Sierra Leone's decrepit national stadium has been banned from staging matches until the ground is brought up to international standards.
The Sierra Leone Football Association said it had received a letter from Fifa, football's world governing body, stating that safety provisions as well as changing and medical facilities at the Freetown stadium were inadequate.
The former British colony, wrecked and brutalised by a decade of civil war, is bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index which ranks countries by quality of life. Football provides relief for many of its poor, unemployed citizens – including charity games between teams of amputees who lost limbs in rebel atrocities. David Beckham's visit in January as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF drew cheering crowds.
During the war, Freetown's stadium became a haven for displaced people fleeing rebels, and it was damaged when rebel fighters overran the city in 1999.
China, which first built the stadium nearly 30 years ago, funded a facelift in 2001 as the war drew to a close. But the structure, which sees regular use as Freetown's major venue not only for sport, but also concerts and political rallies, has again fallen into disrepair.
The decision to ban matches at the stadium came after a visiting Fifa team warned the SLFA last year to improve facilities, but little has been done.
"The decision by Fifa is most welcome, because it is long overdue for the entire football pitch to be engaged in maintenance," Abu Turay, who plays with the Port Authority team in the country's Premier League, said. "Bravo Fifa! Don't relent," he said.
Sierra Leone are due to host their next home game on 6 June, a 2010 World Cup qualifier against Nigeria in Group Four.Reuse content