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Opinions of Sunday, 17 February 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: Learning from the LOC mess

Even though Ghana failed (not unexpectedly) to lift the African Cup of Nations on home soil, the organisers of the just-ended competition are patting themselves on the back for barely pulling it off, someway, somehow. Why won’t they? They came, they played, Egypt won. Case closed. I’m not a sports journalist and so I had very little reason to think about whether the country’s preparation for CAN 2008 was on track or not. My first contact with the LOC was in October last year when a colleague of mine, working with the French News Agency (AFP) came over from Paris to cover the draw for the tournament. On the day of the draw, I was shocked, disappointed and very embarrassed when I went to the International Conference Centre to see artisans still constructing the stage for the event – just a couple of hours before the scheduled start of the programme. Since they didn’t finish on time, the programme was delayed – as usual. I couldn’t wait. I had better ways to waste my time so I left my friend at the conference centre and went home, where I watched the event later on TV.

The draw took place alright but not without incidents that made me gnash my teeth in embarrassment. Take the LOC Chairman, Kofi Amoah, for example. He came on stage to deliver a long, winding, meaningless speech – completely oblivious to the fact that the event was being watched live around the globe in a world where time is of the essence. At the end of the programme, he took to the stage again and decided to “acknowledge” all those who were contributing to the organisation of the tournament. And so he started calling people to join him on stage – dozens of people – and urging the audience to clap for them. I couldn’t believe the man’s naivety. And I wasn’t the only one because the longer he stayed on the stage calling names, the more people left the auditorium. In between Dr. Amoah’s naive performances, there were other embarrassing moments: microphones were not working well, there was this silly musician called A-More-Fire who kept screaming at the audience (including President Kufuor and other international football dignitaries) to shout his name back at him and Slim Buster also came on to lip-sync a certain lousy song.

That’s when I realised that the LOC might be losing the plot. But a day after the draw, I was very surprised and delighted to hear from my French friend that the LOC had issued a deadline for journalists to submit their applications for accreditation and that the deadline was just a few hours away. Considering that the tournament itself was three months away, I felt it was very wise on the part of the LOC to be planning ahead. My friend had submitted his application much earlier online. At the LOC offices in Accra though, he was asked to re-submit the application with a set of passport pictures. He did exactly as he was told.

Fast-forward to January 2008, hordes of journalists from all over the world have come to Accra ready to cover the biggest football fiesta on this continent and they all have problems getting accreditation. I thought the LOC had taken care of this a couple of months earlier. How mistaken I was. In a last-minute scramble, the LOC ordered all the journalists to gather at the Kofi Annan ICT Centre for their accreditation cards. But they were not the only ones in need of accreditation so they had to queue with police officers, acrobats, team officials, paramedics and grounds men as well as relatives and concubines of ministers and other “top men”. It was chaotic there. I know people who had to be in queue from 10am to 6pm before getting their accreditation cards. I don’t remember the last time I saw such chaos.

But accreditation for journalists was the least of the LOC’s headaches. Tickets for the tournament were still not on sale. Less than 24 before the start of the first game, the only tickets available were those for the first couple of games involving Ghana. I’m not a world traveller (I’ve spent less than one per cent of all my days on this planet, outside of Ghana) and so I’m not very familiar with how these things are organised but my fickle mind tells me that if commonsense prevails tickets should be on sale weeks, if not months, before the start of the tournament. The ticketing problem persisted right till the very last day of the tournament. I wonder how much the LOC actually made in ticket sales. Surely, selling tickets in post offices and banking halls is a novel idea – but a very bad one. When the LOC came to this realisation, it was too late. The LOC claims that it put out the tickets on sale alright but many are those who couldn’t get any to buy. And it wasn’t that the matches were sold out. We all saw the empty seats at the stadiums.

I wonder how the LOC was expecting its own projection of one million football visitors to come to pass when it didn’t even consider selling tickets on the internet. This could explain why, according to the immigration authorities, less than 100,000 people actually visited for the tournament. Why should a football fan in Switzerland travel all the way to Accra for a tournament, whose tickets are so hard to come by?

Those who came (both to watch and play) enjoyed the tournament – whiles laughing at what many of them saw as our national ineptitude. Take the footballers for example. Even they were complaining about everything – from accommodation to food to the quality of the pitches. Ghana’s own coach even had cause to complain about the pitch at the Accra Sport Stadium, characterising it as the worst he’s seen in his life. This is a guy who has been coaching in Africa for more than 20 years. If our pitch is the worst he’s seen, then it must really be awful.

Officials and players from other teams complained about their lodgings and food. Most of the participating teams had to ‘import’ their own foodstuff and cook their own meals in improvised kitchens. Players who are used to 5-star hotels were compelled to sleep on bunk beds in student dormitories. I wonder what Samuel Eto’o thinks of Ghana after staying in the country for three weeks. His thoughts wouldn’t be any different from that of a Michael Essien who is forced by poor planning and organisation to sleep in a dormitory in Angola.

To cap it all, there was that very embarrassing moment when the floodlights went off at the Essipon Stadium in Sekondi. We chose a very fine moment to wash our dirty linen in the full glare of the international public. Many will say that “this has happened before”. Yeah, the floodlights went off in Nigeria in 2000 and so what? We shouldn’t take consolation in the fact that if it happened elsewhere it’s alright if it happens here. Anyone who puts forth this argument will be telling Rex Danquah that he’s wrong when he says that the Angolans have learnt a lot from us. We should rather take consolation in the fact that our LOC’s failings (which could have been easily avoided) will help the Angolan LOC succeed.

That should make Rex Danquah and Kofi Amoah happy as they pat themselves on the back for a job they could have done better and look forward to a better-organised Angola 2010. The biggest lesson for the Angolans and even for us in Ghana is that it doesn’t pay to wait till the very last minute before rushing to get things done. This attitude only leads to failure.