Liberia: Weah Wants COVID-19 Global Funding to "Recognize Social Importance of Sports in African Economies"

Monrovia — President George Manneh Weah is calling on the Covid-19 global fund managers to give special attention, too, to the importance of sports in the African economies and the importance contributions that the games make to the unity, peace building and social cohesion of nations on the continent.

The Liberian Leader said that it is important that some considerations be given to making provision for the sustenance and recovery of the sports sector on the continent, post Covid-19.

He made his call in the keynote address he delivered recently during an online sports conference organized by the Africa Sports Venture Group (ASVG) and UNESCO, both of which extended the invitation to him. The conference was organized as part of the continental Africa Day celebration.

The conference was held under the theme, "The Future of Sports in Africa Post Covid-19."

Speaking further, the President highlighted the challenges and havoc that the Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) is wreaking on both the economies and health systems of nations, including those thought to have very sophisticated and robust health systems.

"We are all aware, there have been millions of people who have contracted the disease in the past few months. Sadly, many hundreds of thousands have lost their lives. In addition, many of the world's largest and most prosperous economies are being shattered by the effects of Covid-19, causing businesses' failures, massive unemployment, and the reduction of productivity and growth," President Weah said.

He indicated that though Africa's number of infection and death are relatively low, but with its relatively fragile economies and weak public health ecosystems, it is particularly vulnerable. He added: "The fact remains that the negative impact even a small downturn in our economies is magnified and aggravated. And our inadequate health systems, can be easily overrun by even the slight increase in our numbers."

The President further told the conference attendees, all of whom appeared via zoom link because of the ongoing global pandemic, that even though many governments and international institutions and others have taken steps to mitigate some of the negative impacts coming from the virus, he is unaware of any provisions being made for some of these funds to be set aside or earmarked for the support of sports programs, which are an important part of the social economic fabric of various societies.

"Without a doubt, sports have been an important unifying factor in maintaining social cohesion, youth development, and peace in our respective countries.

"Sports have not only provided an outlet for recreation and the reduction of social tension for people of all ages and from all walks of life, but it has also been an inspiration for many young people, who see sports as a paved way to success and to the achievement of their dreams."

He reminded the audience that sometime in his life, he chose that pathway and today, "The rest is history."

President Weah further told the online sports conference that pre-covid-19 almost all of the sports programs in Africa have historically been under-supported financially, only mostly depending on sponsorship from private businesses or individuals for their continued existence.

He acknowledged that precautionary measures being put into place by governments to contain the spread of Covid-19, including lockdown, social distancing, quarantining, curfews will have devastating and drastic negative impacts on sports.

"The lifeblood of sports consists mainly of attendance fees and sponsorship but these no longer exists; many clubs will collapse and many leagues will close permanently.

"It is therefore, my considered opinion that the future of sports in Africa after the Covid-19 Pandemic is bleak and problematic and it's not guaranteed to recover even to pre-Covid-19 level for many years to come. This crisis will negatively impact all clubs and all leagues in Africa and all national teams. There will be an urgent need to resuscitate football and all other games, and to recognize that the people and institutions involved in sports also require some form of sustenance of support to survive until the crisis comes to an end," he opined.

Weah, who is an internationally recognized sporting figure, also stated that while it is very absolutely necessary that attention be placed on the restorations of the health sectors and economies, "However, it is important that the global funding that is being raised, to fight Covid-19 should recognize the social importance of sports in our economies and the important contributions that sports make to the unity, peace building and social cohesion, it is therefore important that some consideration be given to making provision for the sustenance and recovery of the sports sector."

He urged sporting federations such as FIFA to use their "special skills and fundraising network to raise awareness for the plight face by the beautiful game. Special appeal should be made to international bodies such as the United Nations and its agencies as well as with other large financial institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, the Africa Development Bank and the AfrAsian Bank."

President Weah, who is yet the only African to have been crowned the Ballon d'Or winner in 1995, hoped that FIFA will continue to lend its assistance and support to CAF. The President concluded: "While the virus may have disrupted sports, it has not changed our love for it; it is that deep love for sports that will give us strength, wisdom, fortitude and resilience to survive and chart a new course for African sports for the future."

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