The Role of Politics in Ghanaian Football

POLITICS; THE “FRIENDLY INTRUDER” THAT NEARLY RUINED THE “SOUL” OF GHANAIANS

Football in Ghana is beyond a sport. It’s the soul of many Ghanaians. Ghanaians breathe football and have developed an unimaginable affection for the game as it has brought them numerous precious memories to savour.

Four-time winners of the Africa Cup of, three consecutive FIFA World Cup appearances including a record-equalling quarter-final finish, the first African nation to win the FIFA U-20 World Cup, and being the first African nation to win an Olympic football medal are amongst the many milestones that provided may affable memories for Ghanaians.

In recent times, there has been very little to cheer about. The game has now become plagued with a supposed “friendly intruder”: politics. Politics in recent times has crept into football and nearly ruined the “soul” of Ghanaians. Before we get into the intricacies, find out how the beautiful game got entangled in politics.

Ghana’s first President in the Post-Colonial era, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and Chairperson of the then Ghana Amateur Football Association Ohene Djan set up the Black Stars as part of a grand agenda to propagate the president’s message of Pan-Africanism. For Nkrumah, football was not just a mere sport, but a tool to achieve his political goal of forming a United Africa.

Nkrumah’s influence on the Black Stars made an immediate impact as the Black Stars won back-to-back African Cup of Nations trophies in 1963 and 1965. This was due to the huge involvement of the government. Players were treated like ambassadors right from training camp to the aftermath of tournaments. This practice which led to the success of the nation concurrently created an affinity amongst the citizenry and the game of football.

Times have changed with different governments and regimes being ushered in, but the culture of supporting and stealthily controlling football affairs mostly involving national teams has not. This support from Government has grown in leaps and bounds and moved from welcoming interventions to “friendly intruders”. FIFA’s statutes (Article 15) frown on political interference in the activities of member associations.

Paramount amongst these unwelcome intrusions was in 2010 when the country’s Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) raided the Ghana Football Association (GFA) headquarters to seize computers and documents belonging to the Association. This was a clear breach of FIFA’s statutes.

In 2018, an exposé from investigative journalist Anas uncovered many highlights of malfeasance by some personnel who headed the GFA. This led to the Attorney General of the State filing for the dissolution of the body.

The actions of the State’s Attorney General department counted as political interference per the statutes of FIFA and risked Ghana getting banned from all football-related activities. This led to football’s world governing body notifying the state through the GFA, that they allow the Ghana FA to run its affairs. Both sides eventually came to a consensus with FIFA, setting up a Normalization Committee to restructure Ghana Football.

Ghana’s Normalisation Committee

Another grounds on which the government uses its leverage is to intervene with the payment of the national team coaches. As the old adage goes, “he who pays the piper calls the tune”, it has led to the government playing a key role in determining who gets appointed as the National team boss.

Classical examples include the appointment of Coaches for National teams. In 2017, the GFA was forced to appoint James Kwesi Appiah as the Head Coach of the Black Stars for his second spell.

This was due to current President Nana Akuffo-Addo’s desire to give local coaches the opportunity to handle the senior national team. Appiah’s appointment was met with gloomy expressions from the citizenry at large. However, with the executive arm of government bearing the responsibility of paying the remunerations of the Black Stars Coach, the GFA had no choice but to oblige.

Still on the case of Coach Kwesi Appiah and his stints with the Black Stars, Appiah recently revealed in his new book “Leaders don’t have to yell”, the extent to which political involvements dominated his Black Stars tenure.

Appiah disclosed he first got into the Black Stars technical team in 2008 due to the influence of then President John Agyekum Kuffour. He admitted submitting his CV for the vacant position of assistant manager. However, he never got a response from the Football Association not until he contacted then President Kuffuor who he built relations with in his time at Kotoko.

‘‘I contacted the Office of the Ghana President to request an introduction to the GFA leaders. It was my hope that the President’s influence could get someone to take a look at my CV and let me know what was going on with my application.

Thankfully, that influence from the President (JA Kuffuor) led to a phone interview, and then I was invited to come for in-person interview in Accra. I flew from London to Accra for the interview. I was offered the assistant coaching job with a salary of $3,000.

It is possible that nothing would have happened to my application without the President (John Kuffuor’s) influence.”

Appiah also revealed that his first tenure as manager of the Black Stars was brought to an abrupt end in 2014 following the order of then President John Mahama. The Black Stars 2014 World Cup campaign was marred by the ‘bonuses fiasco’ which saw the country fly dollar bills to Brazil to avert a potential strike by the playing body ahead of their final game. Appiah claims he was sacrificed by the Presidency in order to shift the blame away from themselves following the disastrous campaign.

“To anyone who was objectively looking at the facts of the circumstances surrounding Brazil 2014, it was obvious that my sacking was an attempt by the powers that be to shift blame away from themselves.

Kwasi Nyantakyi called me to his office that day and informed me that he had been asked by the President of the nation (John Mahama) to relieve me of my duties. When decisions about the national team staffing became that heavily politicised, it was very clear to me that the political machine was flexing its muscles to make me a scapegoat.

The Minister of Youth and Sports, who should bear the ultimate responsibility for the money issue that was at the heart of the Brazil problem, was reassigned to another job in the President’s office but I was rather fired”, said Kwasi Appiah in his book.

Another recent case is the appointment of the new Black Stars Coach, Charles Kwabla Akonnor. The Presidency made it clear to the new administration they would not entertain the appointment of an expatriate coach; thus, forcing the new administration to appoint the former Ghana captain.

There is new leadership for the Ghana Football Association with Kurt Okraku being the face of a seeming football revolution. The new administration aims to build bridges in regard to the unfriendly relations between politics and football. There is however a thin line between interfering and intervening. Until the lines are clearly drawn without any expressions of bitterness, then Ghanaians can be sure that their ‘beloved’, will not be under threat.

When that happens, Ghanaians will not be robbed of their soul, and football can be enjoyed on the whole.