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Sports Features of Friday, 24 June 2016

Source: Pascal Nii Gogo Amoah

Football is our passion, but hooliganism must not be our path to victory

Football fans Football fans

The game of football is very dear and passionate to the heart of the average Ghanaian fan. In many a fan, it can bring to the fore raw heartfelt emotions that are not part of normal everyday life; bitterness, anger, bloodthirst, savagery and occasionally for the rabid fan the desire to cause some kind of damage to relieve the pressure of a defeat, decision or outcome that is rightfully or wrongfully deem unfair.

When two rivals, or even just two regular teams clash, the beautiful game can soon degenerate into something ugly, especially if the stakes are high with simple logic thrown out of the window.

Perhaps, it is a game with a direct link to violence, especially when emotions and passion are tied closely to the heart of the fans who devote so much of their precious time, energy and emotion to their chosen sport and favorite team, thus making it obvious that somewhere along the line, crowd violence can easily erupt if results don’t break their way.

When a referee disallows a perfectly good goal, it's as if he has robbed you off a huge valuable. If the team that you are rallying behind secures a late stunner to nail the coffin of the opposing team, you act like it's your first time of winning a million Ghana Cedis gamble.

In Ghana, football hooliganism has been a major talking point since the early 2000’s. In 2001, it reached new levels of hysteria, with the activities of hooligans wrecking the image of the country and the continent at large. It sparked a huge debate among the teeming football fanatics and the media, with each camp coming up with different ideas, to help curb the canker.

Accra Sports stadium disaster on May 9th, 2001 led to some serious questions being raised over this serious "affliction", but the problem has persisted. A lot of people feel and claim that the May 9th incident pierced a big hole in the hearts of many football loving fans, and that prompted many fans to stay away from the nation's Wembley.

Reminiscing, another riot erupted in 2009 during a Premier League game between Hearts of Oak and Real Tamale United at the Tamale Sports Stadium, between the fans and the Police resulting in the free flow of innocent blood. Since then, there has been countless violent cases in the premier and lower tier leagues across the length and breadth of the country.

Recently, the President of the Ghana Football Association (GFA), Mr. Kwesi Nyantakyi issued a firm warning to hooligans and the various clubs under his jurisdiction that he is very determined to clamp down on hooliganism at our various stadiums to prevent the May 9th, 2001 tragedy from recurring.

The FA President whistled the warning during the commemoration of the 15th anniversary for the 126 fans who died during the 2001, May 9th disaster.

Mr. Nyantakyi said the tragedy that shocked Ghana 15 years ago should be the wakeup call for football authorities and fans to take serious measures to prevent hooliganism at the various stadiums.

"Any time people gather to commemorate those who departed on May 9 when they came here to support their clubs, it is also an occasion to sound a warning to the living and to also remind ourselves of the startling truth and hard lessons that we should learn from whatever disaster that occurred," Mr. Nyantakyi said in his opening address at the event.

"Exactly 15 years ago, more than 125 soccer fans who decided to come to the Accra sports stadium to cheer their teams - Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko perished under very sad circumstances.

"Many of them died after the match and most of them died in circumstances that could have been avoided.

"The football association have learnt very hard lessons from it. It has influenced regulations and statutes of football to the extent that we look very hard at violent conducts at games," he said.

Hooliganism after May 9th

Since the May 9th incident, Ghana has seen several acts of indiscipline at the various stadiums.

In March of 2012, Cape Coast Ebusua Dwarfs were dealt a twelve-match ban by the GFA Disciplinary Committee after fans attacked and injured a referee over alleged biased officiating and in April of 2014, the GFA Disciplinary Committee placed a temporary ban on Asante Kotoko’s use of the Baba Yara Stadium after irate fans attacked and wounded the referee in their lone goal loss to Heart of Lions.

Recently, the GFA Disciplinary Committee condemned Accra Hearts of Oak to play two home games behind closed doors in addition to a fine of Ghc 12,000.00 for the disruptive behavior of their fans which included pelting referees and match officials with bottled water, stones etc. over what they considered biased officiating during their Ghana Premier League Match Day 6 clash against Wa All Stars. Hearts lost by three goals to one.

The lower tier Division One scene has also not been spared, recent acts of hooliganism has seen a coach and several referees badly assaulted, forcing the main sponsors of the Division One League (GN Bank) to consider revoking their sponsorship. The GFA has also handed out some stiff punishment to offending clubs.

Punishment for offending teams

Unfortunately, attempts by the Football Association and other related agencies at cracking the whip has not been far reaching enough and I think it’s time for them to come up with better and broader strategies to arrest the problem. As at now, no concrete measures has been taken or outlined apart from the use of sanctioning language which the FA and its sub-bodies seem to like and use very often.

There are however a number of steps that GFA working in concert with other security agencies and the various teams can take to help curb the problem and perhaps stop it completely.

For starters, a percentage of funds from high proceed games can be used to put up CCTV’s at our stadiums where the infrastructure permits to help capture the activities of these hooligans. This will require the presence of trained personnel to man and also monitor during games with attention being paid to crowd behavior and sections where trouble is likely to erupt. A bit expensive but what purpose does it serve when the National Sports Authority takes a huge chunk of the proceeds from games at the expense of fighting hooliganism?

Police community partnerships within the communities, especially in the smaller ones can also help deal with the problem. Through such partnerships the Police is likely to know who the vocal fans and likely trouble causers are or may be and thus keep an eye them during games.

Teams and fan involvement/engagement is another good route to look at, that is if it’s not being done already. Most teams have Supporters Unions or Associations or ways of reaching out to their loyal fans, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if the management of the various teams can dialogue with and constantly educate their fans on the futility of hooliganism by reaching out strongly to the leaders of these groups who tend to have good relationships with other supporters of the club.

Finally, there is the need for a better, well trained and well equipped Police force that can effectively deal with those caught engaging in acts of hooliganism. As it is now, in cases that the Police respond, rarely are they able to protect the match officials, and they on occasion end up as victims too as there are often not enough/many of them at the stadium to deal with the crowd.

Yes, football is our passion, but hooliganism must not be our path to victory.

Hooliganism in our football must stop!