Liberia's President Weah makes stadium gesture to Sierra Leone

By Danesius Marteh Football Writer, Liberia
The Samuel Kanyon Doe sports complex in Liberia
The SKD had artificial turf laid and bucket seats installed as part of its recent renovations

Liberia's President George Weah has allowed Sierra Leone and its club sides to use the Samuel Kanyon Doe (SKD) sports complex free of charge.

Sierra Leone will play a 'home' African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifier against Mali at the ground in Paynesville on Saturday, while Bo Rangers and Kallon FC will stage continental matches there next month.

The West African country is not approved by the Confederation of African Football to host matches while its national stadium in Freetown undergoes renovation.

"We have received the President's mandate, which frees Sierra Leone from paying rental fees," deputy sports minister Andy Quamie told BBC Sport Africa.

"They will only be responsible for match-related expenses for all their home games in Liberia."

Liberia had been among several countries deemed unfit to hold international matches, but recent improvements to the SKD - which cost an estimated $2m (£1.69m) - has seen that sanction lifted.

Liberia welcomed Senegal in a CHAN qualifier at the SKD on 24 July, as the country hosted its first international match since October 2019.

The Siaka Stevens Stadium in Freetown is not expected to re-open until 2024 and Sierra Leone played an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Guinea-Bissau in Conakry, Guinea, in June and last month's CHAN qualifier against Cape Verde in Marrakech in Morocco.

The Sierra Leone Football Association's secretary general Christopher Kamara wrote to his counterpart at the Liberia Football Association (LFA), Isaac Montgomery, requesting to use the SKD in the second round of CHAN qualifiers.

Kamara's communication was forwarded to Liberia's sports minister Zeogar Wilson by Montgomery, with President Weah then ordering the Ministry of Youth & Sports not to charge Sierra Leone.

Weah praised for 'African solidarity'

Liberia's President George Weah
George Weah was sworn in as Liberia's president in January 2018 and will stand for re-election in October next year

The gesture by the former Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan striker has been welcomed, especially given Liberia's own recent experience of playing home ties abroad.

Ghana's Sports Council initially charged Liberia $20,000 to rent the Accra Sports Stadium for a 2022 World Cup qualifier last October, but that fee was reduced by $5,000 following appeals by Wilson.

"This is good news from President Weah in spirit of African solidarity and good neighbourliness," former LFA vice president Wilmot Smith said.

"He is leading by example because he knows what it takes to play away from home. Sierra Leone will initially be saving $45,000 for their three matches if we were to apply the rate from Ghana.

"That amount will certainly increase if you add the differences in airfares from Freetown to Rabat and Freetown to Monrovia. Who knows, they can even drive to Monrovia and save more money."

Sierra Leonean champions Bo Rangers are due to meet Algeria's CR Belouizdad at the SKD in the African Champions League from 9-11 September, while Kallon FC will face Benin's Buffles du Borgou in the Caf Confederation Cup a week later.

Presidential press secretary Isaac Solo Kelgbeh could not confirm whether President Weah will be at the SKD to watch Sierra Leone against Mali, or either club game.

The 55-year-old could meet a long-time friend if he attends the Confederation Cup tie, as former Sierra Leone captain Mohamed Kallon owns Kallon FC.

"It will depend on his schedules but President Weah will love to be at the SKD if he's in Monrovia," Kelgbeh said.

"Kallon will certainly pay a courtesy call on President Weah if he comes to Monrovia. They developed a strong relationship as West African brothers in Italy.

"It will be another chance to reunite and share old notes."

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