Before the New Direction administration of President Dr. Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) came to power in 2018, Sports was in a mere collapse as corruption and internal power struggles had engulfed the sector.

The situation kept deteriorating as the then All Peoples Congress (APC) administration of Ex-President Ernest Bai Koroma showed no political will as his government failed to address the crisis.

This ugly development seriously affected the most cherished game of young people in the country to an extent that even the country’s national team, our darling Leone Stars had to continue wallowing in wildernesses for 25 years until the football Moses in the person of His Excellency President Dr. Julius Maada Bio assumed power in April 2018 and fulfilled his manifesto promise of taking Leone Stars back to the African Cup of Nations which was held in Cameroon in 2022.

At the 2018 Presidential debate hosted by the Africa Young Voices (AYV), Brigadier General (Rtd.) Julius Maada Bio did remind Sierra Leoneans that the last time the country’s national team, Leone Stars, won Zone II and qualified for the African Cup of Nations was during the NPRC regime of which he was Vice Head of State. He ensured that the political will was provided for the country’s national team, something he promised he would restore if he won the 2018 Presidential elections.

The resurrection of Leone Stars first started when the Bio administration disbursed huge amounts of funds to revive the game of football and revamp the Sierra Leone Premier League which had collapsed.

The Siaka Stevens Stadium in Freetown that had been merely abandoned due to lack of footballing and other activities suddenly became a centre of attraction again. Young people would go there in the evening to watch the local premier league and other international matches. As a result, football became 100 percent reactivated as part of the goodies of the Bio Presidency.

In December, 2021, President Bio launched a 10-billion Leone National Sports Development Fund in Freetown. The Minister of Sports, Ibrahim Nyelenkeh, described the launch of the Sports Fund by the President as the first of its kind in the country, adding that it would go a long way to bring lasting development to all sporting disciplines in the country.

“The start of the Sierra Leone Premier League in 2018 saw significant progress made by the New Direction government. It created about 20,000 jobs for young people across the country and we saw the country being recognized on the international stage. Thank you very much President Bio for supporting this project,” he said.

The strong political will coupled with financial investments in the game and the motivation of the national climaxed the government’s interventions as a highly motivated Leone Stars qualified for the AFCON 2022 tournament by beating the Squirrels of Benin by a goal to nil on Tuesday evening, June 15 2021 at the Lansana Conteh Stadium in Conakry, Guinea.

At that tough encounter, Leone Stars striker, Kei Kamara, who had always wished to play for his country at the Nations Cup, converted a penalty from the after 19 minutes following a handball from the Benin captain Khaled Adenon.

The Leone Stars held on for a famous victory to join the other 23 teams at the finals which was played in Cameroon in January 2022.
That qualification victory was welcomed with massive celebrations like wildfire in the harmattan.

In Sierra Leone, especially the capital Freetown, thousands of young supporters across the political divide jubilantly crowded the main streets of the city celebrating the victory. Around the Central Business District (CBD) areas of Siaka Stevens Street, Rawdon Street, Forte Street and Pademba Roads, a good number of youth marched to State House, waving the country’s striking Green-White-Blue emblem, chanting embellished songs of adoration: “Salone don win oh, Maada Bio, Maada Bio Aaaaa” in demonstration of their happiness toward President Bio’s role in the victory. “Sierra Leone has won,” the president told the cheering crowd.

As he left State House with his convoy for the Presidential Lodge, droves of youth mobbed his motorcade, celebrating Leone Stars’ victory and chanting: “President Bio tenki papa” meaning thank you, President Bio.

The jubilation was spontaneous because the country’s hope of winning the match was dissipated when 6 of Leone Stars players, including the goalkeeper, were tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. The match was postponed following “a no play” protest from Sierra Leone. A retest was later conducted in which only the goalkeeper came out negative. Five possible starting players were barred from playing, after failing the COVID-19 test.

Immediately after that huge victory, Sierra Leonean sports analyst, Allie Sonta Kamara, described it in a social media piece as a never-to-be-forgotten game.

“Today and in the months to come, Sierra Leone will celebrate its new football history. The New Direction Administration will rightfully take credit for clearing the country’s path to enter the Nations Cup race after many repeated attempts of coming close and failing. Today and the months to come, Sierra Leone will redefine its innate spirit to consolidate a future that has always been there.”
Indeed, that credit of resurrecting the game should be given to His Excellency President Bio because he provided the political will and his administration invested huge resources into the game since he came to power in April 2018.

This remarkable achievement in football is one of the goodies of the Bio presidency which I am convinced that sports-loving fans, both young and old, would vote overwhelmingly for President Dr. Julius Maada Bio in the June 24 2023, in a bid to sustain and improve the gains already made in sports, they would want to see Leone Stars even going on to win the next AFCON tournament in Ivory Coast in January 2024.