Sierra Leone: Two-year stadium closure hits international and domestic football

11 months ago 3436
Siaka Stevens Stadium in FreetownThe Siaka Stevens Stadium in Freetown was opened in 1979

Sierra Leone will have to play their home matches at neutral venues for the next two years following the closure of the Siaka Stevens Stadium in Freetown for renovation.

The stadium was handed over to a Chinese construction company last Friday, in a move which will also affect the West African country's Premier League.

The renovation work, which is estimated will cost $40m, will be entirely funded by the Chinese government and is due to be completed in 2024.

The 27,000-capacity stadium, opened in 1979, is the only venue in the country the Leone Stars use to host international matches.

The closure means Sierra Leone will have to move their three home games in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers in June and September this year to a neutral venue.

The Leone Stars will also need to stage some of their 2025 Nations Cup and 2026 World Cup qualifying matches outside of Sierra Leone.

"We know it's in our disadvantage to play our home matches away from home," the president of the Sierra Leone FA (SLFA) Thomas Daddy Brima told BBC Sport Africa.

"But it's pleasing that the stadium is now being renovated. It's better to do it now than later."

Sierra Leone appeared at this year's Nations Cup in Cameroon, qualifying for the continental competition first time since 1996.

As they look to reach back-to-back tournaments, SLFA director of competitions Sorie Ibrahim Sesay hopes that the work on the Siaka Stevens Stadium is completed quicker than scheduled.

"We appreciate the fact that the stadium is under renovation but the two-year period is too long," Sesay said.

"Playing our home matches outside our country gives us no home advantage, so we're calling on the government to try as best as possible shorten the rehabilitation period."

Support needed for Premier League clubs

Fans waiting to watch Mighty Blackpool against East End LionsThe Siaka Stevens Stadium pictured in January 2019, during a match between Mighty Blackpool and East End Lions

The SLFA has started the search for a venue to host their 2023 Nations Cup home qualifiers, with Conakry among the locations considered.

The Guinean capital has previously hosted three Leone Stars matches; two in the 1994 Nations Cup qualifiers against Senegal and Togo, and the decisive match against Benin in June last year which secured a place in Cameroon.

The Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, which began in 2014, also forced the Leone Stars to play qualifying matches for both the 2015 and 2017 Nations Cups outside the country.

The closure of the stadium also means that more Sierra Leonean Premier League matches will be held in the provinces, and SLFA boss Brima says that is his immediate challenge.

"Most of the teams in the league are based in Freetown and play most of their matches at the stadium now handed over for renovation," Brima said.

"Teams will have to move their matches elsewhere in the country and it means more money is needed. I'm confident the government will help us financially."

Freetown-based teams East End Lions, Kallon FC, RSLAF and FC Johansen have moved their remaining home fixtures to Makeni, while East End Tigers will be playing their home games in Magburaka. Both venues are nearly 200km east of Freetown.

This is the second time the Siaka Stevens Stadium will undergo renovation since it was originally built by the Chinese and inaugurated in April 1979.

The first occasion work was carried out was in 1992, while some remedial work was carried out a few years ago.

Sierra Leone prepare to face Tunisia in 2013Sierra Leone's side at the Siaka Stevens Stadium ahead of a game against Tunisia in 2013
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