By Kofi Kufuor
One word to describe the Anas documentary. I left earth for a good minute trying to process that thought. It was all sorts of emotions; brilliant, sour, vindicating, a pound of flesh, a slap of cold water to the face, it was all that and more. It was as embarrassing as it was humbling, and as victorious as it was damaging. Through it all I dare say a part of my being was joyous, as I thought to myself, “Chaos is a ladder”. Who said that? Bran Stark right… or was it Little Finger. Forgive the game of thrones references but I hope to expound on that later for those of you who didn’t catch it.
This summer the world cup is without Ghana or the U.S.A. Both countries failed to make the cut after a series of competitive games that saw Egypt qualify in Ghana’s place. Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama made the cut on the CONCACAF side, edging out the U.S.A. During this shared break however, the U.S.A seems to be the more hopeful nation, regarding their future prospects. With an increasingly growing market for the game, and the value of teams increasing sharply on a yearly basis, the MLS is fortifying itself. It seems primed to gain revenge for the years of ridicule it has suffered at the hands of the footballing world. That optimism however, is lacking on our side of the fence.
You see, 4 years ago, Ghana was hype in support for the national team. We had been on the ascendancy after qualification for two previous world cups. Surely the third time would be the charm. We had a golden generation of players like Gyan, Wakaso, Kevin Prince Boateng and Kwadwo Asamoah, all in the prime of their careers. They were buoyed by exciting young prospects like Atsu, the Ayew brothers, and Waris. To cap it off, legendary players like Essien and Muntari, formed a formidable backbone. I tell you, I was convinced a semifinal spot was ours. After all, that we were dealt a 2-1 disappointment against the USA and a pay scandal that resulted in millions being flown to pay the players, after they had threatened a boycott. I couldn’t help but contrast the fate of the two nations, or at least their future prospects.
In comparison to Ghana, US soccer has experienced a patient, yet seemingly rapid ascendancy on the world stage. From losing to Ghana in two consecutive world cups to beating Ghana two times straight (the last in a friendly in which they played for the most part a youthful side), it is evident that Ghanaian soccer has become stagnant. With stagnation, rot follows. It stinks, and the worst thing to do is cover it up. Ghana has covered it up long enough now. Now it’s time to get back to work. In the midst of this chaos, we must refocus and apply ancestral principles of integrity and practicality to our institutions. We cannot allow more of the same greed to flourish. A critical look at how we ended up in this quagmire is an effective start.
Footballs History of Corruption and FIFA’s Complicity.
The FIFA scandal that shocked the world in 2015/2016, was simply yesterday’s news to millions of soccer fans spanning the globe. The historical pain of African soccer fans on this topic in particular, is as obvious as the big blown bellies of our leaders who cause these very problems. Issa Hayatou for decades treated CAF like his personal kingdom, even competing with Zimbabwe’s infamous Robert Mugabe at one time, for the title of longest tenured “elected leader”. 34 years back in February 2017, to Mugabe’s 37.
The corruption scandal unearthed in 2015, blew the legal lid off of the questionable practices of the world governing body. In particular, one of the signature policies of the Blatter era was called into question. This was the aggressive enforcement of the non-intervention policy under section 19 of the statutes, governing Independence of member associations and their bodies. Under that policy, the national associations that make up FIFA must operate without any 3rd party interference, including governmental regulation or their decisions. An article by J. Gordon Hylton, analyses how FIFA has used this principle to shield corruption in the past.
Rule 19, hasn’t been challenged for various reasons in the past. The most important one being suspension, however, the aftermath of the suspension, harbors the real fear and effectiveness of the legislation. Primarily, suspension means that the federation could not participate in any international soccer matches including the FIFA world cup or qualifiers for that matter. Few governments would want to risk the ire of disgruntled fans. Secondly, this means that FA’s cannot share in the lucrative revenue that is distributed. FIFA has enjoyed the exponential increase in revenues arising out of lucrative broadcasting contracts, and licensing deals. The organization has seen its annual revenue skyrocket from $575 million in 2003, to its peak of $2.1 billion in 2014. Given these drastic consequences, it’s of little surprise that most FA’s and governments adopt the “if you can’t beat, em, join em” mantra. This allows for governing officials in these FA’s to maintain an unyielding and unaccountable control over the governance of football. Most importantly, backed by the most powerful man on earth, outside of the United States President (and that’s up for debate). This means we have a system of autocratic leadership exists similar to the cold war installed governments of the post-colonial era that stunted African growth.
However, carefully thought out these wrongful actions were, people always drop the ball in execution. It happened to Sepp Blatter and his FIFA cronies in 2015, and that’s exactly what happened to Kwesi Nyantakyi in 2018.
Kwesi Nyantakyi’s exposure was a bitter sweet moment for me. I largely credited Ghana’s World Cup appearance in 2006 to what I believed at the time was his diligent work. I was a kid at the time, getting ready to graduate high school in Accra. It was religion amongst the eleven people in my household to sit behind our television set and watch Black Star games. I remember we all went crazy that evening when Mohammed Gago ripped a shot from inside the half way circle. Sulley Muntari’s left foot is also enshrined in our living room. As for Olele, he’s transformed himself into a figure of speech (perhaps he should trademark that name). I say all this to say that Ghana’s golden years seemed rooted in Nyantakyi’s pot of governance. He could do no wrong until we saw him doing wrong.
The documentary was a sad revelation of just how wrong his actions were. For goodness sakes, it effectively labeled him as the figure head of everything that is wrong in Ghanaian football. Anas exposed a pyramid of self-serving individuals, from the foot-soldier refs, who collected small monies as bribes, to break the hearts of diligent hard working players, to the “Bossu”, who creates shell companies, and consumes expenses amounting in excess of $40,000, for two day trips to Dubai. It’s a cesspool. As filthy as the Korle Lagoon, and as disheartening as Asamoah Gyan’s missed penalty (we still love you Asamoah).
The Ghanaian Prospect
Currently the national team has no world cup or international competition to look forward to. The league is currently in its 16th week. And more importantly, the GFA is under intense scrutiny (or at least should be) this offers a unique opportunity for the powers that be to take affirmative steps in the interest of nation building, to restructure the manner in which football is run on the continent, and to ensure that the next 10 years are dedicated to building a strong foundation for football to thrive economically in the country.
The High Court in Ghana, recently granted a 10 day injunction on the activities of the Ghana Football Association, and in line with that, the government installed an interim committee, made up of Dr. Kofi Amoah (Chairperson), Cudjoe Fianoo (Chairman of the Ghana League Clubs Association), Abedi Pele (former player), Rev. Osei Kofi (former player) and Eva Okyere (former sports journalist). The purpose of the committee as stated, was to “oversee the administration of football land other related matters in the country while more permanent measures are worked to sanitize the local game.”
It is indisputable that there is a glaringly embarrassing conflict of interest that exists In Ghana football. This undermines the efficacy of the league, when the head of the football association is also a majority shareholder for the league’s title champions in 2016-2017, Wa All stars. It’s even more inconceivable that after 61 years in existence, the league is still struggling to adequately reward a man of the match performance, (get link for slippers) when the award is not even the subject of a sponsorship agreement. Regardless, there is hope.
The future of Ghanaian football is bright. On the backs of major historical talents and contemporary legends like Essien, Appiah, Gyan KPB and Muntari, the nation has enjoyed relative success over the last decade. There is always doubt as to the legitimacy of some of our qualifications, the nation has been largely successful in international tournaments. The time has come however to reevaluate our priorities. World cups are meaningful and international representation is crucial to national pride. However, more important is the need to make sure that the trend of Africa’s brain/ talent drain, is reversed. We need to create environments whereby African artists, sports men and women, feel and recognize that their talents and ambitions are capably served on the continent. European leagues need to recognize that we value our assets more than they do, and therefore need to bring significant value to the table, if interested. Only a few countries offer a blueprint for making this transition. The USA and China.
The USA’s sporting structure is unique, and builds off of Collective Bargaining agreements (CBA’s). As imperfect as this structure is, it provides the players and teams a platform of relative equality to bargain for mutual and separate interests. This ensures that both parties are interested in adding value to the organization, and work hand in hand to ensure this. This breeds enthusiasm among all stake holders, which means that both parties work for each other to achieve mutual growth. The structure also sets aside provisions through agreement, which help ensure that benefits are reinvested into future growth and development.
It took the U.S.A 50 years of slave like contracts and countless lawsuits shot down by archaic legal systems and deeply entrenched judges before the seminal decision in Flood v. Kuhn led to a decision on collective bargaining in the years that followed. Progress since then has been slow or fast depending on who you ask, however what is important is that progress is being made, and those most affected by the legal and economic structure, today have a hand in the decision making process. Athletes have advocates with a fiduciary duty, to diligently advocate for them.
Today, athletes enjoy a range of means, whereby they can maximize profits. The internet and the advent of social media, presents unique opportunities for leagues to reach out to fan bases and ensure maximum participation from all corners of the world. There is a huge Ghanaian community in Europe, the U.S.A and other parts of the world, who thirst for opportunities to watch Ghanaian football. Licensing agreements with streaming platforms coupled with legal review of copyright and trademark laws will allow for the league to increase profits. In turn players will witness an increase in their value, as they become local brands with growing appeal, opening the door for lucrative sponsorship deals. In the end, our football wins.
THE ROLE OF THE players’ ASSOCIATIONS.
Anthony Baffoe started the Professional Footballers Association of Ghana (PFAG) some years back and finds himself in a unique position to rally players and coaches to make something meaningful happen and build a bridge between ownership and players that will ensure greater accountability in the sport. Players associations play an indispensable role in ensuring that athletes are adequately protected from not only salary concerns but also marketed appropriately. This has played an unassailable role in the increase in value of foreign athletes. In the U.S for example licensing agreements between clubs and players are part of revenue sharing agreements contained in CBA’s.
MLS has enjoyed significant growth within the space of 12 years, since Ghana’s first victory in 2004. This was done based on a recognition of partnership with players, as against the typical one two tag team of cronyism and corruption that dictates the course of football in Ghana.
In all the Anas video, as damaging as it may initially seem, presents a unique opportunity for unprecedented growth through reformation. It is probably the best thing that could have happened to football in Ghana and the continent as a whole. It calls upon the conscience of the nation as a collective, its leaders and the general public. It is a rallying cry to really search deep within ourselves and scrutinize our identity as a footballing nation. It means a unique chance for Ghana to take the lead in Africa as a reformative force, leading a sporting revolution that permeates the continent, and sets up a blue print that other African nations may follow. This does not necessarily mean blindly following foreign systems, but a genuine consideration of the best blueprints that exist from the U.S.A to Brazil, and harmonizing them with our own traditions and structures. Just like the political leadership that Paul Kagame has executed in Uganda, Nana Addo and or whoever may lead this revolution/ reformation, is tasked with simple bedrock principles of earnestness, duty, competence and accountability to lead a new era in Ghanaian and African excellence in football.
We are a broken nation when it comes to football. The time has come for Ghanaians to stare this reality in the face and demand more of ourselves at every stage of the game. Meaningful Revolution always starts from the grassroots, and I believe the outrage caused by 12, has effectively sown the seeds for this. The result of the video has inconceivable repercussions. Of course there are the immediately recognizable results; dissolution as already executed by the president; the likelihood of a FIFA ban based on governmental interference under section 19 of the FIFA statutes. Somehow, the exception to this rule is China, which has successfully managed to carve out this space for itself. This situation however, presents a vacuum of power. Yes chaos is a ladder. It’s a ladder for both the unscrupulous and dutiful. We can’t afford for it to be on the terms of the former.
By Kofi Kufuor