Sierra Leone’s Football Association president Isha Johansen has announced she will stand for re-election despite admitting that her decision will “infuriate a lot of people.”
Johansen is the only female football president in Africa and one of only two females to have ever held the role as president of a football association.
“It will spark up more conspiracy theories and even actions,” she told CNN Sport’s Alex Thomas.
“Knowing the environment as I know it now, and the kind of environments I’ve been trying to work under and rise above, anything is possible.
“The fact that I’m here, willing to take the bruises and the knocks for and behalf of my country, that’s applaudable. It’s about good governance and putting Sierra Leone on the map for the right reasons.”
‘Ebola, infighting and political interference’
The 52-year-old was elected as her football association’s president in 2013 but her reign has been a difficult one.
A match-fixing inquiry into a World Cup qualifier between Sierra Leone and South Africa in 2008 is ongoing, with 11 officials and four players, all of whom have denied wrongdoing, having been suspended by the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) since 2014 pending investigation.
Moreover, two years of her term was dominated by the Ebola crisis as the deadly virus inflicted parts of west Africa, killing thousands and damaging the economies.
In Sierra Leone where, Johansen has said, football is “like a second religion” the sport was banned in an attempt to curtail the spread of the virus.
The last 12 months in particular have been personally challenging.
She spent the night in custody after failing to attend a hearing set up by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in September 2016.
On 21 September, two days after this interview with CNN, she was charged with abuse of office and misuse of public funds by the ACC — charges which she denies.
Last month, an interim court injunction — subsequently overturned on August 31 — temporarily stopped Johansen and three other executive committee members from running the country’s football affairs until their legitimacy to govern had been proved.
Her mandate to govern expired on August 3 but no electoral congress has yet been held, with FIFA, world football’s governing body, delaying the elections until integrity checks are carried out by a task force.
Johansen told CNN Sport: “It’s taken a toll on my health, for sure, I’m actually here [in London] for my medical checks … but at the end of the day, even though it’s affected my health, it’s made me stronger.
“It’s difficult, it’s challenging, but I’m very up for the task. It’s been particularly difficult for my family, especially for my elderly parents.
“There have been some positives that I’m proud of in our Sierra Leone football development. Despite all the odds, the challenges — the Ebola, the infighting, the political interference — all of these have helped strengthen our cause and strengthen my resolve.”
When will the elections be held?
Until elections are conducted, FIFA has said it will recognize the leadership of the executives currently running SLFA.
In a statement, FIFA told CNN Sport: “We reaffirm our position for the need for integrity checks before the SLFA can proceed with its General Assembly.
“All current and potential SLFA members of the SLFA Executive Committee, including the president, must undergo integrity checks in line with the FIFA statutes and the FIFA government regulations.
“Until these integrity checks are done, we have no alternative but to continue with the current leadership and management of the SLFA in preparation of the General Assembly.
“Once all these requirements have been clarified, SLFA executives will be cleared for the election.”
Johansen said she would be happy to stand for election tomorrow.
“I do hope that people would understand that it’s not in an attempt to keep me in office for any longer time than is necessary,” she added.
“It’s because, after four years, it wouldn’t serve anybody’s good purpose, definitely not in the country’s best interest, to continue in the same manner.”
A controversial appointment?
FIFA’s task force is comprised of representatives from FIFA, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), the SLFA and the country’s Ministry of Sports and is chaired by Musa Bility, the controversial president of the Liberian FA.
Bility was prevented from running for FIFA’s presidency in 2015 after failing the governing body’s integrity checks, though the world governing body did not make the reasons for his failure public.
In 2013 the Liberian received a six-month ban from football after CAF said he had “violated statues relating to the use of official documents.”
Describing Bility as a “brother and a friend,” Johansen said it was not her decision to put Bility on the task force.
“Poor old Musa, he’s taking a bashing and I’m having to defend Musa,” she said.
“It’s not my decision and not my place to tell FIFA who to put and who not to put. Allegations are allegations.
“I was arrested … it wasn’t pleasant. Very scary, especially when you don’t know why you’re being held and you’re innocent. I have to say this, even with this announcement, you can’t put anything past anything happening.”