By: Wade C. L. Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org
Musa Bility, head of the Liberia Football Association (LFA), announcement that he will be a candidate for the Presidency of World football governing body FIFA, took many by surprise both at home and abroad. Bility’s move has been seen by many at home as audacious, especially as (FIFA) Fédération Internationale de Football Association, is rocked by corruption and looking to replace long time President Swiss football administrator Sepp Blatter.
The 48-year-old though he may be considered a novice as far as football administration is concerned with no record of a footballing career and someone whose record only hinges on running Liberia’s football association which has not made any significant impact in the world, since George Weah left soccer, seems to be coming into the fray to change the status quo. But for Bility, only playing football at an amateur level in his native Nimba County, does not limit his ambition to seek change in such a huge and rich body that controls soccer worldwide.
In a sit-down interview with my colleague Jonathan Paye-Layleh and I on Friday, Bility said corruption has thrived in FIFA because of secrecy in the organization where member federations are not allowed to publicly declare who they vote for, therefore a huge transparency gap.
“There is a culture of secrecy that we have to deal with. I don’t see this problem that we face today as a Sepp Blatter problem, it is a football cultural problem and we have to deal with it that way,” said Bility.
Continued Bility: “It is difficult to speak of oneself, but I believe that I am able to express my opinion, without hesitation. I am able to read between good and bad laws and stand up against it. We need bold people at this point, to be able to first examine ourselves as football authorities and make sure that in the process we change football.
Bility wants to bring the World Cup to the countries to decide the next hosts of the World Cup a process which he said has to be transparent and does not include giving and taking bribes. He believes that this is the time for an African to lead FIFA and said Africa, Asia, South America, need to have a Marshall plan for football and begin infusing huge cash through sponsorship to encourage the local leagues.
“We need to make sure that at the end of each league there’s financial bonus, we honestly need to follow the European module if we have to develop football in most parts of the world,” said Bility.
“I’m making a point here and I’m not putting up myself, I insist that Africa must have a candidate. If Africa refuses to put up a candidate, I will go to the end. My objective is that we need to show the world that we are also capable. We are not just a bunch of fifty-four presidents that are just there to support other people.”
Liberia’s low football standard
In Bility’s home Liberia, the standard of football is at its lowest at the moment. FIFA ranks Liberia 148 out of 231 football countries, though home to one of the greatest African players of all time and of his generation, George Weah.
Weah in 1995 was named FIFA World Player of the Year and won the Ballon d’Or. In 1989, 1994 and 1995 he was named African Footballer of the Year and in 2004 he reached FIFA 100 list of the world’s greatest living players. The Lone Star in 1996 and 2002 was successful enough to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations, though eliminated after Round 1 in both cases; but the squad has never had competitive strength and fighting spirit to qualify for the FIFA World Cup.
Bility who has controlled the LFA founded in 1936, since 2010 said the standard is low because countries such as Liberia do not have the financial means to develop the game.
“As much as President Blatter has tried, Africa has not benefitted from the development of football and therefore, we are not in the position to develop football at the local level,” he said.
“LFA like any federation around the world, receive administrative support of about US$250,000 a year from FIFA and every two years or so, you get a gold project. We believe that there is no magic wand, you cannot develop football with that.”
The man who refers to himself as a football fanatic, said he has taken Liberian soccer to a level never before seen in the history of this country and have done so without government funding for the past three years out of the five he has led the game.
“We have made football in Liberia very independent, we’ve run football league in Liberia for four years at no cost to any clubs, we greatly institutionalized the league; we brought credibility to the game itself,” said Bility.
Continued Bility: “The LFA for the very first time has given 100% sponsorship to clubs that do have international commitment. We have managed the national team without the government of Liberia’s involvement for three years. For the five years that I’ve been president that I’ve been President, the government of Liberia have made no contribution to football.”
Bility claims that the Lone Star has not made lots of strides because there has not been the infrastructure available but have been able to decentralize the game.
Bility said that he has been able despite the challenges to introduce the youth competition in Liberia which is strictly limited to young people (boys and girls) under the age of 17.
“We’ve brought transparency to our game, we’ve brought credibility, and we’ve involved those who are interested in football. We’ve regulated the number of clubs that come into the game,” he said.
Bility revealed that he has the backing of soccer legend Weah for FIFA’s top post, who is also the Senator of Montserrado County.
“We’ve transformed our former legends into coaches, I also have George Weah as my technical advisor. Yes, definitely, we spoke about it and we all agreed that it was the right thing to do,” he said.
Bility wants to see more funding going to teams around the world to develop soccer and said his tenure as FIFA President will see an era of transparency and accountability.
“We will ensure that all financial transactions are done through the banking system under regulation. We will also ensure that people follow the law,” he said.
“As FIFA President, I don’t want to keep the money in the bank, I want to keep the money rolling to the federations for use; that’s what it’s for. We will introduce asset declaration, so that when you become a FIFA official, your asset is known.”
Bility is set to go on a vote hunting spree globally to get the backing of the top football federations including the Confederation of African Football, Blatter himself and the Americans.
Many influential journalists at home have begun to put Bility on the grill following his big announcement, Sports editor and journalist Danesius Marteh of FrontPageAfrica and UNMIL radio described Bility’s move as a publicity stunt aimed at self-aggrandizement and not built on sincerity.
“I think generally, his intention to be the next FIFA President is an ambition dead on arrival for couple of reasons…. He’s just a maverick character looking for publicity at any cost and any level to get it,” said Marteh.
He said though Bility seeks to reform FIFA structurally, he has not been able to do so back home in Monrovia with the LFA. He said Bility has succeeded in running a football association that has flouted its own rules and kept critics off top posts in the organization.
“For example the FIFA statute says any football official current or past can become a FIFA president, in Liberia, that is not the case; you must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to be an LFA President and you must be a president of a club,” said Marteh.
“The President of the LFA has been able to tie who succeeds him around a tightknit of officials who support him. Secondly he’s talking about integrity check, he’s been indicted for corruption in Liberia, he has been indicted for tax evasion, so he’s not qualified to be a FIFA president. All the things he’s projecting to want to change, he has not met those requirements locally.”
But Patrick Honnah, deputy director-general of the state-owned Liberia broadcasting system lauds Bility for the audaciousness of his plans for FIFA.
“You don’t have to like him but the audacity to dare is laudable and has included Liberia in world headlines,” writes Honnah on his Facebook page on Friday.
“Musa Hassan Bility’s declaration has given a new face to football in Liberia and Africa. Win or not, football gurus are about now discussing one guy called “Musa”.”
Bility is father of five and owns Liberia’s largest petroleum importer SHRIMEX valued at around US$ 15Million and also owner of media conglomerate Renaissance Communications (Real TV, Truth FM and Sports FM) a strong ally of Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Bility was the unseen force in the Ellen 2011 presidential campaign, which brought Sirleaf to power for the second term. His fight for the FIFA post has become a talking point both at home and abroad, yet fans and critics agree on one thing, the move in itself is audacious.