If I Were President Mahama (4)

Fellow countrymen and women, I salute you for standing by me in this difficult period of our country’s history. I appreciate all the suggestions you’ve been proffering as possible solutions to the challenges facing us as a nation.

Though some of you don’t have any background in economics and may not have the intellectual muscle to counsel me and my Economic Management Team on how to overcome these challenges, I can’t afford but to take your suggestions on board no matter how shallow they may seem. But for circumstances, I don’t think I should be listening to some of these pedestrian and lame economic analyses from you.

But all the same, Ghana is an interesting country to live in. We all claim to be experts when an issue crop up. You may recall anytime one of our soccer teams are in competition with other teams; we all become a nation of 25 million coaches.

It is no different on the economic front, especially with the magnitude of the fiscal challenges facing our dear country under my watch. Every now and then, my office has been inundated with tons of lengthy write-ups from people who claim to be experts offering varying suggestions to how we can come out of this quagmire.

I get carried away anytime I begin to talk about the economic turbulence facing this country. This week, I promised not to bother you with any discussion on the economy, but as soon as I mentioned it in my intro, I’m been forced to sidestep my own promise.

Be that as it may, something has been agitating my mind since I became Vice President and now President. And I think this is the opportune time to voice it out.
Sporting activities over the weekend have provoked me to voice out my frustrations about what I considered to be the gradual ‘murdering’ of our local football league.

While I was in faraway South Africa to be part of the investiture of my South African colleague and ‘brother’, President Jacob Zuma, my attention was drawn to how Ghanaians clad in either Real Madrid or Atlectico Madrid jerseys thronged videos centers, pubs and the likes to watch the European Champions League finals.

The case in South Africa was no different from Ghana, but in the case of Jacob Zuma’s republic, they have a robust and highly competitive league. Though South African’s have support for European teams, their support for their home teams has not die down like in the case of my native Ghana.

I had the opportunity to watch a playback of the Blacks Stars farewell game with their local counterparts at the Accra Sports stadium and I nearly wept. The local Black Stars, which is being touted as dream-team and replacer for the senior national soccer team, played as though they were non-footballers only called an hour to the game to wear jerseys and demonstrate what they can also do with the round leather.

My apprehension stems from the fact that all the players that made up the local Black Stars team were supposed to be our best players in the local league. But, judging from the way the local stars played, it is becoming clear that our local league is collapsing, that is, if it has not totally collapsed and I was not surprised that out of the over two hundred players in the 16 premiere league teams, only Stephen Adams of Aduana Stars got a call up to the senior soccer team, surely, as one of the assistant goalkeepers.

For the sake of Ghana, I may not be tired of repeating myself. I’m happy Coach Kwesi Appiah and officials of the Ghana Football Association have said so much about the need for us to raise the standard of our domestic league.

Never mind, this is Ghana for you; Uncle Kwesi Nyantakyi and his team like any Ghanaian government official, (my administration not excluded) who themselves should be proffering solutions to challenges are the ones also lamenting on the fallen standards of our league. Hmmmm!!!

We have no option. Our league should be our strength. The dearth of stars in our local league speaks volume of the state of our league. We have all watched our league collapse to nothing. There’s no longer the desired ambiance. Officiating is terrible, players no more show commitment, club owners are only interested in lining their pockets; football administrators are bereft of strategies and the fans logically have deserted our league venues.

Dogged question over the ages in Ghana is how to attract fans back into the stands. I have observed several Premier league matches all over Ghana in the last two years and I’m yet to see a stadium packed to the rafters like it used to be in the 80s and 90s.

There may be many reasons accounting for the scanty crowds at our league centers, which suffice to say, I don’t have the column inches to delve in detail today.

How did we go from a nation where people travelled round the country to watch their darling clubs play in full stadia in the 80s and 90s to the present day “crowds” of two hundred? The reasons for this sad state of affairs as I stated earlier are myriad. Reduced disposable income of the Ghanaian, football fans inclusive, perceived lack of security at stadiums, the Ghanaian football fans romance with European clubs, a disconnect between clubs and their fan base, among others.

Football fans go to the stadiums to watch skillful players, not club administrators. That is why clubs all over the world spend millions of pounds and dollars acquiring the so-called best players. That player that brings fans streaming into the stadium. I believe, and that is my strong opinion, that in spite of the prevailing economic hardships in the country, we must improve the welfare of the practitioners of the game, the players.

Improving our local league calls for collective effort. Government, football administrators, managers, players, fans, players, sports journalists and Ghanaians alike must join forces to resuscitate our league and put it on the pedestal it used to be in the 80s and 90s.

We watch and read about how things are done in advanced leagues in other football countries but we fail to emulate the good system. What we only do is mouth-support for clubs in Europe. People who don’t know where Arsenal, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea and the likes are located are stabbing themselves in madness all in the name of supporter-ship.

Unfortunately, even ‘big men’ in Ghana and club owners whose clubs are not faring well in the local league because of underfunding and bad management pride themselves as patrons of foreign clubs, I wouldn’t dare say I’m excluded.

Ask a Ghanaian football fan to mention names of just two players of Kumasi Asante Kotoko or Accra Hearts of Oak (the two major league clubs in Ghana) and the person will be found wanting. But ask the same person to mention names of players of an European club he supports and you will be surprised at the dexterity with which the person will mention the first eleven players plus the reserves and if you’re lucky he will treat you with the history of each of the players.

All of us must take blame for this sordid state of affairs of the ‘passion of the nation’. Due to pressures on government budget, we’re unable to extend the needed funds to administrators to run not only the league but sports in general. Aside this, sports administrators have also become so lazy that they cannot market our game to attract the needed sponsorship like other countries are doing.

Ghana’s league is ahead of South Africa, but the South Africans have marketed their league and today they have huge sponsorship to the extent that most of their local base players get place in the national team. Why can’t we do same? I know as president, I’ve shirked certain responsibilities when it comes to my commitment to the development of sports but that does not mean administrators should be resigning to fate. I have a lot on my hand and they must know this.

The most irritating in this unfortunate episode is the attitude of our sports journalists. They allocate enough time to discuss and write about European football to the neglect of our local league. They are the same people who are quick to lambast Kwesi Nyantakyi and his men at the Football Association of doing nothing or little to market our league.

Sports Journalists in Ghana have become so lazy nowadays that their preoccupation these days is to surf the internet and get the names of players and managers of European teams and sit in radio and TV discussions to “throw” about their names as if they have ever interfaced with them. Some will even go the extra mile to tell listeners what the player’s parents did before they brought forth them.

It will shock you to know that most of these sports journalists who have the names and history of these European players on their lips as if they lived in the same house with them have never step foot at KIA not to talk of travelling to Europe.

While I scold sports journalists for contributing little or next to nothing to the development of our game, the FA must also begin to examine its function and accept the fact that our league has failed. Kwesi Nyantekyi and his men have never accepted the fact that our league has gone under. They always are quick to argue with those who complain about falling standards in our league.

I think it is time Kwesi in particular, accept the bitter truth. By admitting that our league is not clicking alone is indicative of a problem having been identified and the next logical step is finding the solution.

Until last two weeks when Ghanaians were treated with another “sumptuous and mouth-watering” bout between Michael Ayittey Powers and Braima ‘Bukum Banko’ Kamoko, boxing was almost a dead sport in this our dear nation. For now, all the other sporting disciplines in the country have died of natural death.

In the case of football, it has been reduced to matches involving Black stars. You only feel the ambiance and euphoria of a real soccer nation when the Black Stars are in action. Aside the senior soccer teams, none of the teams merit attention. All funds are allocated to the Black Stars while the other teams and other sporting disciplines cry for money to run its activities, and you have Ghanaians, including you my dear reader thinking its ok?

I hope some of you still have in your memory the catchphrase “give it to them”. This was when some of our senior national team players threatened not to play for Ghana because of delayed payment of allowances; and almost in unison, we (Ghanaians) demanded they be immediately paid?

Interestingly, while we spend almost all the monies on the Black Stars, they are yet to win us a single trophy since 1982 when the team won the African Cup of Nations. And this, I dare say could be attributed to the bad state of our league.

In most of the country’s that have won the African cup in recent times, majority of their players are from their local league. Zimbabwe for instance, went into the 2012 African Cup of Nations with majority of its players from the country’s local league yet they beat Ghana which paraded foreign based players and went ahead to whip Cote d’Ivoire at the final to lift the title.

Countries like Egypt, Tunisia and others have done same with players from their local leagues. Ghana’s over reliance on foreign based players has killed the local league. Looking at the kind of players we have in our domestic league, it will take a miracle to parade them in any continental or world competition and win any laurel.

The only way forward for Ghana to make any impact on the continent and the world at large is for us to strengthen our league. We need to find ways to make the league more attractive to football fans. This needs the collaboration of everybody. It is not the job of only the Football Association. It is not only football that we have to pay serious attention to; the other sporting activities must also be looked at.

Having traded our mineral resources for pittances, it should be possible for us to raise the needed funds to strengthen our economy and to stop our over reliance on foreign aid with sports. We did it in the 80s and 90s and we can do it again if we all fold our sleeves and begin to work towards it.

Hope to address you again