My Country Cannot Become a Safe Haven for the Deadly Virus of Corruption

25/05/2016 17:06 | Updated 25 May 2016

As President of the Sierra Leone Football Association, I remained in Sierra Leone during the Ebola epidemic and saw first hand the catastrophic human and economic destruction the virus caused. Two weeks ago, when I was asked to speak at David Cameron's landmark anti-corruption summit, I told world leaders that corruption within Sierra Leone's football industry was destroying the sport my country loves above all others, and infecting other areas of public life, like a viral epidemic.

As a small country, with a slowly emerging sporting footprint, it would have been easy for the international world to overlook my administration's two year fight against corruption. Instead, Cameron's team asked me to open the panel discussion on the future of sport, with a speech on my experiences. Being able to tell our story to such an influential audience was I believe, an important moment for Sierra Leone's football industry for several reasons.


Firstly, by including a discussion of corruption in sports within a wider debate about corruption, it debunked the myth that corruption in sports is separate and less significant than financial and political corruption. They are all part of a wider problem in society. My two year-campaign against match-fixing in Sierra Leone is clear evidence of that. Our attempts to get a match-fixing commission underway faced intense opposition from prominent figures in the business and political worlds, as well as football stakeholders with deep rooted ties to institutionalised corruption. With the backing of FIFA and crucially the Government of Sierra Leone, the commission is at last up and running. Government level co-operation in Africa is essential to demonstrate the seriousness of the problem and prevent it from being seen just as a lapse of sporting behaviour. Despite this, there are still attempts to derail the process from all sectors of society.

From a sporting perspective, match fixing undermines the game's integrity, alienates fans, reduces opportunities for legitimate funding which could be invested in the game and destroys promising careers. However, from a wider perspective it is often linked with organised crime and by association - money laundering, drug smuggling, extortion and violence. Sierra Leone's lack of resources, lightly policed gambling market and no national anti-match fixing programme make us particularly vulnerable.

Adding to the problem is that definitions of corruption vary depending on location. Individuals in countries where there aren't rigid structures in place are not necessarily aware that they're breaking the rules. Nevertheless, my participation in David Cameron's anti-corruption summit showed that countries like mine cannot continue to use their size or relative lack of development as an excuse for weak governance. We have to catch up if we don't want to become a safe haven for corruption.

Football and all sports need to protect themselves by introducing and enforcing good regulations and business practices. And the Sierra Leonean Football Association's work against match-fixing is part of a wider campaign to ensure that good governance and integrity become embedded within the football sector, and provide a benchmark for other sports.

This week, I will be speaking at the Norwegian Minister of Sports' 'Women in Sports' symposium to develop best practice for female leadership in sports. Based on existing research and my own experience of sports governance in Africa, I believe that improving diversity in our continent's football administration is part of the solution. That is not to say that women are intrinsically less corrupt. It is more that male domination in sports administration is essentially reflective of an old boy's network with all its entrenched loyalties and related interests. In systems and societies based on fairness, women are more likely to be found in positions of power, and such societies are generally more intolerant of wrongdoing.

It is also the case that participation in football whether as a player or in administration offers unique professional opportunities and experiences to women. In part football's range of leadership roles - coaches, referees, administrators, captains, managers - never lose sight of the team nature of the sport. And as Africa's most popular sport, participation in football can give women a great sense of their own potential, and help society view them differently.

This is the thinking behind Powerplay Africa - an initiative that I am developing in order to increase and encourage African women's leadership in football. Powerplay Africa, which has received overwhelming support from FIFA and the Confederation of African Football (CAF), has the potential to create some of the opportunities for empowerment and education that women need in order to contribute more effectively to the fight against corruption. It is in all our interests to find a cure for corruption in sports and in the wider world. If we fail to act as decisively as we need to, we will watch as it spreads, infects and destroys like a deadly virus.