General and spectatorial enthusiasm for soccer in Ghana appears to be on a steep decline. Why interest in local soccer appears to be on the wane is not difficult to fathom. Poor management, declining local patronage and viewership, corruption, sporting uncompetitiveness of local soccer, insufficient monetary incentives, economic hardship, lack of commercial sponsorship of outstanding players and of cutting-edge training facilities, possible competition from the creative arts (music, e.g.) that manages to attract a section of the youth from sporting activities, and players’ burning desire to play for foreign teams are some of the problems bedeviling patronage and commercial competitiveness of local soccer.
More generally, the internal revenue-generating capacity of local viewership and listenership is relatively undermined by spectatorial apathy and, further, by Ghana’s underperforming economy and the highly competitive nature and superb quality of European soccer which is shown on Ghanaian television. Both Abedi Pele and Tony Yeboah have expressed their deep frustration with the steadily falling quality in Ghanaian soccer. The former fears for the future of Ghanaian soccer while the latter says the future of Ghanaian soccer is bleak. This is understandable given the plight of soccer in the country.
It is not too difficult to see that there is, from the standpoint of the Ghana Football Association (GFA), policy overemphasis on the Black Stars to the general detriment of colt or youth soccer development. Intercollegiate soccer is also being neglected.
This misplaced policy strategy has potentially disabled any serious development of transitional planks between youth soccer and senior soccer. It therefore becomes virtually difficult to replace retired, seriously or permanently injured talents or find a resourceful youth pool from which to tap energetic talents when senior teams phase out. From the experienced standpoint of Yeboah and Abedi Pele, flight of top Ghanaian players to foreign lands is partly to blame for the possible near-collapse of soccer. Others have also made the case that the top flight of Ghanaian footballers to uncompetitive spots such as the Middle East and Asia (China, e.g.) is also to blame for Ghana’s declining performance on the local scene.
It is however our submission that though these criticisms may have some truths to them, they may not necessarily capture or reflect the inclusive seriousness of the current state of soccer in the country.
These geopolitical destinations, particularly the Middle East and China, for some of our top-flight footballers have what Ghana lacks by way of cutting-edge facilities (technology), money, superior management outfits and publicists, and better expert hands in the area of sports and exercise medicine (orthopedic medicine/physiatry). Curiosity may pique the interests of some of these top-flight footballers to go elsewhere to ply their trade. So, it is a complex mix of motivations that one needs to consider in the critique of Ghanaian sports, if we may add for emphasis. Therefore, those who make patriotism the basis of their moral critique of top-flight players also forget that a desire for better remuneration packages and monetary enticement is as equally important as what drives others to go into politics in Ghana.
Patriotism does not necessarily connote an uncritical negation of better conditions in the high expectations of our top-flight players. These players have families, immediate and extended, and friends to feed and their futures to take of. They also contribute to Ghana’s development in many ways. The question is: Why do our players leave Ghana for greener pastures in foreign lands in the first? What are we doing to minimize player flight? Are we willing to offer potential flight-players competitive incentives and increased morale? Why Ghanaian soccer may be slowly dying lies squarely in the bosom of these innocuous questions. These are pertinent questions our leaders may not want to ask let alone address. Tactical avoidance therefore becomes a convenient contrivance in the kleptocratic hands of these leaders.
One wonders what the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ghana Football Association (GFA) are doing to reverse the creeping apprehension of the likes of Abede Pele and Yeboah. The problem is not limited to soccer, however. Boxing is another. Watching the two pugilistic comics Ayitey Powers and Bukom Banku engage each other in the ring shows how low Ghanaian boxing has sunk. Still, Ghana is not noted for swimming, track and field, tennis, basketball, endurance sports, cycling, golf, women soccer, and gymnastics, not forgetting that these sporting rubrics fall under developmental psychologist Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligences,” specifically bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. We wish these activities could be introduced and taught across Ghanaian schools. We need great sportsmen and -women such as Abedi Pele, Azumah Nelson, Tony Yeboah, and so on to share their experiences with the Ghanaian youth in schools.
We also need to feature them in our locally produced movies and music videos and theatric productions, to enhance their profiles in the public psychology of youth culture. The film “Escape to Victory” featuring Pele and Sylvester Stallone instantiates our line of argument. Mike Tyson, Carlos Lewis, Mohammad Ali, Michael Jordan, to mention but four, are integral to the framework of American pop culture. Further, Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in “The Hurricane,” a biographical film, crystallizes the former in American pop culture. Some of these great men are part of the lyrical content of many a rap track and hip-hop tune. In our local context, our sports heroes and heroines could even be made part or the focus of lyrical content in Ghanaian music. Asamoah Gyan’s popular musicality, musical collaborations, and cameo appearances in music videos are one way to go
Last but certainly not least, biopics and documentary films on these sports heroes and heroines may also enhance their visibility in public psychology, particularly that of the youth. We need them institutionalized in Ghanaian popular culture and in our modern sports history. Ghanaian sports newspapers should do more promoting these men and women and sports in general. Corporate Ghana may contribute to these cultural exercises as well. Reading Ashley Morrison’s book “The Professor: The Life of Azumah Nelson” may be a starting point for the Ghanaian youth.
Finally, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts can cover these sportsmen and –women in an abridged biographic anthology for general use in schools. We need not honor them in their deaths.
We shall return…