Following what appeared to be one of the unprecedented and unarguably an embarrassed County Meet finals, the organizers of the annual national sports festivity , Ministry of Youth & Sports in collaboration with the Ministry of International Affairs, will today announce a major decision addressing the Sunday, January 26 debacle at the Samuel K. Doe Sports complex in paynesville.
According to MYS sources, a decision is expected to be announced today at what has been considered as a joint press conference as part of measures taken to handle the drama that occurred during the grand finals of the 2019-2020 National County Sports Meet between Nimba and Grand Kru Counties respectively.
The INQUIRER has gathered that Grand Kru County who was already in the lead 1-0 prior to the abrupt dismissal of the match will be announced and crowned the new champions of the 2019/2020 edition of the National County Sports Meet. Sources have hinted that the Ministry of Youth and Sports will make the pronouncement today including a major disciplinary action against Nimba County for its failure to continue the Sunday’s final match over claims that the referee was tampered with to cheat in Grand Kru’s favor.
On Sunday evening, January 26, a jammed parked and jubilant Samuel K. Doe Sports Complex went into disarray after players of Nimba County, one of the finalists in the 2019/2020 National County Sports Meet, were ordered off the playing pitch following a second half penalty called by experienced FIFA Badge referee, Hassan Corneh, who was in charge of the tournament’s final match.
The playing pitch later became flooded with fans, supporters and sympathizers who trooped into field from across the stadium as the match came to a momentary standstill after Nimba County deliberately refused to return on the pitch and thereafter retired to its dressing room as countless interventions with the intent to rescind the county’s action proved futile. The county’s action which has been regarded “unsportsmanlike and indiscipline ” was described by several as a sign of protestation over claims that they (Nimba) were being cheated by the central referee.
Though have had a barraged of condemnation from Liberians all across the globe and those at home, Nimba’s action was allegedly precipitated by what they referred to as poor officiating by the experienced FIFA Badge-Referee, Corneh , who they claimed had recklessly sounded the whistle against Nimba County over inconsequential offenses as it was not done with the opposing team, Grand Kru County.
The game was a spectacle until Referee Corneh issued a red card to Nimba’s Topoe for a deliberate handball which was followed by a penalty call and an immediate booking by Corneh. Though appeared as a goal bound shot, many spectators in the stadium including Nimba’s officials felt disenchanted over how the player was now issued a red card since according to them the player did not deliberately handle the ball to stop a goal. The penalty was converted by Grand Kru County, while Nimba was one man short going into the interval of the match. At the end of the first half, Grand Kru was in the lead 1-0 as Nimba County had themselves to blame after wasting several clear cut chances in the first 30minutes of the match to discourage the Southeasterners.
Back from break, Grand Kru looked shaky and nervous as was detected from the early delays from goalkeeper Humphrey. And prior to the big decision from Referee Corneh that turned the entire stadium amok, Nimba managed to stretch Grand Kru from the left and had their entire back four in tatters until Nathaniel Togba had selfishly gone for the target from 17 yards. The player surprisingly tried to be unselfish by squaring the ball to Mark Mensah, one of Nimba’s reliable, but the defender deflected the pass and scrambled the debris to safety.
Then, the biggest and mind-blowing decision of the night emerged in the first quarter of the second half when central Referee Corneh awards another penalty to Grand Kru against the run of play for a tackle on a Grand Kru’s player. It was the second penalty that now inflamed the already agitation amongst supporters of Nimba County, something that immediately prompted the throwing of water bags, bottles containing urine and other substances to the pitch; this now puts the continuation of the match into serious doubt as the security personnel on the perimeter were not sufficient to handle what appeared as a looming disaster.
Prior to the controversial second-half penalty, there were already contestations and murmuring amongst spectators as well as Nimba’s stalwarts that the FIFA Badge Referee harshly dismissed player Topoe on the stroke of first half, and that if care was not taken his officiating could drag the tournament’s final match into an unprecedented scene. Several supporters of Nimba County have attributed the NCSM finals disappointing scene to the referee failure to use wisdom in handling the match. Though admitted that the penalty was warranted, they maintained that the tournament is a political sports festivity and so needed a careful officiating so as to avoid any surprising outburst. Sports Journalist and commentator Benjamin Gologo Garkpah has suggested that Experienced FIFA badge-referee, Hassan Konneh be punished for not performing up to his expected standards. He argued that Mr. Corneh should have only awarded a yellow because Grand Kru were inevitably taking the lead from the spot and reducing Nimba to ten men for an incident not as clear as white for a final match was going to be adjudged as too harsh.
In March 2019, the Liberia Football Association (LFA) has suspended Fifa-badged referee Hassan Corneh for a month from all refereeing activities.
According to the FA, the suspension followed a March 18 appeal lodged by Freeport FC in which they questioned the red card shown to Christopher Karpeh during a second division match against Muscat FC at the Nancy B. Doe Stadium in Kakata, Margibi County on 16 March.
“We, as a club, will provide the video of said match for your perusal as an evidence once call upon,” the club said.
After a thorough review of the video, LFA referee committee labeled Corneh’s officiating as a “poor performance of a Fifa-badged in such a match”. They then recommended Corneh’s immediate suspension, which was sent to him on 22 March. The committee also rescinded the red-card with a refund of the LD1,000 payment.
TENSION AHEAD OF SUNDAY’s FINAL
Ahead of the Sunday’s grand final, the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MYS), organizers of the tournament openly apologized and took for failing to communicating to the public a revised fixture of the semi final category of the ongoing National County Sports Meet, though it struggled to justify the confusions that prompted its clarification.
The NCSM organizers’ immediate apology came in the wake of widespread rumors suspecting political interference and tampering of the semi final fixture in favor of a particular county of interest.
Liberia’s Youth and Sports Minister, D. Zeogar Wilson addressing told a major press conference that they were not compromised neither influenced to revised the NCSM semi finals’ pairing even though there were allegations that the ministry failed to continue the tournament with respect to the official county meet released fixture.
Hours before it first press conference, officials of the Ministry of Youth and Sports had posted conflicting pairings for the semi final on social media. Minister D. Zeogar Wilson who addressed the Wednesday’s press conference posted on his “Facebook page” what appeared to be the original pairing as per the 2019/2020 Approved County Meet semi finals’ fixture, whilst Deputy Minister of Sports, G. Andy Quamie posted a revised version of the fixture thereby prompting a serious agitation and imminent confusion amongst supporters of the various counties as well as in sports quarters.
There were mounting public concern about the sudden change emanating from the Ministry of Youth and Sports, organizers of the 2019/2020 National County Sports Meet. The Organizers who also struggled to provide a definite position on whether or not participating counties were duly informed, failed to state exactly by what means they communicated the revised fixture to the participating counties.
Officials of various counties were seen at the Ministry of Sports just after the press conference expressing their respective disenchantment. An executive from Nimba County who spoke to the INQUIRER Newspaper on anonymity said, “as per the original fixture in our possession we are suppose to play Lofa County in the semi finals. We are actually shock by the overnight changed and that up to date, there has been no official communication from the organizers in that direction.”
The Nimba official alleged that the fixture’s sudden change could mean a compromise by the organizers, and that their explanation has further deepened the suspicions.
Also, officials of Margibi and Grand Kru counties denied having any prior knowledge of the revised fixture and warned that there could be consequences if care was not taken.
What appeared to have further deepened suspicions was Min. Wilson’s pronouncement that the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Spoon FM & TV had promised to provide L$1m to Grand Kru County if they were to qualified for the grand finals. Though sounded like the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of Grand Kru County, the MYS boss failed to take into consideration the existing confusion and allegation that the alleged tampering of the fixture was due to political maneuvering intended for one of the southeasterner teams to reach the grand finals of the tournament. The minister’s public assertion which was described by football pundits as “fast-talk” could have just set the stage for complications and further agitations as was demonstrated in the Grand finals.
Football pundits have attributed the possibility of harboring a preconceived notion of being cheated in the final match of the 2019/2020 National County Sports Meet to the organizers’ poorly handling of serious technical matters which needed not to be compromised.
As it stands, Nimab County could be lightly reprimanded because the rules of the tournament were drawn on political sentiments. The rules and disciplinary measures are justifiably weak, and that could mean Nimba County will only be fined a sum of US$1,500 as fine for their action while some members of the county’s technical staff could be penalized as per the rules but the image of the tournament and its organizers remain tainted.
WHAT DOES THE COUNTY MEET RULES SAY?
It is evidentially clear that any further disciplinary action will be based on the Approved County Meet Rules & Regulations, copy of which was distributed to the participating teams prior to the commencement of the tournament. Whilst the embarrassment remains demeaning, the penalties as per the rules remain inconsequential regardless the damage or county involved.
Article 19 of the Rules of the NCSM states “Any county team that behaves rudely on the field of play and brings the match to a halt or disrepute, according to the match official’s report, shall be fined the amount of One Thousand Five Hundred United States Dollars (US$1,500.00). The fine shall be paid before the county’s next game. If the match in question is the last match of the county being fined, deduction shall be done during the following year’s allotment.”
But on the other hand, Article 16. 4 states “Any county refusing to honor or abandons a match shall forfeit the appropriate points to the opposing county in addition to a fine., while 16.5 says “Any county player, coach or official of a county obstructing, delaying or compelling a game to come to a halt shall be fined the amount of Two Hundred United States Dollars ($200.00). Five Hundred United States Dollars ($500.00 for second offense). The fine shall be paid before the county next scheduled game. Suspension for one year from the following year County Meet games.”
Additionally, Section 16.6 insist that any county team refusing to carry out pre-game formalities, including handshake shall be fined One Hundred United States Dollars ($100.00) payable before the county’s next scheduled game or subtracted from county percentage of gate-intake.
In a related development, One of Group C representatives, Maryland County, on Sunday clinched the third place trophy of the National County Meet after the southeasterners narrowly defeated Lofa County 1-0 in a fairly entertaining third place encounter before a record crowd at the Samuel K. Doe Sports Complex in paynesville.
Maryland secured a 1-0 lead in the 27minute of the first half of the match but was later bombarded and restricted by an entertaining Lofa County who fought to level the scoreline until the 45minutes elapsed. It was Patrick Dweh of Maryland County that got the lone goal for the southeasterners but Lofa County failed to convert a penalty in the early minutes of the second half to level the scoreline after player Joseph wearing the number 21 jersey was brought down in the 18th yard box of Maryland’s half.
In the Kickball category, Margibi County stunned defending Kickball Champions, Grand Bassa County win the kickball’s crown of the tournament. writes D. Webster Cassell