Sheriff Suma urges Sierra Leonean Olympians not to abscond

Former Sierra Leone international Sheriff Suma
Sheriff Suma wants to send a positive message about Sierra Leone

Former Sierra Leone international Sheriff Suma hopes the country's Olympians will not be tempted to abscond when attending the Rio Games.

There is a long history of sports men and women from Sierra Leone electing to run run away during international competitions.

Thirteen years ago Suma was part of his country's squad for the Under-17 World Championship in Finland when 13 players went missing.

Suma remained with the squad and was one of only seven players who returned to Sierra Leone after they were knocked out of the tournament.

Two of the players who absconded, Alimamy Sesay and current Leone Stars captain Umaru Bangura, returned home a few weeks later.

The others decided to seek asylum in Finland and other European countries.

None of the players were punished by the Sierra Leone Football Association and six of them, including former Bolton Wanderers midfielder Mohamed Kamara, who is now with HJK of Finland, have been called upon several times to play for Leone Stars.

But the 29-year old Suma, who retired from international football two weeks ago, insists running away was the wrong choice - and he has voiced his concerns that his compatriots attending this summer's Olympics might be tempted to abscond.

"I have no regrets that I stayed back because it was the right thing to do," Suma, who is currently based in United States of America and without a club, told BBC Sport.

"It would have been easy for me at that time to run away because I had friends living in Finland and Sweden.

"But I chose to return home because it was the best to do for my career. I knew I had a bright future ahead of me.

"My advice to the Sierra Leonean athletes competing in the Olympic Games and other future international events is to make their country proud and not to run away.

"They should work hard and enjoy what they do. The sky will be their limit."

Suma went on to play for several clubs in Sweden, Norway, Cyprus, Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Yet while his club career flourished he looks back at that time in Finland with sadness.

Sierra Leone drew with Spain and lost to United States and South Korea, results which eliminated them at the group stage. Suma feels it was a wasted opportunity.

What might have been

"Our team were good but I'm very sure we didn't do well in Finland because the focus was not to win matches but to run away," he said.

"I knew about my team-mates' plans to run away but I decided to make my own decision to return home. I didn't try to convince or advise anyone because their minds were made up.

"It was disappointing. If our focus had been to win games I believe we would have won the trophy."

Suma ended his decade-long international career with Sierra Leone after making over 30 appearances and scoring four goals.

His last match for Sierra Leone was against Chad in N'djamena in a 2018 World cup qualifier in October 2015.