Sports Features of Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Source: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi

World Cup Diary: Presidential Commission

I made my World Cup ambitions very public from the beginning of the tournament to my friends and more importantly myself. I wanted to wear my Ghana shirts, wave the flag and join the usual ecstatic mass dance at Osu whenever Ghana won a match. Of course, I wore the shirts, waved the flag but did not get the chance to dance even once. Not even a minuscule step taken in joy. Instead as the tournament wore on the mood changed. Personally, I feel shortchanged and I think the nation was denied a fair return on its investment.

Our angst is not about the Black Stars losing to the USA and Holland and drawing with Germany. As a sports fan I know and accept that all 32 teams at the FIFA World Cup final or at any tournament are good and deserve to win. If it is run properly, a sports competition is the ultimate meritocratic machine; the best will rise to the top while the less good sink to the bottom. So on a bad day the Black Stars can lose to even the worst team in the world while on a good day they can beat the best. That is merit on the day.

However, the anger the nation expressed and continues to express has to do with the very public knowledge that Ghana’s participation was flawed from start to finish. That has now been confirmed by the President of the Ghana Football Association. The coach of the Black Stars has said the same thing and at least we know from statements made by various players that they also feel that the chaotic nature of the Ghana camp did not make for success at the football festival.

I think it is fair to say that we all wanted to know what happened and more importantly why it happened. President John Mahama caught the mood of the people and even while away on ECOWAS duties, promised the country an inquest into the Great Brazil Fiasco of 2014. The nation waited for the modalities of the promised enquiry to be established. While waiting, and without any public warning, the newly appointed Minister of Sports, Mr. Mahama Ayariga announced the formation of his own ministerial committee to probe the Black Stars failure in Brazil.

In my very humble opinion, the President of the Republic, not for the first time in this matter has missed an opportunity to connect with the people. People are not happy with the three-man committee set up by Mr. Ayariga. Not only is it an inadequate response, it is obvious that the Minister has not thought through the whole thing. His answers to question posed to him on Citi FM showed that he was not himself well briefed on his own enterprise. He could not explain clearly the mandate of his own creation nor could he tell us the panel’s terms of reference beyond his wish for them to go into the matter and come up with recommendations.

Even if Mr. Ayariga and his Ministry had a good layout for their committee, it would still be an inadequate response to the problems posed by the Black Stars participation in the World Cup. However, for me, this is where the President could have seized his moment: to use this opportunity to establish a clear policy for the nation on many aspects that have to do with our participation in international sports tournaments. This was President Mahama’s opportunity to put his imprint on a process that is so chaotic it beggars belief. He can still do it if he wants.

The Brazil Fiasco has more to do with off the field issues than what went on during the 270 minutes plus “injury time” the Black Stars spent on the field. Thus, even if all the government wants is to focus on Brazil 2014, it still must extend beyond the remit of a single ministry. There is the question of money which appears to have formed a central motif in the entire saga. How are financial negotiations carried out and who negotiates with whom? Are we in line with international standards and what are the roles of various stakeholders in the individual and collective management of football players called to the national team? The issue of official representation at this tournament has been an issue, not least because of high profile ministers and government appointees drinking coconut juice in the splendiferous sandy beaches of Brazil. (One could even wish that the commission could look at how to make our own beaches clean enough for our ministers to visit every now and then. After all, we have coconuts too).

So the issues are many and do not all relate to the narrow confines of sports. We still have not had any official clarification of how government-sponsored supporters are selected or even whether the government ought to sponsor any supporters. There is the mind-boggling minefield of “cultural ambassadors” who are selected for such occasions. Who sets the criteria and how are they selected? Then there is the three million dollar episode, now the subject of a film coming soon to a theater near you. There are many more questions that have nothing to do with any kinds of balls.

What we need is a high-powered Presidential Commission and not a ministerial committee that can only scratch the bare surface of a major problem. The issue goes beyond sports. For example, there is not a shred of evidence that since the government of Kwame Nkrumah there has been any sports policy that goes beyond the playing field. Why do we spend millions of cedis supporting a sports tournament? What do we want out of the investment? How do we get what we want? These are important questions that will not be answered by the ministerial commission’s one month deadline.

Therefore, our call is for the President to set up a Presidential Commission to go into all these matters and help establish policy prescriptions that can endure for a long time. In the meantime, Flagstaff House can assure the nation that the very limited mandate of the Fo Amoaning Committee, when it is finally established, will not be the exhaustive enquiry that we are calling for. The ultimate goal of any proper enquiry must not be merely to go into what happened in Brazil but what is going on in our name in the sports realm.

When you think about it, I still have unworn Black Stars shirts, flags to wave and dances in my itching feet; Oxford Street is still there to be danced upon. What is missing is a Black Stars victory. Make no mistake; the current fetid atmosphere around the national team makes any such victories elusive in the near future.

Mr. Kwasi Appiah’s is blaming the whole thing on indiscipline and will probably stuff future Black Star teams with well-behaved choirboys. You can laugh if you want; but he is deadly serious.

Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng Consultant in Communication, Culture and Media President, Ghana Association of Writers Member, National Media Commission

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