The former Sports Minister has accused the three Travel and Tour operators contracted to handle Ghana supporters during the Brazil 2014 World Cup of being unprofessional.
Former Youth and Sports Minister Elvis Afriyie Ankrah has slammed travel and tour operators contracted by the government to cater for supporters during Ghana’s botched up World Cup campaign in Brazil as “unprofessional”.
Mr Ankrah expressed deep disappointment whilst narrating incidents of supporters being stranded in Brazil due to poor management in an exclusive interview with Metro TV’s Paul Adom Otchere.
Though Honourable Ankrah declined to disclose the names of the operators, Allsports.com.gh understands that out of ten agencies considered, three – the most popular of them being Kenpong Travel and Tours – were contracted to form a consortium to cater for fans’ travel arrangements regarding the Mundial.
He revealed that before the 2010 World Cup he was called on by former President John Atta Mills to cater to many stranded supporters who had been promised trips to South Africa. He said he made it his aim to make things right and avoid a similar situation if he was given the opportunity, but what he later found out was disappointing.
“When I became Sports minister I found out that some of the travel agencies, what they were doing was that because Government pays for let’s say 1000 people, they will take other people who are not part of the 1000 and put them on the flights and the government people left behind. Because if not you ask yourself how come people were stranded?”
He claimed the travel agencies flew people who weren’t on the government-approved supporters list to Brazil, a situation that created a lot of chaos.
“[For this campaign], They all agreed [on arrangements for travel]. But then people get to the airports and they realize that of the 270 people listed and supposed to board, 70 people who aren’t on the list have already boarded. The following day, it happened again, so we had a back log. The third day it happened again! And these are verifiable. We have the manifests, I’m not making this up.”
He bitterly recounted how supporters got stranded at an airport in Fortaleza after Ghana’s 2-2 draw with Germany, having to sleep in the airport because one of the travel agents failed to organize their flights back to Natal on time.
“Those who went to watch the match the arrangement was that afterwards they’d be flown back to Natal. But what happened? They got to the airport, they couldn’t find the travel agents, nobody was telling them anything, around 1.30 they were told there was a problem with documents and so many things. There were so many stories. We didn’t know which one to believe. They slept at the airport. So indeed if you saw pictures of people sleeping at the airport, that really happened.
“I felt so ashamed, I felt so bad because you see, when you put in place measures, a fool-proof plan and people on the other end let you down so badly, it’s devastating. They were so angry so I had to go back there and have a forum with them, apologize and explain that it was not my doing but I take responsibility.”
Honourable Ankrah, who has since the World Cup lost his job as Sports Minister, being reassigned to Minister of State at the Presidency, said the tour operators failed the supporters again for Ghana’s last group game against Portugal in Brasilia.
“So they said look: Brasilia [where Ghana were to play their next/final game against Portugal] is 23 hours by road, two hours plus by flight, so because of what happened we want to go by road. However if the agent is able to convince us without a shadow of doubt, then we’ll look at the flight. My team held five meetings with [one of the] agents who gave all the assurances that they were going to do it in such a manner that the people would forget the pain of what happened in Fortaleza. They planned to fly people there the night before and then fly two batches the following morning. We had match tickets too.
“The day before. 9pm. I’m in Brasilia. And I get a call. ‘Oh erm, there’s a problem.’
‘What’s the problem?’
‘Erm the aircraft we were going to use apparently didn’t have a license to fly domestic so their licnese has been seized’
“I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me. I was like, ‘What is going on? After all we went through. The forums, the anger, the tension – which was no doing of mine but because we took the people there I had to take responsibility – over four hours trying to explain things. And indeed they [the travel agents] had given us assurances. Multiple assurances. Overwhelming assurances. And they had five days so we felt if they had any challenges there was enough time to correct it.”
He revealed that because of the debacle, the disgruntled supporters were unable to travel to Brasilia to witness Ghana’s 2-1 loss to the Portuguese, which resulted in Ghana being eliminated from the World Cup at the first Round stage for the first ever time.
“We had formed a supporters welfare management group of about 30 people and we asked them to meet them and tell them the problem. Apart from other individuals who came from the diaspora an the GNPC people we didn’t have supporters at the Portugal game.
He insinuated that there might have been a deliberate conspiracy by the travel agents to sabotage the plans of the Sports Ministry, as he believes there were far too “many coincidences”. He further stressed that they (travel operators) had no excuse for failing the supporters.
“I was broken. I was devastated. I kept wondering ‘what is going on?’ because there were too many coincidences. And on our part we had done everything. We don’t charter planes, we give it to people – agents – to do that. Now this raises issues about late payments but prior to all this we had asked them ‘Do you have the capacity to pre-finance?’ and they said yes. Now they are denying it but they don’t know that we have documentation for all this.”
He emphasized countless times that the mess created was entirely the fault of the travel agencies, saying they went about their duties unprofessionally.
“If you are an agent or professional and you know that to be able to deliver a service you needed to be paid maybe one week or one month, you don’t take late payments and promise a service and later on come and use that as an excuse. Come on, it’s unprofessional. So then I had to bear the grunt of all these mishaps and it was terrible.”