By Tabora Bojang
Vice president Dr Isatou Touray has advised The Gambia national team players, the Scorpions, to avoid people working to influence them against the government for political gains. “People can politicise matters and sometimes it is not even coming from you but other parties who may want to misrepresent your perspectives in a way that will make people feel you are working for money which is not the case. So I want all of you to depoliticise yourselves and don’t allow anybody to politicise you. The Gambia was a pariah state under [ex]president Jammeh. You all know that football was taking place but nobody dared raise issues about matters that were even fundamental to the sport.”
The vice president was speaking at State House in a dialogue with the players brokered by sports goodwill ambassador Tijan Jaiteh, a former Scorpion himself.
It comes on the heels of the players’ boycott of a planned presentation of D11 million as a token of appreciation by President Barrow last week.
The money was instead presented to the team manager, who turned up without the players.
Continuing her address to the team represented by vice-captain Omar Colley, Baboucar Sanneh, Ebrima Colley and Lamin Jallow, VP Touray said the government is proud to associate itself with the achievements of the team by qualifying the country to its first Afcon finals, which would not have been possible in the absence of an enabling environment created by the government for people to self- actualise. “It could not happen under Jammeh because the country was not stable and there was no respect for human rights, freedom of movement and expression and an enabling environment for people to be able to express their talents and build their future. So that is what President Barrow’s government has provided to all of us and we have seen the results in what you have done,” she said.
VP Touray further explained that the D11 million given to the players was a token of “appreciation because the euphoria was too great” for the presidency.
She described the players’ refusal to meet the president as a “lost opportunity” which runs contrary to the “rules of engagement and respect” for the title of a president.
“Meeting your country’s president who is the chief executive under a democracy is very key. We are not forcing anybody but you should recognise his role as the president, as the leader of the nation and the primary duty bearer whatever the case,” she said.
According to her, it would have been wise for the players to meet the president and use the opportunity to highlight some of their constraints “which he will be willing to listen to carefully and give instructions” for things to happen in a due manner.
“It was a lost opportunity but not all is lost. We are your parents and as people given the opportunity to lead this country, we will do everything to support you and facilitate all what you need,” she assured.
Minister of Youths and Sports, Bakary Badjie told the players that the money still belongs to them and if any time they have a change of position, it would be made available to them.
Presidential adviser on youth matters, Henry Gomez said he believes there are people behind the walls pushing the players to do what they did. “If they were given such an amount no matter what, they should have accepted it and I am not calling any names but the fishes in the water know themselves. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing,” Gomez charged.
The Scorpions’ vice-captain, Omar Colley said the national team is still appealing for the government to do more in terms of improving travelling and accommodation arrangements, bonuses, and allowances among others.
He lamented that the team has definitely struggled for the past decades or so and felt it is now time to change a few things. “Especially after qualifying for AFCON, we believe with the availability of these things, it would give us more motivation and a bit of pressure to deliver results for the benefit of The Gambia and the younger generation,” he added.
The Sampdoria defender said the team would like to apologize to anyone that felt offended or misunderstood their actions in this matter.
Ambassador Tijan Jaiteh expressed delight at the meeting, saying he feels that it was important that a process is started to get all on board so that The Gambia can have a good Afcon campaign.
“All Gambians should associate themselves with the progress made in football. I think it was lack of dialogue that happened,” he said.