Sierra Leone | Talking Sports with Leslie Koroma, CEO of the African Sports Media Network

Move over Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City. Sierra Leone’s football clubs are back in town!

According to Sierra Express Media, the nation’s 2013-2014 Premier League football competition launched this week with fourteen clubs contesting. Nine venues around the country were selected as playing grounds by the top clubs and a five-man normalization committee. The interim body was set up by the world football governing body, FIFA, to administer the game until an executive is elected by the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA). It's been a fractious six months but the backroom politics is over for now as all eyes center on the field.

Archive photo taken in 2010 at Sierra Leone's National Stadium just before the Leone Stars vs. South Africa's Bafana Bafana game
Of the 14 premiership clubs, this was Friday’s lineup posted in Sierra Express.

While Freetown's Ports Authority football club engages FC Johansen at the Wusum Grounds in Makeni, defending champions, Diamond Stars of Kono, will host Eastern Region rivals, Kambui Eagles of Kenema, at the Koidu playing field in Kono.  Bo Rangers were set to meet Gem Stars of Tongo at the Bo Coronation Field.

Newly-promoted Anti-Drugs FC engages East End Lions at the Ernest Bai Koroma Mini Stadium at Newton, while Freetown City Football Club locks horns with Central Parade at the Brima Attouga Mini Stadium. In the final match of the day, another newly-promoted team, the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces Team is set to go up against the Mighty Blackpool at the Wusum Stadium in Makeni. On Saturday 6th July, runners up FC Kallon will engage Old Edwardians at the National Stadium.

Each of the 14 clubs in Sierra Leone’s National Premier League is slated to receive five million Leones for every game played.  The champions will receive grand cash prize of twenty million Leones and the runners up will take home ten million, the paper also said

Sewa News spoke to Leslie Koroma, chairman and CEO of the African Sports Media Network, for his take on football in Sierra Leone. The African Sports Media Network is a go-to for African sports.

Leslie Koroma: The Sierra Leone National Premier League is a work in progress.  I can’t knock them for trying to establish a system that seeks to develop and promote elite football talent, albeit a tall order given the climate of politics in sports in our country. One thing I will say is that most people tend to look at things from the lens of advanced nations. So when you say “Premier League,” they expect each team to have their own stadium, be worth millions of dollars, and offer their players million-dollar salaries; which is what it actually is supposed to be.

But even if the individual team stadiums are not present and the million-dollar salaries are lacking that should not stop us from creating a system that helps our young, promising talent, who are looking to elevate their standards.

We should aspire to meet the standards of a global premier league by setting a system up to help the teams in the league play very high level football as well as attract talent from neighboring and foreign countries. We ought to push the envelope in bringing our national sports apparatus up to par with the rest of the world.

Having said that, the prize money for our national premier league champions currently sits at 50 million Leones ($12,500.00) which is a paltry sum and a bad reflection on corporate sponsorship in the country. However, it is significantly better than what the prize money was in 2009― three thousand dollars ($3,000).

As far as the teams are concerned, I think FC Johansen, which just signed Sheriff Suma, an international talent formerly with Ravan Baku (a Premier League side in Azerbaijan Europe), and of course Kallon FC and the Gem Stars seem to have the spending power to attract talent. Even though it’s too early to make predictions I will say they stand head and shoulders over the rest.

But money aside, we have seen the concept of a team with no big names on their roster in the Super Eagles of Nigeria conquer Africa at the last African Cup of Nations. So let’s just say it is anybody’s game at this stage; it’s all about who wants it the most.

Sewa News: Why did you launch African Sport Media Network (ASMN)?

Leslie Koroma: I launched African Sports Media Network to fill a gap―serve the niche market of African sports lovers around the world by keeping them informed and engaged with the African Sports scene. ASMN is the parent company of African Sports Monthly, our digital online sports magazine, and African Sports TV, our daily sports news site.

Many Africans and Sierra Leoneans do not realize that sports can be a significant contributing factor to a country’s economy.  Ask the British, they will tell you why they do not joke about the Premier League; and the Jamaicans, who equally do not joke about track and field. These sports are their bread and butter that contribute significantly to their national GDP.

Of course you and I know what sports means in the U.S.A. So it goes without saying why I am passionate about using media to help educate people about sports. Not only as a tool for economic empowerment but also as a means to bridge divides be it race, tribe, or religion.  With my background in sports and technology it came naturally to step into this arena to provide a source through which Africans can find out about what is going on in sports within their countries.

The international media focuses on the biggest stories, which rarely report on African athletes, while we focus on everything from the sensational to the smallest issues for every African state.  During the Olympics or other big global sports events most Africans in the diaspora and on the continent feel left out as the television programming they get to watch tells very little about their nations or even show their athletes. The reason is because the media showing the event has to focus on its own market and serve the community it is mandated to serve. So with such a vacuum I felt the need to step up to serve Africa and help Africans enjoy an experience unique to them.  

Sewa News: Within ASMN, you have a digital online sports magazine and a sports news site. It's a tough time for media because of slow advertising revenue, what are you doing to widen your footprint?

Leslie Koroma:  You have touched on a very serious issue for media in these times: revenue stream. Of course for any business to survive, whether it is a young and budding business or an old and established one, it has to have a constant flow of revenue to help carry out its mandate and mission.

Well, we have seen many great media entities fold up and completely go out of business in the last 5–10 years.  To think that I will launch a business in that same arena during such a tumultuous and uncertain period sounds crazy, right? I see myself as a visionary. Someone who has evaluated and seen the future of media, as it is today, and will continue to unfold in the digital age.

One of the issues I have always raised with my peers is the concept of advertising is gone.  Dominated by behemoths like Google (which controls 45 percent of global revenue), advertising is no longer for most small- or medium-sized businesses.  Corporations and companies do not advertise either anymore as they can get it dirt cheap these days with Google, Facebook and Twitter.

What they do now is form promotional partnerships with smaller media outlets that can come up with ideas and events through which companies see themselves effectively reaching their target markets. That is the model that works nowadays and for the foreseeable future. It is not an easy task but it is the future of monetizing media.  

Sewa News: You’ve also founded the African Sports Museum and Hall of Fame. There are so many top African players past and present.  When are players eligible for the Hall of Fame?

Leslie Koroma: Thanks for bringing up the African Sports Museum and Hall of Fame. It is a project that we are working to have established in Sierra Leone in the near future―making our country a destination for visitors (sports tourists) who may want to visit the museum or be a part of our induction ceremonies for Africa’s Hall Of Famers, when that eventually becomes a reality.

African sports men and women will be eligible for nomination into the Hall of Fame after 10 years of retirement. We will like to catalogue the exploits of their careers during the induction, something that will not be possible if they retire and return back to play which many athletes do these days.

The museum and hall of fame will be a landmark and tourism draw for Sierra Leone and also a source of employment once erected. At this juncture, let me say if anyone out there is interested in helping out with the African Sports Museum and Hall of Fame Project you can contact us at info@africanpsortsmonthly.com

Sewa News:  Tell us about some of your best sporting moments and heroes in Africa.

Leslie Koroma: My greatest African sports heroes range from legends to others people may not necessarily know.

The first is Abebe Bikila, the great Ethiopian marathoner and distance runner who won Africa’s first ever gold medal at the Summer Olympic Games in 1960 while running barefoot.

Next is Hakeem ‘the Dream’ Olajuwon from Nigeria, who transformed from a soccer player to a basketball legend in the U.S.A. and went on to win multiple NBA Championships with the Houston Rockets. He eventually represented the U.S.A. in Dream Team II at the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Closer to home I have four athletes that I consider heroes. They are Benjamin Grant, a guy that most knew as Beegees. He was a phenomenal athlete who dominated an entire sports meet at FBC back in the early 90’s.  This is a man that could have been along the stature of the legendary Carl Lewis if Sierra Leone had the right situation to develop its athletes, something we are still struggling with today.

Then there is Eunice Barber, a superb and legendary athlete in the annals of Sierra Leone sports history. No Sierra Leonean woman or man can come close to what she has accomplished, be it for France or for Sierra Leone.  She exemplifies a true transcendence from a humble beginning to international stardom.

In football, there was Brima ‘Attouga’ Kamara one of the greatest of all time for our national team, the Leone Stars. This guy was the ultimate goalkeeper. I watched him play many a time at the national stadium in Freetown. He has left us now prematurely but his memory lives on though.

Finally, there is Mohamed Kallon. He is Sierra Leone first and true international superstar. The fact is one cannot be more proud of his accomplishments on and off the field. He has in recent times been more responsible for moving Sierra Leone football forward with his investment of his time and energy along with his football club.

For sports events I will have to go with the 1988 Summer Olympic Games and in particular the 100 meter race between Ben Johnson of Canada and Carl Lewis of the USA. Then there was the 1990 World Cup with Roger Milla leading the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. In recent times I have to go with Usain Bolts 100 meter dash in Beijing, China, at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

For more information, go to www.africansportstv.com

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