly moved in, suspending three of GFF’s boss including Bajo though the that verdict lasted barely day after pressure from the new sports minister Hadrammeh Sidibeh.
Putting the NSC in a more awkward position, the parliament and the justice ministry all disassociated from the regulatory body’s sanctioning of the football officials.
This development occurred after Lamin Kabba’s rival for the presidency Malick Sillah reported to the council.
The row rocking Gambian football deepened after five of Sillah’s members had their nomination papers shoved out of the window by Football House’s electoral commission on grounds they gave false information to the entity.
The drop quintet took an extraordinary step to file a complaint to the High Court hoping to earn a warrant to the halt tomorrow’s football congress.
Their efforts however hit the brick walls after the country’s upper court struck out the case on grounds it goes against the stipulated rules of the house grounds.
FIFA and Confederation of African Football (CAF) have dispatched in its representatives to monitor how events unfold.
Will there be a boycott?
Never has there been a boycott in the last football congresses in recent years. However, it’s strongly feared a withdrawal could happen.
With five of their members suspended by the GFF for resorting to the courts to resolve disputes, Team Sillah are evaluating whether or not to compete in tomorrow’s events.
They were understood to be holding a meeting yesterday at 6pm to decide on the issue.
Kabba stands on brink of being elected unopposed in case of a withdrawal though there is also possibility of the presidency being competed for if Team Sillah choose to contest.
A congress of two seats
Only the roles of a president and third vice president are up for the ballot following the disqualification of five of Sillah’s members which effectively means those seats going to team Kabba unopposed.