Gambia’s newly-elected FA President Mustapha Kebbeh visited the Home of FIFA Tuesday, 24 September. FIFA.com spoke to President Kebbeh about football in Gambia and the challenges he faces growing the game in the country.
“There are many children who could have potentially been very good players, but they are not because they don’t have the opportunities,” Kebbeh said. “So we want to create those opportunities not only as a career but for fun, for health and for hope.”
Watch the full interview by clicking on the video above.
With its western border reaching the Atlantic Ocean, split down the middle but the Gambia River and surrounded almost entirely by Senegal, Gambia is the smallest country in continental Africa and home to 1.7 million inhabitants. Up until 1965, Gambia was referred to as British Gambia and was under the rule of the United Kingdom.
Since gaining their independence on 18 February 1965, Gambia’s national team, nicknamed the Scorpions, have struggled to succeed against Africa’s more established footballing countries and have never qualified for a FIFA World Cup™ or a CAF Africa Cup of Nations tournament but their youth national teams have qualified for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2005 and again in 2009.
The women’s national team qualified for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012, which has been a great source of pride for Kebbeh. “Let’s face it, the women have made us proud in Gambia,” Kebbeh said with a smile. “We have recently been to the World Cup. Yes, we were defeated, but their sole presence was a great milestone.
“A lot of young women love football. I don’t want to only see them being fans and supporters. I want men to join me in supporting the women. That’s something we promised ourselves.”
In addition to the pride the women’s national team has brought Gambia, football fans in Gambia fondly recall their most famous player, Biri Biri, playing for Sevilla from 1973-1978. Born in the Gambian capital of Banjul, Biri Biri cemented himself in the history books of the Spanish side when he helped earn the club promotion into the first division in 1975 and since then, one of the club’s largest supporters’ groups has named itself Biris Norte in honour of the Gambian star.
A development specialist, President Kebbeh has worked with the ministry of youth and sports throughout the 1990s and also serves as the national director of Child Fund International. Continuing his passion for development, President Kebbeh is eager to continue the growth of football throughout Gambia, something FIFA has assisted with through its Goal programme that helped install an artificial pitch at the National Technical Centre in Banjul in March 2010.