Monrovia - It has been researched and reconfirmed that the government’s mandate to the Liberia Football Association (LFA) to cancel a planned international friendly with Libya in Tripoli on January 24 was prudent and timely.
Sports Minister Saah Charles N’Tow wrote a January 19 letter to LFA President Musa Bility to register government’s objection to the match because of the ongoing security situation in Libya.
“It is not too safe to take the national [football] team to Tripoli, Libya on grounds that CAF and FIFA have not cleared Libya of safety [to play matches at home]. As you may be aware, Libya didn’t play her World Cup or Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifying matches in Libya.
“They played it in Tunisia. And because of that, we don’t want to risk [the safety of] our team. We have informed the LFA that the government of Liberia is not in support of the LFA carrying the national team to Libya for any test match. "
"We trust that Mr. Bility will act in keeping with the letter that was sent to him,” said Deputy Sports Minister Henry Yonton on January 19.
And Libyan teams in the 2017 CAF championship were not allowed to host their home matches in their country due to security concerns.
Al-Ahli Tripoli beat Ghana’s Wa All Stars 2-0 in a Champions League preliminary round second leg tie at the Stade El Menzah in Tunis, Tunisia on February 19, having won the first leg 3-1 at the Tamale Stadium in Tamale on February 12.
Liberia’s Jerry Yekeh, center referee; Elisha Johnson, assistant referee #1; Johnson Gbartea, assistant referee #2 and fourth official George Rogers oversaw that match.
And Al-Hilal Benghazi beat Kenya’s Ulinzi Stars 1-0 in a Confederation Cup preliminary round first leg at the Al-Salam Stadium in Cairo, Egypt on February 10.
Libya have not played any international match at home since a 2-0 victory over Togo in a 2014 World Cup qualifier at the June 11 Stadium in Tripoli, which was watched by 40,000 persons, on June 14, 2013.
But the match was moved from the Martyrs of February Stadium, Benina to Tripoli following security incidents in Benghazi.
Libya’s 2013 Afcon qualifier with Algeria on September 9, 2012 was ordered by CAF to be played in Morocco due to the political situation and has used Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt as home venues.
Football is the most popular sport but the Libya Football Federation (LFF) was only able to hold a mini league in 2016 from May to November, two years after the civil war, preceded by political unrest, began.
In his briefing to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on September 13, 2016, the secretary-general’s special representative for Libya said the political divisions underpinning the conflict are deepening although political space has opened and there is progress in the fight against terrorism.
Drawing attention to the challenging security situation, further illustrated by the most recent violence in the Oil Crescent area, Martin Kobler called for an immediate cessation of hostilities to prevent any damage to the important oil industry – its only source of income.
“Libyan natural resources belong to all Libyans. They must be protected and exported legally under the authority of the Presidency Council (PC).
Otherwise, Libya’s citizens will pay the price,” said Kobler, who heads the UN Stabilization Mission to Libya (UNSMIL).
It has been tasked by the UNSC to support the political process through mediation and good offices, conduct human rights monitoring and reporting, support key institutions and efforts to secure uncontrolled arms, the provision of essential services and delivery of humanitarian assistance, and coordination of international assistance.
LFF and its clubs have been desperately trying to convince CAF and FIFA that it is safe to play football in Libya.
Al-Ahli Tripoli said it had received a preliminary approval from CAF to lift the ban on the Tripoli Stadium for the 2017 Champions League.
CAF’s approval came after a bundle of measures were taken by Al-Ahli in late December in a bid to get the ban on Libyan stadiums lifted to play home matches.
And Ghana’s Aduana Stars landed in Tripoli for an international friendly against Al Ahli on January 20, having left Accra on January 18 via a Royal Air Maroc flight and had to transit in Casablanca.
CAF should have sent a special delegation to check on the general status and security during the friendly in order to determine the fate of the ban.
This may have delighted the LFF, which had initially arranged the friendly with Liberia on December 28, 2016 but the government saw it from an acute angle, which annoyed the LFA.
“We respect their decision but I believe it wasn’t properly scrutinized. "
"Currently Danesius, three top Ghanaian clubs are doing pre-season in Tripoli.
“One of them should have played yesterday [January 19], including Asante Kotoko. So football is being played in Libya. Unfortunately, Liberia will not participate now,” said a disappointed LFA vice president Musa Shannon.
Kotoko canceled their trip to Libya due to “communications breakdown from the agent, who was facilitating the process,” operations director Ernest Owusu Ansah told asantekotokosc.com on January 20.
According to Shannon, there is nowhere on Earth that is safe and Liberia should empathize with countries having instability.
“Liberia was at war for 14 years and we played numerous international matches when fighting was taking place at Po River [in Bomi County]. I was part of a national team that traveled to Congo-Brazzaville when they were at war.
"We traveled to Sierra Leone when they were at war. And we traveled to Sudan when they were at war.
The government of Liberia felt it necessary to put my life at risk at that particular point in time during a qualifying match.
“Libya is not the perfect environment; I agreed.
However, football transcends that. And football is the reason why people wake-up in the morning and feel like their lives have hope.
“I think it is unfair. If there is a legitimate threat against the Liberian National team that has been verified by security professionals, we will respect that but the information received from the Ministry of Youth and Sports is that they are following social media.
“It would have been Okayed with us if the information [to cancel the game] had come from the NSA [National Security Agency], Liberian defense department or Liberian personnel in Morocco, who are covering Libya.
But Danesius, where in this world is safe? I was almost bombed in Brussels, [Belgium]. I was landing on a flight that was arriving at Brussels airport,” argued Shannon.
The former Liberia international, who won 14 caps, also argued that Liberia have been to trouble spots to play football, including a 0-1 defeat to Yemen in Sana’a on November 17, 2010; a trip to Syria in October 2009 and a 1-0 victory over Iraq in Baghdad on May 27, 2013.
But the game in Baghdad increased the levels of blood pressure of families and friends following two bomb explosions near the stadium, leaving James Salinsa Debbah, who was a strong critic of Bility but is now a praise singer, to take to Facebook.
“Why Bagdad? Why not played the game at a neutral ground? Let say another country. Why choose a region where warfare is prevalent?
Oh I see! It’s all about the US$200,000 that will be given to the Lone Star by the Iraqi Football Federation that is more important, not the lives of the players.
“Why put our players in harm’s way for some money that they will not get?
This friendly encounter is intended as a preparation match for our scheduled World Cup qualifier match against the Cranes of Uganda,” Debbah wrote on May 27, 2013.
Four years later, Debbah was greatly hoping to make the same perilous journey he critiqued by summoning 18 local players to a training session at the uncompleted George Weah technical center in Caresburg, Montserrado County.
Thank God for the government and together we can make Liberia a better place for all of us.