Somalia: FIFA suspension looms as government interference compounds football crisis

By Mohamed Sheikh Nor

Posted on Tuesday, 21 February 2023 10:45
Youth hold the banner of FIFA before the football match between Hodan and Waberi district for the first time in thirty years at the Konis Stadium, renovated by FIFA, in Modadishu, Somalia, on September, 8, 2017. (Photo by Mohamed ABDIWAHAB / AFP)

After the collapse of Somalia’s central government in 1991, the country’s football federation managed to put its act together and remain functional, until legal disputes caused all domestic competitions to be frozen and may also lead to a FIFA international suspension.

Tensions within the Somali Football Federation (SFF) started to simmer in 2022 when an extraordinary congress removed the then-federation President Abdigani Said Arab after he was accused of abusing his authority.

He was succeeded by the first Vice-President Ali Abdi Mohamed (Shiino), but the disputes intensified, with the latter facing multiple accusations.

How it got worse

Shiino, who was to act as a caretaker president and oversee a free and fair election, came under fire for running an opaque election.

A select committee consisting of seven members had been formed to organise the election, where Shiino was to face Hassan Wish. Delegates favouring the latter were disqualified for failing to meet requirements, which led the election committee to fall into disarray, prompting government intervention.

Wish blamed Shiino for undermining his candidature, accusing the interim president of being the mastermind behind the committee’s unfavourable announcements. “Indeed, this is invalid and completely circumvents the law, and it was pushed from behind the scenes by my co-contestant,” he said.

Shiino said the accusations he faces cannot withstand legal scrutiny, stressing that he adhered to the decision made by the election committee and congress. “The other group that is opposed to us has no right to participate in the election because they were disqualified in the first instance.”

Illegal changes?

Several amendments were reportedly made during the preparations for the election, including the expansion of the membership of the congress that elects the federation president. This has evoked the ire of an SFF faction, which questions the legality of this move and the intention behind it.

Ali Barre, a member of the congress, accused Shiino of adding more than a dozen members to the congress.

“I have to express my concern that it was illegal that 15 additional members were added to the congress during the preparation of an election, which I believe was a trick pulled by the acting president,” Barre said.

After they were told they did not meet the eligibility requirements for the election, members supporting Wish filed a complaint at the Ministry of Sports, which subsequently suspended the election that was scheduled for early February.

As the deadlock persists, the ministry, in collaboration with football stakeholders, including former football players, has kicked off mediation efforts to reach a common ground.

In a recent open discussion between Minister of Sports Mohamed Barre and football pundits aired on local TV, he clarified that sports policy falls under his ministry’s jurisdiction and that he has the right to fairly mediate and intervene if any irregularity arises.

“It is unacceptable for an acting president whose mandate has expired to hold an election for a closed vote rather than a vote of convention delegates, and I will not accept this until it is carried out in a fair and democratic manner,” he said.

FIFA suspension on the cards

Football expert Hussein Abkow, however, has warned the Minister of Sports not to intervene in football matters, citing the possibility that FIFA may decide to ban Somalia from international football as a result.

“The minister’s interference in sports is clearly in violation of the FIFA Constitution since FIFA adopted at its congress meeting in 2009 the principle of separating government from sport,” Abkow tells The Africa Report.

“If the situation remains as chaotic as it is now and wrangles continue within SFF, the country may face a ban from FIFA, which will likely dim the country’s soccer growth. This coincides with Somalia’s recent victory in the East African Under 17 tournament, which was a first in the country’s football history.”

Former Somalia midfielder Hassan Karanle, one of the figures mediating to end the stalemate, remains optimistic over the ongoing reconciliation efforts.

“It is necessary for all my brothers to come together, compromise, resolve their differences, and hold free, fair, and transparent elections. It is only through this that we can save football in our country, which is now gaining momentum and may collapse if friction continues,” he tells The Africa Report.

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