GFF & Sports Ministry’s “New Relationship”: A Step in the Right Direction

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ML Drammeh, the author of the story

By: ML Drammeh

In recent years, the Gambia National Team has faced significant challenges, notably the strained relationship between key institutions: The Gambia Football Federation and the Ministry of Youth & Sports. Whether known to the public or not, this discord has greatly affected the team, including the salary of the former head coach, Tom Saintfiet, which the GFF reportedly covered with about 50 million dalasis due to the ministry’s failure to fulfill its financial obligations.

However, I felt hope emerge during the signing ceremony of the new head coach for the senior national team when Lamin Jassey, the GFF’s General Secretary, announced that the GFF and the ministry had forged a new relationship. Better late than never because this “new relationship,” if genuine, could bring enormous benefits and support the new coach’s progress.

I have heard so much about the relationship between the two institutions, but my understanding of it deepened during my trip to the Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast. Through interactions with staff from both the federation and the ministry, I was really able to substantiate their ‘sour’ relationship, which was characterized by a focus on each other’s faults rather than collaboration.

As a young football administrator, I am always absolutely inquisitive about any issues hindering the progress of our football, especially those involving the ministry and the federation. Because of this interest, I capitalized on the situation in Ivory Coast to understand the underlying issues.

After several interactions, I did not discover any insurmountable problems. These could have been circumvented if the leaders of both institutions had prioritized collaboration over conflict.

Take, for example, the renovation of the Independence Stadium. A senior member at the federation told me that the ministry kept them in the dark regarding the renovation and the requirements to be met. To the person, the last CAF inspection failed because the ministry managed the renovations alone, without involving the federation. Although the government, through the ministry, controlled the funding and renovations, one would expect GFF, as the body governing football in the country, to be informed or involved in CAF regulations. However, this was not done because of the two entities’ perceived “sour” relationship. This is an issue that both institutions should sit and discuss in the interests of football in The Gambia. It is avoidable, and both parties should consider the people’s interests.

I found the above issue of the Independence Stadium a bit confusing, partly because the General Manager of the Independence Stadium, also a ministry staff member, holds an executive position within the GFF. How the ministry shunned the federation and its reason is still a mystery that I cannot understand.

Another issue that highlighted the strained relationship between the GFF and the ministry in the past was the hiring of Tom Saintfiet as the head coach of the national team. Normally, the government would hire the head coach and cover his salary. However, in this case, the GFF had to bear the full responsibility for paying the coach’s salary. This financial burden is likely why Tom Saintfiet was not based in the country, despite recommendations from some quarters.

Just yesterday, a senior staff member at the federation told me over the phone that the GFF had spent about 50 million dalasis on Tom Saintfiet’s remuneration. The reasons why the ministry did not pay the former head coach’s salary remain unclear; I never asked the minister why, but such situations surely indicate underlying issues. Unfortunately, I left journalism in February, just as I planned to interview the minister. Nonetheless, I am relieved that this matter is behind us, and it appears that the government has hired the new head coach, taking on the responsibility for his salary and bonuses. This is a significant improvement, allowing the federation to allocate funds to their intended purposes rather than covering the head coach’s salary.

Impressively, many people characterized the unveiling of the new coach as unprecedented, unlike the former coach, whose contract signing was bizarrely done outside the country. Apparently, all was not well in the past, and Lamin Kaba Bajo substantiated it when he spoke during the unveiling of the new head coach. He didn’t precisely say all was not well, but he spoke about unity and how Gambians can collectively work together towards achieving our common goal in football instead of fighting for positions at the federation. Some of us, familiar with certain issues at the top, can tell you exactly what Mr. Bajo meant. Certainly, with united efforts, we can overcome any obstacle and move mountains and cross bridges to be successful.

“The new relationship/collaboration between the Ministry/NSC and GFF is at an all-time high, which is a great thing we should all cherish and safeguard,” the GFF’s General Secretary, Lamin Jassey, posted on his Facebook account. He celebrates the new relationship that they all denied Gambians in the recent past.

The GFF and Ministry should address the national team’s financial concerns in this new relationship. Recently, the GFF has often redirected funds allocated for other important activities to support the national team, primarily because of the purportedly insufficient government funding provided to the ministry according to the federation’s budget. Such issues should have existed since there was a new relationship. While I encourage it to be in the past, it is only natural that the federation does realistic budgeting.

Through the finance department, the GFF’s technical department should prepare an annual budget for the national team’s games and forward it to the Ministry of Youth and Sports. This way, the ministry can include the budget on its own for onward submission to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, which will then be captured in the national budget for approval by the parliament.

For the game to flourish in the country, Hon. Bakary Badjie and President Kaba Bajo must collaborate closely to ensure the government fully honors its obligations to the national teams. This will avert the need for the federation to divert funds allocated for other purposes to support the national team.

My delight was undeniable when Lamin Jassey revealed their new partnership. I am quite confident that both Hon. Bakary Badjie and Lamin Kaba Bajo aspire to be fondly remembered for any achievements the national teams may accomplish during their tenure at the helm of the federation and the ministry.

Maybe the GFF can also use this “new relationship “to lure the government into funding the national leagues since the GFF could only convince Baluwo to sponsor. Let them place the project before the ministry because football has created employment for many young people in the country, both on and off the pitch. This could entice the ministry to begin committing something to the league—maybe 10-15 million dalasi every year. It is very possible!

Unfortunately, a senior staff member at the Ministry of Youth & Sports told me that the ministry does not trust the federation. Clearly, the federation’s financial reputation is tainted. This is why the federation engages with the ministry to ensure everything is properly managed. 

To progress in this new partnership, the GFF needs to acknowledge the ministry’s role and ensure that the ministry understands its duties regarding the national team.

The new relationship, should it extend beyond the initial presentation of the new head coach, is certainly a move in the right direction. We possess the potential to rise to prominence. Nevertheless, despite Lamin Jassey’s remarks, we have not yet reached the status of a giant in African football. We may achieve this distinction soon, but only if the GFF takes appropriate action. Our ascent is contingent upon our commitment to doing the right things.

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