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Sports Features of Sunday, 17 June 2018

Source: Graphic.com.gh

Of 100 African football officials offered cash, only three declined

“For shopping,” says a man, laying $65,000 on a table. “Thank you,” says Kwesi Nyantakyi, the president of the Ghana Football Association, scooping it into a plastic bag.

The bribe was a set-up, secretly filmed for a documentary by Anas Aremeyaw Anas, an undercover journalist. So was a sponsorship deal which Mr Nyantakyi appears to negotiate, taking a cut through his own private company.

The film-makers offered money to more than 100 mostly west African football officials, including a Kenyan referee due to officiate at this month’s World Cup. Only three declined.

The revelations have thrown Ghanaian football into turmoil. Mr Nyantakyi, who denies wrongdoing, has resigned. Domestic matches have been suspended indefinitely. On June 7th the government said it would dissolve the football association.

It has been badly and crookedly managed for decades, which is why Ghana, a football-mad country, has a league that no one wants to watch.

In the 1970s fans would hang from floodlights, recalls Sam Suppey, then a goalkeeper for Accra Hearts of Oak, one of Ghana’s biggest clubs. Now many teams play in near-empty grounds. In January an official in Kumasi suggested that the city’s stadium could make more money from funerals than football.

Erratic scheduling is a problem. The current season started late because one team was fighting its relegation in court. The exodus of stars is another. “A player shows up for just a season,” says Nana Darkwa Gyasi, a pundit. The best leave for Europe, but many go to rival African leagues, where big clubs such as TP Mazembe in Congo pay higher wages.

Ghanaians crowd into halls to watch European matches on television. As a child, Sylvester Ali would run from school to watch his local team. These days he follows Arsenal instead. “I’d prefer to sit here, have a bottle of Coke, and watch good-quality football on a clear screen,” he says, sitting in a bar in Accra. He hasn’t been to a stadium for about 20 years.

Still, there is a kickabout on every corner. Mark Noonan, the American chief executive of Hearts, says football in Ghana is like cocoa or gold: “It’s one of their national treasures.” For the faithful few, passion is undimmed. Fans serenaded their team bus through the streets after a recent win against Asante Kotoko, their great rivals. “Never say die”, runs their motto, “until the bones are rotten.”