By Levite Kumi Acheaw
The game of football is incomparably the passion of this country and one of the few things that unite us as a nation.
Although , it has been four decades since the senior national team, the Black Stars, won silver. But as a country, we all remember the excitement we had when we cast our minds back to 1991 and 1995, when the Black Starlets became champions of the world by winning the under -17 World Cup. Recently in 2009 Ghana became the only African country to win the under-20 World Cup in Egypt when the Black Satellites defeated the Brazil under-20 team on penalties at the Borg EL Arab stadium in Alexandria. The senior national team, the Black Stars also made the nation proud by reaching the quarter finals of the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa.
In recent times, our local league, the Ghana Premier League which has been the backbone of our national teams have seen a decline in patronage by some youth in this country. Most youth in this country do not recognize and support the local leagues be it the Premier League, Women’s League,FA Cup and the lower division leagues for obvious reasons. According to Soccanews.Africa, the Ghana Premier League is not among the top 20 leagues in Africa by their recent rankings. This is not encouraging for a footballing country like Ghana. Our local leagues have become the alternate choice of some football loving youth in Ghana as they watch the league the European league is on recess or during off season. Various stadia for our local leagues on every match day are always little below half full, we only come close to being full on some few selected big games in the league. Games like the super clash between Asante Kotoko and Accra Hearts of Oak, the Mantse derby between Hearts Of Oak and Great Olympics, the Ashanti derby between Asante Kotoko and Obuasi Ashgold and the Bono derby between Aduana Stars and Berekum Chelsea are some key matches which bring quite a large crowd to the match venues.
Most of the spectators at match venues are mostly the older generation who have followed the league for some time as well as kids and some few middle age people. Most youth football fanatics prefer the European leagues, a bit of Major League Soccer in the USA and some selected South American leagues. The interest of the youth in foreign leagues have grown increasingly high with the introduction of online sports betting and betting centers in our communities. Now every moment of the game has been gamified; football loving fans do not just watch the game but also place bet and make money. Former president of the Ghana Football Association Kwesi Nyantakyi, some years back, attributed the lack of interest in the Ghana Premier League to the inundation of the foreign league matches shown across the country. As true as this may be, however some youth also share different opinions on why they do not follow the local leagues.
Samuel Boateng, a drinking spot operator in Lapaz who also commercially telecast football matches believe the decline in youth support for our local leagues is the low quality of the game we watch on television. “When you compare the video quality we get from the European leagues, it is way above what we have in this country “. Mr. Boateng added that it is difficult to our local leagues if you do not go to the stadium: “If you do not go to the Match venue, there are very limited chance for you to watch live from your home because it is not telecast on local channels .” The Ghana Premier League have only Startimes as their sole broadcaster, anybody who wants to watch any of our local leagues will have to get a Startimes decoder and subscribe. Now with the influx of betting centers, fans get easy access to European leagues free of charge and less stressful as compared to our local leagues.
A section of the youth imputes their derailing interest in the local leagues to the underperformance of our clubs particularly in CAF competitions. Frank Osei Antwi, who run a sport betting center in Dome believe that our local teams are not to merit their time and money. He stated ” The teams in the league are not performing, they are not good and you will be wasting if you watch them”. “Our teams’ current participation in CAF competitions has been very abysmal”, he added. The last time a Ghanaian club qualified for the group stage in CAF competition was Asante Kotoko in 2019. For the CAF Champions League, no Ghanaian club has made it to the group stage since 2012. For our two most glamorous clubs, Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak, qualifying to the group stage of the Champions League has become strenuous for them. Both clubs have failed to qualify to the group stage of the Champions League since 2006.
Other wing of the youth ascribes their disinterest in the local leagues to the hooliganism in our football. Violence in our local is also another factor driving away fans from our various match venues. The worst stadium disaster in Africa happened in Ghana on May 9, 2001. This disaster is the worst of it kind in Africa and many close observers of the league say it has played a significant role in turning match venues into empty coliseum with attendance on a stinging decline. Karl Annor, a football enthusiast who lost a relative through stadium disaster explained how hooliganism has shaped our interest in the league. ” I do not think I will ever visit a stadium in this country to watch a league game even if it is free”, he said. “Now our match venues have become a place for assault”, he further stated.
Our various stadia over the years have witnessed gruesome assaults and deadly crashes. Supporters attack themselves, match officials as well as players. In several instances no arrests are made and even if they are made, suspects are released without charges. Now the new admission of the GFA and the stakeholders of the GPL will have to strategies plans to revive our leagues to make it attractive and competitive. This will compel the youth to forfeit what they are interested in now. Henneh Vincent, a sports journalist in Accra and owner of VinSports.com shared his opinion on how to revamp our local leagues. “Whipping up the interest of the youth in our football is very possible, we just have to telecast our matches in HD and 4K video dimensions, build international standard stadium for the clubs”. “We also need to improve our players beginning with juvenile football “.
Movingforward,thefootballassociationin order to improve the standard of our game, we must improve the payments and allowances of our players.One other thing the GFA must ensure is enforcing the rules and regulation by the federation. These rules and regulation should be applied to all clubs equally without fear or favour. This will forestall all the court cases which bring the league to a halt.