Omar Sey: Gambia mourns fallen football legend

Monday, March 05, 2018

The Gambia as well as the world football fraternity is mourning the demise of former Gambian Football Federation President Omar Sey.

The news of Mr. Sey’s demise came as a shock to many who knew him. He had served in both CAF and FIFA with distinction and was adviser to the current Gambia Football Federation executive until his demise. He had also served as Gambia’s external affairs Minister during former President Jawara’s regime.

The late Omar Sey was described as a humble, visionary, devoted Muslim and selfless legend by those at his funeral on Friday.

Hundreds of mourners, including cabinet ministers and venerable religious leaders converged at the Pipeline Mosque along the Kairaba Avenue to pay their last respects to a man; who many said had greatly contributed to the cause of national development in sports and politics.

Mr. Sey, 77, died on Friday morning at the country’s main referral Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital in Banjul. He was laid to rest on Friday evening at the Old Jeshwang Cemetery.

Since his demise was announced, there have been outpouring tributes from within and outside the country for a man who dedicated his entire life to national development.

Co-publisher of The Point Newspaper and a former media officer of Confederation of African Football (CAF) Pap Saine said he knew Mr. Sey about fifty years ago. “I had a cordial working relation with him both in CAF and Gambia Football Federation when I was their media officer and he was Director of youth, sports and culture.”

The veteran sports journalist and Life President of the Sports Journalists’ Association of The Gambia (SJAG) said Mr. Sey’s demise is a big loss for the African football. “He has contributed to the promotion and development of African football. He devoted his life to sports in general.”

Mr. Sey was a teacher at Gambia College and became first Director of youth sports and culture in 1974. He was at the same time chairman of GNOC leading The Gambia to its first appearance in 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

Mr. Saine said Sey left GNOC in 1989 when IOC recommended that committee members should be headed by an elected president. He said Abdul Dandeh Njie was elected until 2008 when he (Dandeh) retired. He said he was an elected member of parliament in 1987, and in the same year appointed Minister of External Affairs till 1994 when former president Jammeh toppled the Jawara regime.

“In the first Republic, one could only be appointed minister when he or she is elected Member of Parliament,” Mr. Saine said. He added that in 1976, Mr. Sey joined CAF as chairman of referees committee and an executive member and also served in the FiFA executive committee.

He resigned in 1990 from CAF and FIFA due to national duties during the CAF Congress in Algeria. In 1988, he was approached by former president of FIFA, Jean-Marie Faustin Godefroid “João” de Havelange and some committee members of CAF to vie for the presidency of CAF to replace Ethiopian Yidnekatchew Tessema Eshete who was then president CAF.

According to Mr. Saine, in the same year, Mr. Sey declined the offer because of national duties and Issa Hayatou of Cameroon was elected president of CAF until March 2017 when he was replaced by Ahmad Ahmad.

Mr. Sey came back to CAF in 2004 as an adviser until 2017, the end of Hayatou era. Mr. Saine added that Mr. Sey was also adviser to The Gambia Football Federation. “He was president of GFA, now GFF from 2004 to 2005. In the 60s, Sey was secretary general of The Gambia Football Federation. He was also a one-time the interim Secretary General of Athletics Association. He was both football and basketball referee.”The late Omar Sey studied in Pennsylvania in the United States.

The Gambia and Africa’s Best Referee Papa Gassama reacted: “It is a great loss to the country and the world but most especially me. I lost a father and mentor. I can say if Papa is 100% today, my Dad (Omar Sey) has contributed 90%. I can remember when we were returning from my first African Cup of Nations, he told me that I went to the tournament and had a very good tournament; if you can maintain this in the next two years, the whole world will hear about you.”

A three-time winner of the African Best Referee award, Gassama said he was a very close friend to the Late Omar Sey. “I know so many things about him because we used to talk every day.”

Alhaji Mbaye Chaw is a man who had worked with the Late Omar Sey at the Department of Youth and Sports and he described the demise of Sey as not only a loss to his family, but the whole Gambia. “Omar was an honest man. He was a patient man who can easily listen to people and give correct answers to everyone. He was very human and had wisdom.”

Former Finance Minister in Jawara’s regime, M.C. Cham, a cousin to the veteran football administrator said the Late Mr. Sey was a very nice man of a very noble character. “He was an easy and approachable man and very benevolent and alert to the development of The Gambia in the different fields he had served.”

Mr. Cham said he had received calls from the vice president of FIFA and the President of CAF expressing their condolence with the Sey Family. “Omar was an excellent man, who should be emulated by a lot,” the former Minister in the Jawara regime said of his late cousin.

Lamin Kabba Bajo is the President of The Gambia Football Federation (GFF) and just like many others, said the demise of Omar Sey is a great loss to the football fraternity. “His contribution to the development of football, domestically and globally is immeasurable and we cannot quantify it.”

As old as he was and recently being sick, Bajo said, Omar Sey had never parted with football and let them (GFF) be. “He was all the time following us keenly, guiding and advising us. We will always remember him,” he said of Omar Sey, who was also an adviser to the GFF until his demise.

Among the hundreds of mourners was Alhaji Alieu Momar Njie, Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). He testified that the Late Omar Sey was a devoted Muslim and was very committed to the cause of national development. “May his soul rest in peace. He was a pious and good man.”

James Gomez is the Minister of Fisheries and also President of Hawks Football Club, which the late Omar Sey served as President. “Today is a sad day for me and anyone who was involved in youth and sports development in the country. Omar Sey served this country with distinction in all areas that he worked.”

He recalled that Omar Sey was the first director when the Department of Youth and Sports was setup. “All these strategies that were put in place for youth and sports development were under Omar Sey. The first Youth Week in the country was started by him.”

Minister Gomez said the late GFA President and Foreign Affairs Minister in the PPP regime will be remembered for his honesty, integrity, dedication and selfless leadership. 

Author: Alieu Ceesay
Source: Picture: The late Alh. Omar Sey