May 15, 2009, 5:39 AM
The minister of Sports Alieu Jammeh, while holding his maiden meeting with the newly elected GFF executive, paid a glowing farewell tribute to the old guard, O.B. Conateh and his charismatic deputy and spokesman Omar Sey for their unwavering focus and dedication to work.
The minster was not over-generous in his praises; he simply did not have enough to pay these two men giving the restless and stormy waters they had to sail through to arrive at the shores of normality in Gambian football.
O.B of course had at some stage retreated to his Cape Point cocoon on health grounds, but the fortress was handed over to a no less energetic figure in Omar Sey, or simply OS as he is fondly referred to within his staff at the football house.
A seasoned professional politician, Omar Sey presided over some of the most controversial affirmative actions ever in Gambian football.
Within three months he sacked 34 staff and sent four senior staff on leave from which they never returned. They included the former untouchables in coaches, regional administrators and senior management staff.
“It is untenable to maintain a large pool of staff with very little to do and continue to owe them in salary arrears. It is better to have a small size staff with proper job definition and a proper pay,’’ he controversially had said when sending the men home. “Logical, sensible and prudent,” his admirers clapped.
The resulting outcry as the nation heard the sacking of big names like Under 17 and 20 coaches was ear deafening. But Omar Sey maintained his stance. “We are sure that we are doing everything in the best interest of Gambian football,’’ he told the nation.
As if that was not enough trouble, Omar Sey released his controversial constitutional draft wiping out some 23 clubs he called ‘ghost clubs’, removing close to hundred voting rights. That was perhaps the defining moment of the entire rowdy process because at that point the regional delegates and their handlers rallied “to fight a discrimination campaign to delete them from the GFA” as they had claimed.
Again, Omar Sey was not deterred. “It is ridiculous to have over 204 voting members in a country like The Gambia, when even Fifa the world football governing body with over 200 nations does not have those number of delegates,” he had said at the time.
“In fact the regional football associations we are putting up in this constitution would empower the regional delegates more. They can have as many clubs as they wish in their regions and come with three voting rights as a region. This is what is sensible.”
“Prudent, sensible and logical,” his admirers noted again.
After failing in one attempt, Omar Sey succeeded in the second to adopt the constitution and happily set the election date for June 29, one of many failed dates he had set for elections but as the D-day neared, Omar Sey jumped on a plane to Seychelles Islands to attend a Fifa meeting, tactfully leaving no word as the nominations process which he knew should start before he would come back.
One newspaper screamed a headline: “Omar Sey Hijacked GFF works until he returns”.
On his return Omar Sey said: “I am happy that people are now reading the constitution to understand that nominations were due to start by now. They are right but the regional structures are not yet completed and they are the ones who are going to vote or be voted for. So it is only natural that we wait until they are in place .Once that is done we will announce the new date for nominations,’’ he said.
“Fair enough. Brilliant,’’ his admires shouted. Mr Sey called the press and flashed a letter from Fifa extending the mandate and setting election for July 31.
At the beginning of July Mr Sey opened nominations without a closing date, and was immediately accused of strategically handling the process while he finds a candidate of his choice to take on anyone of the early nominees.
“Did you deliberately leave nominations open to allow you time to find someone of your liking to be nominated,” he was asked.
“Are you not amused that my accusers have now shifted their allegation from me trying to go into the contest to now grooming someone for the job. You see our people said if someone hates you, even if you are dancing in water he would shout and say, you have thrown dust on him,’’ he responded, adding that there were still some members of the GFF who have not done their elections and they too have right to nominate or be nominated.
‘’Very fair,’’ his admirers said again.
On July15, Omar Sey dropped the bombshell. Seedy Kinteh and Halla Samba would be disqualified as candidates as they, along with a dozen other people, are banned for 5 years by a disciplinary committee that found them wanting for financial and administrative lapses during their tenure at the GFA.
The resulting outcry inevitably rallied Omar Sey’s opponents into one big opposition around the candidature of Mustapha Kebbeh who openly sympathised with the banned candidates and officials.
Many analysts including some of Mr Sey’s many admirers believed this was where the veteran and able administrator pushed the train too far.
“The banning of the former officials might be morally plausible if one believes in the reasons advanced but it has further cemented the suspicion of the regional delegates that they and their officials were being targeted for ostracization from football affairs and like people united by a feeling of injustice, real, or imagined, they marshaled their strength behind Mr Kebbeh as an extension of their opposition to the Normalization Committee who they believed preferred Modou Musa, a seasoned analyst commented.
Clearly many people’s choice for president of the GFF, Mr Musa’s alleged closeness to the NC and its cohorts of behind the scene campaigners, unfortunately made him to inherit the NC’s strong and 15-month old opposition camp. Since they are in the majority, it is impossible to win them by numbers which is what elections are about.
But whether or not Omar Sey would have preferred a different President from Kebbeh (and he is on record as saying he had no preferred candidate) proved immaterial as he presided over free and fair elections by putting in place all the ingredients for a fair process with the invitation of the IEC to handle the voting process.
And by all normal thinking Omar Sey emerged from this historic 15 months as one of the most steel minded and consistent administrator with a strong conviction in his beliefs that he was on right path and shall never be distracted whatever the noise.
Evidently he and his NC are credited for putting the much praised structures that could now easily pave way for the development of the much heralded regional football in addition to leaving a statute that now places Gambian among footballing nations with the best constitution that gives equal rights to the regions and urban football stakeholders.
“Omar Sey is by far one of the most intelligent men in the then civil service then as Director of youth and sports and later foreign minister. His tenure at the Normalization Committee reminds me of the olden days of the GO, the General Order, which governs all civil service administration. When he speaks, he speaks above the average person hence the frequent misunderstandings between him and the other stakeholders,’’ a keen observer of the Normalization process told me.
About what the future holds for him, Mr Sey told the elective congress that he would be available to offer anything he could for football.
But his close aides said he is likely to go abroad soon for medical checkup and recuperation from what obviously seems a full time job for an old man.
In conclusion I must add that hate him or love him, Omar Sey is undeniably an accomplished administrator whose resoluteness and astuteness is unrivaled.
His tenure had demystified a good deal of aspects of the running of the game not known by many outsiders and turned every football lover to take renewed interest in the running of the Gambian game.
Note: Lamin Cham covered every twist and turn of the Normalization process.