The decision by the Liberia National Olympic Committee (LNOC) Saturday that the Handball team's trip to the International Handball Federation (IHF) Tournament in Niger should proceed without the leadership because former referees and coaches have raised "some" issues with the leadership of President J. Mason Saweler, may not be accepted by the IHF.
The meeting, held at the LNOC's new offices on Benson Street, examined issues raised by coaches and referees of the Liberia National Handball Association (LNHA), who spoke about a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that contained forged signatures of President Saweler.
LNOC's President Philibert Brown is said to have informed the coaches and referees that in sports administration, coaches and referees cannot claim to be executive committee members, particularly so since handball is organized in various schools in the country.
Some prominent former athletes maintain that while getting the LNOC involved in dispute resolution is a noble thing, those who have issues must always remember what the LNOC stands for, which is this: "To contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play."
Philibert Browne has been president of the Liberia Basketball Federation for many years and so he could have made that clear to the coaches and the referees. However, he did not go far enough to apply punitive measures to deter further recurrence. "In handball, a referee or coach can become a member of the Executive Committee after retirement from the game," an LNHA source said. "How come these referees and coaches don't know this?"
The junior and youth teams of the LNHA are expected to travel to Niamey, Niger, to participate in the Zone 3 IHF Tournament. The tournament is scheduled for April 9-14 and the two Liberian teams should have arrived in Niamey, Niger, yesterday, April 8.
However, arrangements by the Ministry of Youth & Sports delayed progress for the athletes until many days later. At present, the athletes are awaiting their passports as portion of funds coming from IHF for the trip are expected to be used to underwrite their passports fees, according to LNHA sources.
At such gatherings, officials of national associations normally hold other discussions, including executive committee meetings that set the timetable for future participation, as well as requests from national association presidents who take advantage of their presence to seek further help for their programs.
It can be recalled that Saweler's administration began the preparation for the Niamey trip several months ago. Last year in November, he attended a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, where issues were discussed, including the current tournament and the provision of scholarships to 90 organizations that are involved in handball development in the country.
Against this backdrop, it appears unlikely that the IHF will hold any substantive discussions with the Liberian team in the absence of recognized officials of that body. And although athletes were ecstatic upon hearing President Mason Saweler declare that he would not stand in the way, chances of the athletes making the trip could run into hurdles.
But, observers note that President Saweler should know that while standing aside showed a sign of maturity, it does not solve the problems; that is, if there were any in the first place.
According to information reaching the Daily Observer, a group of former coaches and referees, for obvious reasons, produced a list of their leadership, assigned themselves positions and sent a communication to LNOC, informing them that President Saweler had been expelled from the Liberia National Handball Association.
And although the LNOC did not consult its official registry of the leaderships of the various associations, its secretary general, Fred Pratt, forwarded the letter of complaint against the leadership of the LNHA to the LNOC's Board of Arbitration.
Apparently without performing due diligence to establish the legitimacy of the lists of officials who forwarded the complaint, the LNOC's Board of Arbitration subsequently sent a letter to the LNHA administration asking for its reaction.
The Daily Observer also learned that a similar complaint went to the Ministry of Youth & Sports but Mr. Andy Quamie, Deputy Minister for sports, concluded after investigations that the complainants were wrong in their advocacy and therefore they were encouraged to seek dialogue with Saweler's administration.
However, Quamie's decision was not documented and therefore the LNHA administration could not present a formal decision to the LNOC. And so, as it stands, the athletes' optimism could prove unfounded except, of course, the IHF decides to make an exception in the current case, which is doubtful.
Meanwhile, the IHF Tournament begins tomorrow with representatives from the following countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso, host Niger, and the Ivory Coast.