World News

George Weah: The soccer great close to clinching Liberian presidency

Posted December 26, 2017 9:30 p.m. EST
Updated December 28, 2017 3:12 p.m. EST

— Former soccer star George Weah, representing the Coalition for Democratic Change, looked set Thursday to score a victory over incumbent Vice President Joseph Boakai of the Unity Party in Liberia's presidential runoff.

With 98% of the votes counted, Weah had won 61.5% of the vote to Boakai's 38.5%, according to the National Elections Commission.

The December 26 runoff came after Weah won the first round in October with 38.4% of the vote, while Boakai received 28.8%, the commission said.

Footballing legend

Winner of the 1995 Ballon d'Or -- to date, the only African footballer to have won world football's highest individual honor -- Weah is considered one of the greatest Africans to ever have played the game.

However, coming from a country with little football pedigree, he never had the opportunity to play in the sport's centerpiece tournament, the World Cup.

"I am very proud to be Liberian. I love the country and I love the people," he told FIFA.com in a 2015 interview.

"Of course I would have liked to have played at the World Cup, but I achieved so much in my career as a footballer that I can't have any complaints. The only thing that is disappointing, is that so many other (Liberian) players never got to play at the World Cup and did not have the personal success I had."

His son, Timothy Weah, an American national, currently plays for Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) -- one of his father's former clubs.

In footballing terms, at least, he is perhaps best remembered for a wonder goal for AC Milan against Verona in 1996 and his cult status in his home country -- he's a "legend" in Liberia, according to his FIFA interview -- has given him name recognition that many politicians would envy.

Political career

This presidential campaign was not his first foray into Liberian politics.

After prolific spells at Monaco, PSG, AC Milan -- and brief stints at Manchester City and Chelsea -- the 49-year-old Weah began forging a career in politics.

Weah ran for the Liberian presidency in 2005, eventually losing to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who had Boakai on her ticket.

He avenged that loss to a degree in 2014, winning a seat in Liberia's Senate in 2014, becoming the first professional athlete to be elected to the body.

He acknowledges his unconventional career path, but says that his previous life as a successful athlete shouldn't be a barrier to politics.

"I know a lot of people wonder why an ex-footballer should seek the presidency of the country but no one asks a lawyer or a businessman why they do the same," he told the UK's Guardian newspaper in a recent interview.

Making a connection between his hard-running, team-focused attitude on the pitch, he told FIFA: "Whatever you do in life, you have to do it with commitment and perseverance.

"That was my approach on the football field and that is my approach now in politics. I am committed to helping my people and my country, just as much as I was committed to helping my team when I was a player."

Humanitarian

Weah, 51, became a UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 1997, and has had a "longstanding commitment to humanitarian activities," according to a UNICEF biography.

He has worked to publicize immunization campaigns and promote vocational training schools "where former child soldiers and other war-affected youth can learn new skills," it states.

He also keeps sport central to his life. In addition to continuing to turn out for an "old-timers" league in Monrovia, Liberia's capital, he has been the chair of Liberia's Sports Commission.

"Sport is so important to people," he said in 2015.

"It can help people. I am where I am today because of football, and if I can give back something to the people of Liberia, then I want to do that."