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Opinions of Friday, 26 August 2016

Columnist: 3news.com

Ghana Football Association vs Sports Minister: The bare facts

As far as sound bites and memorable lines go, there was only one winner this week. Forget Obinim and those who have turned humans into demi gods. For those of us in sports, the most intriguing subject this week didn’t require followers pouring out unto the street chanting no whoever, no votes. But it still triggered a lot of debate with passions split down the line.

When GFA president Kwesi Nyantekyi said the sports minister’s penchant for addressing issues about the Ghana Football Association on radio smacked of a serial caller, he must have known we would pick on it. It is easy to see why. It is a line that sticks out, it is punchy, it connotes a lot of things and it is generally regarded as a low blow when you claim someone speaks or responds to issues in that manner.

Serial callers have become infamous in Ghana for basically having an opinion about everything. When you think of them, you think of folks who don’t think of issues before they blurt out. So you can understand why this was a big deal. Nyantekyi was provoked by a subject that seems to irk everyone at the Ghana Football Association so much.

Whisper it quietly but the GFA hates to hear anyone say the Ghana Premier League is not attractive. We have been told a million and one reasons why it is a great league, been told it doesn’t matter that Ghanaian clubs don’t do well in Africa. We’ve been told a lot of things about why this is a great league. Sadly we have seen little evidence of that.

Nyantekyi’s reposte to the Minister’s jibe that the league has no sponsor because it is not attractive simply conveyed the institutional anger at the GFA towards criticism of the league. It also highlighted, rather than expose the ever widening gap between the Minister and the GFA. “This is a league that we dream, eat and think about. This is a league where the clubs are owned by individuals”, Nyantekyi said.

“None of them is owned by the government. The question is what has the govt been doing to help? That is what I expected the minister to be doing and not to be criticising the league without any facts probably like a serial caller.” It was a knockout punch on many fronts. Nyantekyie was accusing the minister of doing very little to help while still having the nerve to criticise. He also seemed to say merely by talking, you are undermining the efforts of private businessmen.

That sentiment had also come through in a lengthy statement that the Professional League Board issued to rebuke the Minister for making similar comments. The statement went on and on about record gate proceeds, regular trends on radio and social media, great goals and everything positive about the league to make their point and challenge the assertion that this is an attractive league.

It even did what great debators do which is to pick on little pooints, play on words to make a case, reminding them minister that the league indeed has a sponsor (SuperSports) when we know the minister was talking about a headline sponsor. The statement claimed the league is the most attractive sporting product in Ghana.

Presumably, that is ahead of the Black Stars. The statement then said “At a time that we are all putting in all efforts to secure a headline sponsor for the league, such unfortunate and unfair comments go a long way in damaging the brand of the GPL thus hurting our chances of getting corporate bodies to support the league.

The Sports Ministry benefits directly when our league thrives so we expect the sector Minister to be the torchbearer of the GPL as our successes are directly linked to the successes of the ministry. As the torchbearer of Sports development in Ghana, the PLB expects the Minister’s public comments to inspire investor-confidence in football and sports in general.

While we are not averse to criticism, we wish to state that our doors are always open for the Sports Minister to share ideas and crosscheck facts before he goes public. We believe that we are partners with the Sports Ministry in the development of the game and such unfounded comments go a long way in hurting our efforts of growing the league from strength to strength.”

For an organisation that says it is not averse to criticism, the GFA really spent a fair bit of energy in responding to the unattractive comments. It required not just a statement but the full force of the President to react. Should the minister have been aware of his status and been measured in what he says about the league? Yes.

Given the tensions that exits already, it was inevitable this would draw a reaction like that. He is fighting some good fights that is clearly irking the GFA but the quality of the local league is not one of them. His desire to cut the absurd cost of Black Stars games, insistence that officials can’t expect to be paid by the existing structure for roles they claim is sacrificial and campaign to beat down the unsustainable bonuses of the Black Stars bodes well for the future of Ghana sports and Ghana football.

But as sector minister there is so much he can do himself to boost the league. Clubs pay through their noses to use national facilities through an ineffective National Sports Authority that he oversees. His office could be a force of good for attracting sponsorship to the league and he could through his office ensure that the benefits of Ghana’s world cup seeps through the clubs in the form of sustainable legacy programs.

In that sense, his stinging rebuke of the league was like a leader describing problems when he should be subscribing and implementing solutions. That said why are the GFA so sensitive to criticisms of the league? The sad bit is that the actions of the body and it’s officials that calls the league “most attractive sporting product in Ghana” betrays their professed love for the product.

This is a league that is still secondary to it’s broadcast sponsor so live coverage is not a matter of priority. How many weekends have we had to endure without live television coverage even when the major leagues were on break? Can anyone at the GFA look us in the face and be honest that the zeal and energy they dedicate to the Black Stars is ever attached to the premier league?

The Black Stars coach would rather be hopping from country to country than watch it. When he has to call up a team for a dead rubber like the Nations Cup qualifier against Rwanda, he would rather summon the same 23 mix of star names, regulars and eternal bench warmers than anyone playing their football here. The GFA has constantly said criticism of the league hurts it’s bid for sponsors more than anything.

It barks at journalists who say ‘league tan tan’ because it thinks that would put off sponsors. Quietly everyone forgets that nothing puts off sponsors than a player of one club granting an interview and claiming a match had been fixed like Prince Antwi of New Edubiase did. When the PLB points out how the league trends with great goals, it forgets conveniently that it also trends negatively because of the absurd refereeing deecision like the shocking penalty that was awarded against Berekum Chelsea for Aduana Stars.

Words are easy to craft and we have all been guilty of saying too much and doing little for the league. After the beautiful statements and headline grabbing jabs, the Ghana Premier League has four matches to prove to it’s critics that this is not all doom and gloom. It has passed the test well so far but what this league needs is evidence from everyone; GFA especially especially that it matters. Statements and punchlines are not enough