Africa’s only female soccer president and head of Sierra Leone’s Football Association Isha Johansen has announced she will stand for re-election which will “infuriate a lot of people.”
Johansen is the only female football president in Africa and one of only two females to have ever held the role as president of a football association.
“It will spark up more conspiracy theories and even actions,” she told CNN Sport’s Alex Thomas.
“Knowing the environment as I know it now, and the kind of environments I’ve been trying to work under and rise above, anything is possible.
“The fact that I’m here, willing to take the bruises and the knocks for and behalf of my country, that’s applaudable. It’s about good governance and putting Sierra Leone on the map for the right reasons.”
The 52-year-old was elected as her football association’s president in 2013 but her reign has been a difficult one.
A match-fixing inquiry into a World Cup qualifier between Sierra Leone and South Africa in 2008 is ongoing, with 11 officials and four players, all of whom have denied wrongdoing, having been suspended by the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) since 2014 pending investigation.
Moreover, two years of her term was dominated by the Ebola crisis as the deadly virus inflicted parts of west Africa, killing thousands and damaging the economies.
In Sierra Leone where, Johansen has said, football is “like a second religion” the sport was banned in an attempt to curtail the spread of the virus.
The last 12 months in particular have been personally challenging.
She spent the night in custody after failing to attend a hearing set up by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in September 2016.
On 21 September, two days after this interview with CNN, she was charged with abuse of office and misuse of public funds by the ACC — charges which she denies.
Last month, an interim court injunction — subsequently overturned on August 31 — temporarily stopped Johansen and three other executive committee members from running the country’s football affairs until their legitimacy to govern had been proved.
Her mandate to govern expired on August 3 but no electoral congress has yet been held, with FIFA, world football’s governing body, delaying the elections until integrity checks are carried out by a task force.
Johansen told CNN Sport: “It’s taken a toll on my health, for sure, I’m actually here [in London] for my medical checks … but at the end of the day, even though it’s affected my health, it’s made me stronger.
“It’s difficult, it’s challenging, but I’m very up for the task. It’s been particularly difficult for my family, especially for my elderly parents.
“There have been some positives that I’m proud of in our Sierra Leone football development. Despite all the odds, the challenges — the Ebola, the infighting, the political interference — all of these have helped strengthen our cause and strengthen my resolve.”