Freetown (AFP) – Sierra Leone on Tuesday faced a race against the clock to appeal against its suspension by FIFA so that it can play in a crucial Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.

After a crisis meeting with the government, the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) asked FIFA to lift the suspension so that the Leone Stars can play Ghana on Thursday.

But FIFA demanded guarantees in its row with Sierra Leone over government intervention in the SLFA — and said these had to be given by 1700 GMT on Tuesday.

The West African nation was rocked last week when FIFA suspended it for government interference.

The bustup is rooted in a move by the country’s anti-corruption commission to sack SLFA president Isha Johansen and general secretary Christopher Kamara during an ongoing probe into corruption and mismanagement.

On Monday, the government met with the pair “to commence the mediation process for the lifting of the FIFA ban,” Sports Minister Ibrahim Nyelenkeh told AFP. 

After the talks, the SFLA urgently appealed to FIFA to lift the suspension so that the qualifier could go ahead.

The letter was signed by Johansen, and Nyelenkeh said that both Johansen and Kamara would be part of the delegation heading to Zurich.

But it remained unclear from this whether the pair had been formally reinstated in their jobs and had now resumed control of the organisation — a condition set by FIFA when it announced the suspension on October 5.

“As long as this condition has not been met, the suspension will remain in place,” FIFA’s reply, seen by AFP, said bluntly.

It also said that any proposal to lift the suspension would require the approval of FIFA’s Bureau to the Council, “a time-consuming administrative process.”

“For the suspension to be lifted in time for Sierra Leone’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Ghana on Thursday… any written confirmation that the above-mentioned condition has been met should be submitted by no later than today, 9 October 2018, at 18.00 CET.”

Sierra Leone play away to Ghana on Thursday, with the return match next Monday.

– Problems –

Johansen and Kamara were arrested in September 2016 over alleged corruption offences.

A year later, they were indicted by the anti-graft agency on six counts of abuse of office and corruption. They deny any wrongdoing.

On September 20, Johansen’s deputy, Brima Mazola Kamara, had said that he had replaced her — and it was this move that triggered FIFA’s suspension.

The row over Johansen and Kamara brought a years-long crisis within Sierra Leone football to a head.

Fifteen Sierra Leonean players and officials were suspended in July 2014 over suspect matches including a 2010 World Cup qualifier against South Africa.

But the showdown with FIFA and threat to Sierra Leone’s participation in the Cup of Nations has also unleashed a political emergency for newly-elected president, Julius Maada Bio.

Bio, the opposition challenger, narrowly won a hotly-contested presidential election in March.

“We want to organise a high-level delegation to FIFA with all critical football stakeholders involved,” Chief Minister David Francis, the country’s top minister, told reporters.

“As a new government we inherited the football problem,” he said, and made a reference to FIFA’s own scandal-ridden recent past.

“We are also aware that FIFA too have been embroiled in a series of corruption allegations,” he said.