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Statement by the Sports Writers Association of Sierra Leone (SWASAL) President on World Sports Journalists Day*

Freetown, July 2, 2021 

My dear colleagues, out of the 365 Days on Sierra Leone and the World are celebrating our Day, the WSJD, despite we continue to face increased challenges from accessing the sources, to geyt an enabling environment in executing our professional duties.

As the AIPS President, Gianni Merlo stated: “The case of the Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka has brought more relevance to the fact that psychological conditions may affect athletes’ interaction with the media.

“But what we have to fight is the fact that Osaka’s action could create a domino effect on the other athletes, who can now use that as an excuse to avoid talking to the press. We must fight so that the relationship with the sources continues as a guarantee for cleanliness in the world of sport”.

Unlike Osaka’s situation, our own brother and footballer, Ibrahim Marcel Koroma was able to come out and muster the courage to talk with the press despite his admission of mental health he suffered because of the over 5 years match-fixing allegations his name and others were associated with. 

However, we still have those athletes we cannot reach to tell their stories due to their metal challenges, and it was by no mistake we decided to localize the global theme of this year’s celebration: “Media: Sports and Mental Health. Is the future of access to the sources in peril?” to “Sports and Mental Health, the future of Sierra Leone Athletes.” This basically speaks to the relationship between sports and mental health, and whether the availability and accessibility of sources of information are in danger in the years to come.

Our perspective is about the relationship between the two and the risk athletes face in the future in the absence of availability and accessibility of information.

Recently, the National Olympic Committee of Sierra Leone (NOC-SLE) Athletes’ Commission Activity proved extremely valuable for Sierra Leone, as they organised a number of activities at the OlympAfrica Centre and the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation from 3 to 5 June 2020 to support its athletes at an incredibly challenging period.  

This was followed by talks on WADA’s anti-doping rules, including testing, effects and dangers and the implementation of rules and regulations. 

The Chef de Mission, Unisa Deen Kargbo who is also one of our own also briefed athletes on the  postponement of Tokyo 2020 and how COVID-19 has affected preparations for the Games including Athlete’s mental health was similarly a key talking point.

A research work on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) in Sierra Leone published in July 2018, authored by Abdulai Jawo Bah (Queen Margaret University), Ayesha Idriss (Queen Margaret University/ College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences), Haja Wurie and Maria Paola Bertone

(Queen Margaret University) also looked at the increases in mental health conditions amongst the population in Sierra Leone who were affected by the civil war, including anxiety, drug abuse, depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (de Jong et al., 2000; Fox and Tang, 2000). For example, an assessment of traumatic stress in the capital city, Freetown,  following a period of intense violence in early 1999, reported that nearly all respondents indicated a high level of psycho-social impact that would meet the clinical threshold for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) using European criteria (de Jong et al., 2000).

An assessment also conducted by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in  the  immediate  post-conflict  period  (2002)  identified prevalence rates  of  2%  (50,000 people)  for  psychosis;  4%  (100,000)  for  severe  depression;  4%  (100,000)  for  severe substance abuse; 1% (25,000) for mental disability, and 1% (25,000) for epilepsy (Asare and Jones, 2005).  

With the above, you may be eager to know what is happening within the sports circle, the athletes, the administrators etc, the more relevance the issue is to mark this day and get more knowledge from our key actors in the sport’s circle and I know they will deliver. 

Let me at this juncture admit that as Sports Journalists, this is not just an issue we should look at as a one off thing, but we must continue to educate the public about mental athletes and effect to our athletes, let former athletes get the access to our institutions to share their experiences which will help others to overcome the difficulties they face with the career devoid of their mental challenges on and off the sport.

As I conclude, the WSJD celebration is in line with the foundation of our international body, AIPS in Paris on July 2nd, just before the Opening Ceremony of the 1924 Olympic Games. This was the occasion where the idea of connecting and unifying sports journalists became a reality through the creation of an international association committed to defending their ethical interests and working conditions. Even Baron Pierre De Coubertin, who was writing for several newspapers at that time, became a member of the association. 

The International Sports Press Association (AIPS) is the peak professional body representing the international sports media, with more than 9,500 members worldwide. The aim of AIPS is to enhance the cooperation between its member associations in defending sports and the professional interest of members, to strengthen the friendship, solidarity and common interests between sports journalists of all nations and to assure the best possible working conditions for members.

Let me wish all our sports journalists who would be covering the Olympic/Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan under this difficult time all the best of luck, and thank the NOC-SLE, Sports Ministry/NSA for their support and also wish the athletes best of luck.

I will also use this opportunity to officially congratulate the Sierra Leone national team, Leone Stars for a job well done by ending the 25 years wait to fly the country’s colour at the biggest Africa football competition in Cameroon come next year and hope to see huge number of our Sierra Leonean Sports Journalists covering their darling Leone Stars in the tournament.

Long Live Sports Journalism!!!

Long Live AIPS!!!

Long Live SWASAL!!!

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