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The Emerging Face Of African Sports


Isha Johansen talks SLFA Presidency

In recent months Africa has made quite a splash in the international arena with the rise of women in the ranks of football executives in the world. In fact recently Lydia Nsekera the National Football Federation President of Burundi was appointed as the first ever woman to the FIFA Executive council. Her rise has been hailed as a great watershed moment for women in sports and for them to take up leadership roles in sports such as football which is typically dominated by men.

Ms. Nsekera has inspired many women around the world to step up to the plate and vie for office in their nations as well as internationally and for Sierra Leone you can look no further than Mrs. Isha Johansen of the FC Johansen outfit. She is the founder of a youth Football team which has received great international acclaim for their achievements on the field and she is also the host of the AIYT football tournament which stood out in the African continent, an event to which nations as far out as South Africa sent teams to participate in.

Well I recently caught up with Mrs. Isha Johansen who is vying for the position of President of the Sierra Leone Football Association. Mrs. Johansen will be competing against the erstwhile Mr. Rodney Michael a gentleman who I understand is friends with Mrs. Johansen but you know what they say in the arena of politics… “It makes strange bed fellows”. In this case between Mrs. Johansen and Mr. Rodney Michael it surely has.

I spoke to Mrs. Johansen to find out what motivated her and what gave her the impetus to contest for the Hot seat of the highest seat of Football in Sierra Leone the Presidency of the SLFA and here is that conversation.

ASM

You are about to make history in Sierra Leone Football can you tell us who Isha Johansen really is?

Isha Johansen:

Well Isha Johansen is a new breed of African Women who are now daring to step into male dominated walk of life. She is not a dedicated feminist but she believes in taking on challenges and does not believe that a woman should concede to be second best simply because she is a woman. She is an ardent believer in building the next generation….our youth.

 

ASM:

What really moved you to set up a team like FC Johansen who are now playing in the highest level of Sierra Leone Football, the Salone Premier League? And what is it like for you to see these boys in the Premier league?

 

Isha Johansen:

Believe it or not, FC Johansen was never set up with the intention of creating a football team. When FC Johansen was formed in 2004, Sierra Leone was still in her recovery days socially and economically. There were a group of neighborhood kids who literally would be playing football just meters away from where my husband and I live. My interest in football stems from childhood and so I was naturally drawn to the boys. Our relationship was initially purely humanitarian. I promised them I would provide them with footballs, jerseys, and rubber sandals (locally called stiletto’s I cannot for the life of me understand why)if they agreed to stay in school. That was the beginning of the FC Johansen story…..Football for Education.

Seeing the team and the boys rise from virtual oblivion to national youth football ambassador is very emotional for me each time I have to talk about it. It is a true example of how if you really believe in something or in someone you can ACHIEVE.

 

ASM:

What really motivated you in setting up the team and how did you come about it?

 

Isha Johansen:

Like I said, FC Johansen was a just a progression of events at the time. When the young boys then, between nine to eleven/twelve made the commitment to go to school and in turn I would support their Football passion which luckily was also my passion, the succession of events like playing in the under 12 and under 14 tournaments, and other local tournaments started.

 

ASM:

What are some of the constraints you faced in starting the team and what has been the success story so far for you and FC Johansen?

Isha Johansen:

Well I guess the initial and most obvious constraint as you put it was being a woman. I was not a known face or personality in the football family in Sierra Leone even though my father, Mr Tejan-Cole was one of the Grand patrons  and football stalwarts with the East End Lions football club. This is where I inherited my passion and drive for football success.

Gradually I was accepted in the football family. I came with a different mindset towards the game and how to set up structures. The success story speaks for itself. Our national achievements and International success stories with our participation in various youth football tournaments in Europe, USA and Africa.

We are also the first and only club to have hosted an international youth football tournaments in Sierra Leone, bringing in teams from Brazil, Norway, South Africa, and many other teams from West Africa to play international standard football in Sierra Leone.

 

ASM:

You recently declared your intention for the Sierra Leone Football Association, SLFA Presidency…… as a woman what was the first thought that went through your mind when you came up with the idea of running for this office?

 

Isha Johansen:

THE REASON I AM COMING INTO THIS RACE IS TO CHANGE THE FACE OF SIERRA LEONE FOOTBALL. AND THIS ENTAILS CHANGING THE MINDSET OF THOSE IN AND AROUND FOOTBALL IN SIERRA LEONE. FC JOHANSEN IS CONCRETE LIVING PROOF THAT IT CAN WORK. WE CAN ACHIEVE THE DREAM TO SUCCEED.

 

ASM:

Where you scared of anything because in previous years the SLFA election has been known to be fraught with Black Magic, stakeholders have been rumored to take an oath before voting, are you aware of this and what is your take on this alleged activities involving Black Magic?

 

Isha Johansen:

No I was not aware of the ”black magic oath” but thanks to you I am now. (Laughs) These are the kind of perceptions that have clouded and to a large extent stunted our growth in football.

Sierra Leone is at its crossroads now, we can either take the route that says positive change, or we can continue down the path of the usual self destructive ways.

 

ASM:

What really prompted you to push to become the next SLFA President, because there has been a lot of talk around Freetown that you decided to vie for the position because the current SLFA administration persuaded you to do so?

 

Isha Johansen:

Same old gossip from people who think they know me and obviously don’t. Anyone who knows me well enough will tell you that no one, I mean no one pushes me to do anything. I am my own puppet and I pull the strings for Isha Johansen. I just mentioned that I came into this race to bring about the much needed change in SLFA’s, Integrity and Structures, to create a whole new healthy mindset which is what is needed if we are to get anywhere. One does not invest the kind of personal money that I and my husband have invested into the growth of football in Sierra Leone only for people with self interest and other agenda’s to destroy someone else’s genuine struggle.

ASM:

Over the years the SLFA has been labeled with different names and all kind of talks linking them to corruption and all other vices, how do you intend to change this perception about the FA?

 

Isha Johansen:

The FA has struggled and it’s very evident that a change of administration is needed. Having said that, we should also be aware that a lot of the allegations (whilst not all are fabricated); are smear campaigns originating from the opposition camps. Moles from within the FA working directly with these camps who have been part and parcel of ensuring that the FA does not succeed in whatever it is they set out to achieve. These same groups are now emerging as the solution to Sierra Leone’s woes in football. The irony being that they are the actual viruses.

 

ASM:

What are some of your plans towards the improvement of football in the country? Also how do you intend to address the problems football is facing currently?

 

Isha Johansen:

My main objective is creating the peace and stability needed within the FA. Without this I can outline a hundred ”THINGS TO DO” in the FA and as we have all witnessed, it will be futile without peace. With the Peace comes Growth. Youth football development is my legacy and key on my agenda. Female football is going to have to start from ground zero and this time we do it properly and nurture a sound and proper team. Our national team is our pride and glory. Again emphasis on building a formidable home base team that can play as a team.

 

ASM:

Do you realize you are heading for a big and difficult task if you become the next President of the SLFA?

 

Isha Johansen:

I never take on anything if it doesn’t involve huge challenges and for the records I am always the FIRST in everything I do….

 

ASM:

During your official launching for the Presidency of the SLFA you stated that you are the only candidate that will bridge the gap in the football family of Sierra Leone why did you make that comment and how are you going to achieve that?

 

Isha Johansen:

Like I said there are camps and pocket groups or football mafia’s in Sierra Leone. These groups have done nothing to enhance football. It’s all been a very successful journey of destruction. I have never belonged to any of these camps and have steered my own ship quite successfully. FC Johansen is one of Sierra Leone’s football pride and success story and it is because we have integrity and we work as a family. I do not believe in making pronouncements. I believe in tangible evidence. I can prove that I can or have made it work. Can the same be said of the others?

ASM:

What’s your impression about the football stakeholders and what will be your message to them?

Isha Johansen:

It’s time to stop the talking and let us all come together genuinely to serve one purpose which is make football grow in Sierra Leone.

 

ASM:

Women are not noted for their avid interest in sports but you seem to be an exception to the rule where did you develop this love for sports and particularly football?

 

Isha Johansen:

Women do like sports they just do not stick their necks out perhaps in the manner I have done. I hope that with my coming into football/sports in such a public way it will inspire other women to do the same.

My father was a big football stakeholder and I grew up with my brothers who are all keen footballers.

ASM:

Recently an African Woman who is the FA President of Burundi Ms. Lydia Nsekera got appointed to the FIFA Executive Committee a great Milestone in the annals of the sport. What Inspiration do you draw from such a great moment in the history of the sports in Africa especially at this stage when you are running to become Sierra Leone’s first ever female FA President?

 

Isha Johansen:

She is an inspiration of mine. I believe that like me her father was also into football and was a huge influence to her. I sent her personal congratulations on her appointment and at some stage hope to meet her.

 

ASM:

You seem to be a very driven woman, tell us how you have to come to arrive at being such a positive and influential Force in the business of Football in Sierra Leone?

 

Isha Johansen:

It’s called dedication and perseverance. If you believe in something or someone then you must pursue that dedication. FC Johansen’s slogan is ” CHASING THE DREAM” It is not enough to have a dream. You must Pursue and Chase that dream to the end, the end result being SUCCESS.

 

ASM:

Recently you visited CAF was it in relation to your aspiration for the SLFA election?

 

Isha Johansen:

I had an open invitation to meet the CAF President especially in relation to the AIYT (The Africa International Youth Football Tournament) which FC Johansen is the founder and host of. WAFU will be endorsing this initiative as a WAFU program and indirectly CAF will also be involved. The fact is I do not need to be SLFA president to meet influential personalities governing football administration. I would like to believe that the achievements with my football club both at national and international level has won me the genuine approval and respect of those who really matter. Being the FA president would be a plus for my country but I do believe that the FC Johansen family has already earned its laurels and will continue to do so despite whatever the outcome.

 

ASM:

Rodney Michael is one of your key rival in the election if the need arise will you both join forces at some point in time; if not do you think your vision can overcome his?

 

Isha Johansen:

I do not consider Rodney to be a rival. He is an extension of the kind of groups that have existed they have been in this race before and he is giving it another shot. I am of a different breed and I come with a different mindset. In a meeting which Mohammed Kallon invited both Rodney and I to at the very early stage of this campaign, the aim was to see if both Rodney and I could work together and Rodney categorically declined the offer saying that he had already won the election and that he had secured the delegates blocked votes. I think its best I wait and see whether Rodney knows something we all do not know at this stage.

ASM:

What if you happen to win will you involve him for you both to work together, and if things work the other way can you work with him?

Isha Johansen:

When we get to that stage we will address it.

ASM:

What are the goodies and opportunities that await Sierra Leone from a charming, industrious and disciplined female SLFA president?

Isha Johansen:

IT WILL BE THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA IN SIERRA LEONE FOOTBALL. The rebranding of Sierra Leone will start from here.

 

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