Retrogression by Ghanaian football teams in recent years has become a matter of concern for many sports-loving fans who have lamented at the downturn and also made suggestions about how to turn around the dwindling fortunes of football in Ghana at local and international levels.
The Daily Graphic’s George Ernest Asare (GEA) caught up with a former Board Secretary of Accra Hearts of Oak and onetime management board member of the Ghana Football Association (GFA), Ernest Thompson (ET), who shared his views on a wide range of issues, from lack of technical expertise, quality of sports infrastructure and the need to set up a Sports Fund to address the challenges facing sports in Ghana in general.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
George Ernest Asare (GEA): You were in the thick of affairs in Ghana football but it seems you have been missing in action for a while
Ernest Thompson (ET): I have done a lot for Ghana football and I need to give others the opportunity to contribute their quota as we grow Ghana football.
I served Hearts of Oak for years as a Director and Secretary to the Board, and I also served as a management board member of the FA during the leadership of the late Alhaji M.N.D. Jawula and Joseph Ade Coker. I have also served under Kwesi Nyantakyi as a management committee member of the national women’s team, so I have contributed my quota towards the development of women’s football.
I was also head of the FA’s legal team during Nyantakyi’s regime and also a member of the Black Stars Management Committee for many years. Alhaji Jawula, Dr Nyaho Nyaho-Tamakloe and Randy Abbey were among the officials I served with in the Black Stars management. So, I thought I needed to give others an opportunity to contribute to the development of Ghana football. That explains why I?have not been active in football administration lately.
GEA: What is your focus or role in Ghana football now?
ET: Now my role is more of an advisory one. Occasionally, I contribute to a few posts on sports platforms, as well as on Hearts of Oak’s social media platforms. However, I have not visited the stadium for some time now, but I follow the game on television.
GEA: During the time you were active as a football administrator, our stadiums were filled to capacity during local league matches, but there is growing concern about the absence of fans at the stadiums during matches.
What do you think might have contributed to this?
ET: The absence of fans at the stadiums during leagues and other local competitions should be viewed from the marketing perspective. What we should appreciate is that, we are selling products to attract the fans, hence there is the need to package them nicely to make them very attractive to meet the needs of football fans. Once the products fail to meet the needs of the fans, no amount of propaganda will entice them to watch the matches. This is a concrete-hard decision which should be broken into short and long-term decisions.
It is, therefore, important to consider what should be done in the short and long term to transform Ghana football into highly attractive products.
What should be considered is that the national league is competing with other international leagues which are available on DStv and other TV channels which provide a variety of attractive football matches. So, as we are competing with others for space and time, we should also consider the financial challenges facing the ordinary Ghanaian who has to spend extra income to be at the stadium to watch matches.
It is, therefore, important for the organisers of the local football to study the football environment to find out the weaknesses of the international leagues and to capitalise on them.
GEA: How should the authorities repackage the products to make them attractive to fans again?
ET: To make the local league more attractive in the short term, the organisers should also add other attractive products to the league to entice fans to the stadium to watch matches. What we are missing is that, years back, we used to go to the stadium early to watch the second team of competing clubs or colts teams as curtain raisers to the main match. These served as big attractions but they are missing in this present era. I know there is a big challenge with funding, but with a little effort, the end result will be magnificent to improve Ghana football.
We also need a shift in strategy by adding a form of entertainment at the stadium to attract fans. I believe fans will always rush to the stadium if they see their favourite musicians such as Amakye Dede, Kwadwo Antwi, Shatta Wale, Stone Boy and Kofi Kinaata, among others, performing at the stadiums.
In the long term, we need to have a more holistic approach to the running of football in Ghana. At the moment, football is being run by individuals who don’t have the capacity to recruit quality players to attract fans.
GEA: You mentioned challenges with funding as one of the difficulties facing football development. How do we handle that?
ET: It’s important that we invest highly in the game. However, my disappointment is that, we are yet to see much of a paradigm shift regarding investment by way of direction from the many of the sports minister we’ve had over the years.
What I expect the Ministry of Youth and Sports to be seen doing is to push hard for the establishment of a Sports Fund to support accelerated development of sports.
Just like the GETFund supports the development of education, the Sports Fund when established, should be used to augment the investment of individuals as exists in other parts of Africa and Europe.
With such financial support from the government, there will be better funding for out clubs and they will be in a better position to attract and retain top players locally and also venture into the international market to recruit quality players who can transform the teams and make the local league more competitive and attractive. This is one way to attract fans back to the stadium, which, in turn, will make the clubs and league more attractive to sponsors.
Of importance, too, is the proper utilisation of revenues gained from international tournaments into the development of sports, rather than the practice of sharing such monies among individuals to the detriment of local football and development of sports infrastructure.
Such monies, like the appearance fees Ghana gets from participating in the FIFA World Cup, should be put into a special fund and not be dissipated by individuals who occupy influential positions in the football administration.
Here, the Sports Writers Association of Ghana (SWAG) can also be of help by using their influence and the SWAG awards platform to lobby Parliament to support the establishment of the Sports Fund as an important vehicle for sports development.
If we have a well-resourced Sports Fund, it will have a big impact in Ghana sports over the next five years, just as the GETFund is doing for the educational sector. With it, we will have funding for the construction of modern sports infrastructure in the country to bridge the infrastructure gap.
We may have raw talents in abundance but without money to develop such talents, there is no way the end products will be well developed and appropriately packaged to make it very attractive.
We, therefore, need a paradigm shift in the running of football because we cannot continue to depend on the old British model of using the national budget to run sports in Ghana.
GEA: In recent times, Ghana’s performance at the international level has been abysmal. Our performances at the last AFCON, 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and the CHAN tournament for local players were nothing to be enthused about. What has accounted for these poor performances of late?
ET: We need to take a look of the non-performance of the Black Stars from the technical teams who have handled them so far. For years, the core of the senior national team was composed of players in foreign leagues.
Going back to the period of Avram Grant, Milovan Rajevac, Mariano Barreto Claude Le Roy and Goran Stevanovic, among others, 90 per cent of Black Stars team played in foreign leagues and, therefore, did not have sufficient time for their preparation for competitions. With little time for the preparation for tournaments, it was very essential to have in place highly qualified technical team for effective preparation within the short-time frame at their disposal. Apart from Rajevac who took the team far, the performance of the other coaches has been abysmal. The question is, did we hire coaches who were competent enough to handle the Black Stars for them to achieve positive results? If we decide to appoint local coaches because they have political connections, or foreign coaches who can easily be manipulated, it becomes a huge challenge to our performance at international tournaments.
Have we also questioned why we have different levels of discipline [among players] when we have highly competent coaches or ordinary coaches handling the Black Stars?
For instance, did any player misbehave under Rajevac at the 2010 World Cup, compared with the situation when other coaches handled the team afterwards?
By appointing local coaches who can easily be dictated to, or influenced to select specific players for personal interests, it undermines the development of football at the national level.
GEA: It seems you have issues with the recruitment of coaches for the national teams.
ET: When appointing coaches for the national team, especially for the Black Stars, it is important to be very careful to ensure that only coaches who have the clout are appointed to handle the team, because many of our players work under highly competent coaches abroad.
Therefore, appointing coaches for the Black Stars should not be a sentimental and emotional job; get quality coaches and allow them do the job.
The national team plays international tournaments in Africa Cup or at the World Cup which is a big stage, and these are not platforms for ordinary coaches.
Revival of the Black Stars should therefore be looked at from the technical aspect with only highly competent coaches put in charge.
Also, members of the management committee must be highly knowledgeable in the game to enable them to engage the coaches before the final team is selected for any particular match.
GEA: Are you suggesting that the quality of the technical team is the main contributory factor for the abysmal performance of the Black Stars in recent times?
ET: No. The lack of quality sports infrastructure has also contributed to the poor performance of our Black Stars. It is important for us as a country to have a blueprint on how to improve infrastructure. However, as I indicated earlier, it has much to do with the setting up of a Sports Fund to guarantee dedicated funding for sports. If we decide to fund sports solely from the national budget, which even gets insufficient allocation, we will end up stifling sports development due to lack of resources.
GEA: What is your take on the payment of appearance fee or honorariums to some members of the Black Stars Management Committee after the World Cup in Qatar?
ET: I don’t know where the concept of appearance fee for Black Stars management team came from. I once served in Black Stars Management Committee and nothing like appearance fee ever cropped up. What was offered was per diem allowance.
On this issue, I cannot speak on conjecture. I want a body such as SWAG or Parliament to demand full disclosure and the World Cup account from the Minister of Youth and Sports. They should demand a detailed account so that we know whether or not such appearance fees were paid to the committee members, and why they were paid such a huge amount of money as has been alleged.
I am sure a detailed account should be ready by now, so if SWAG makes a demand, it will be made available for the nation.
As a former management committee member, we never made any attempt for such money to be paid to us. I hope it never happened. But maybe things have changed because there is a new team and a new law at the FA. However, I will not encourage it because that work is gratuitous and they are doing it on behalf of Ghana. They might have spent some monies during the tournament, but something like per diem should be paid to offset what they spent, but to be given as much as $100,000, as is being claimed, is too much.
The appearance fee is for the players who participated in the tournament, but not meant for those who led the team there, so I am not in support of it.
GEA: What do you consider as the biggest challenge facing Ghana football now, and how do we address it?
ET: The biggest challenge affecting sports development is funding, hence the need to have a paradigm shift in developing sports to speed its development. The sports journalists should, therefore, join hands with other stakeholders, and with the help of the sector ministry, lobby Parliament to set up the Sports Fund to develop various sports disciplines, including football.
The Sports Fund is key to sports development in Ghana. We cannot continue to do things this way and expect positive results. With a Sports Fund in place, we can reactivate the dwindling fortunes of sports, including boxing, athletes, hockey, basketball and volley, among others.
When it is set up, the fund will grow over time, and its benefit will be palpably felt to catapult Ghana sports to the level we so desire, especially at the international level.
GEA: Thanks so much for your time.
ET: My doors are always opened to your organisation.