President during the State Opening of parliament last Monday, sport enthusiasts
were surprised that you did not make any comment about sport on your agenda for
May be it was an oversight because it was your maiden state opening of parliament speech.
It was the first time at the state opening of parliament that sport was not mentioned. It should be noted that sport is playing a key role in our society and it’s good for health.
As Head of State, we assume that you are the Chief Supporter of sport in the country. You must therefore be disappointed with the dismal performance of our National Football Team, the local-based Scorpions, who were defeated by The Eagles of Mali, by four goals to nil, in the second-leg encounter of the qualifying rounds of the African Nations championship commonly known as CHAN.
This is the second time The Gambia has been eliminated – the first was in 2015 by Senegal. Currently the senior team is competing in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers and in the first leg The Gambia was defeated by Benin by a lone goal. The second leg will be in March next year.
Mr President, without any intention of adding insult to injury, we wish to observe that our senior National Football Team has never managed to go beyond the preliminary rounds of our continental competition, let alone the World Cup.
In fact, the most impressive breakthroughs we have ever made were in 2005 and 2009, when the U17 won the continent’s junior tournament in Banjul and Algiers respectively.
Our poor performance is the reflection of our low rankings in international football, where the world governing body, FIFA has ranked The Gambia at number 161 in a field of 206. Our position in African football is also unenviable with our position at 48 out of the CAF class of 54 countries.
Mr President, given the importance of football and indeed sport in general, there is an urgent need for introspection and action to make our country more competitive.
This is imperative because in today’s world, football is the most portent tool for the re-branding and marketing of a country.
We will cite Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya and Cameroon as shining examples, where sport has transformed the lives of the people and catapulted the countries into the international limelight bringing significant economic gains to those nations.
Mr President, we know you are a football fan. Your team in the English league is Arsenal and here in The Gambia is Wallidan.
You were also a good goalkeeper during your school days. Now since you are au fait with the game you should know how important it is to redress the malaise.
Football is no longer leisure but business and can attract a lot of foreign exchange to a nation, an example of which is Brazil, which is today enjoying the fruits of football.
Mr President, a nation can only win if the government wants it to win. This is why we are calling on you today, to show interest and give sport a boost.
As a start we implore you to urgently and seriously consider the following: (i) the setting up of a committee of reflection to conduct a holistic review of Gambian sport, constraints, challenges and come up with a road map on the way forward; (2) to include in the annual budget a healthy subvention that will enable all sporting disciplines to grow and thrive; (3) to determine as a matter of urgency, which Gambian institution can replace the MGI as official sponsor of the National Football Teams – U17, U20, U23 and senior level including clubs representing the nation in all CAF competitions, as without money we cannot achieve results. We need foreign coaches to help upgrade the standard of playing to enable us to score goals. Other disciplines like athletics, basketball, wrestling, volleyball, cricket and other games should be looked into to improve their standards.
Mr President, one way of reuniting our country and providing a rallying point for the people is for government to promote football and sport in general. Massive injection of funds, generous sponsorships by the private sector, innovative management and inspirational leadership are the virtues that are needed to transform football and sport in general.
Mr President, you can also implore the support of our Chinese friends – the People’s Republic of China – to help the country get upgraded and standard stadiums that can be of value to the nation and contribute to inspiring our youth towards sport, raising the level of football in the country, as well as attracting international matches or competitions to our beloved Gambia.
Mr President, Gambians love football, which is the people’s game. Gambians are also proud of their country and want to excel in sport and win medals and trophies in order to put our country on the map.
Gambians are therefore counting on you as Head of State, and Chief Sports Supporter.
We have made our point.
Have a good day, Mr President