On June 7, 2005, an article lamenting the abject failure of some official Ghanaian sporting organizations to attend the funeral of a former national soccer goalie appeared in the prestigious Accra Daily Mail. The deceased goalie, Mr. Salifu Ansah, had played with such notable football (or soccer) clubs as Sekondi Eleven Wise, Kumasi Asante Kotoko, Obuasi Goldfields, Sekondi Hasaacas and Accra Hearts of Oak, where he had ended his active professional career, in the process being selected as “the first-choice goalkeeper of the Black Stars,” the Ghanaian national soccer team.
In the aforementioned article, the executive board of the Accra Hearts of Oak football club expressed regret that the Ministry of Education and Sports, the Ghanaian Football Association (GFA) and the National Sports Council (NSC) had officially dispatched no delegations to Mr. Salifu Ansah’s funeral. The Hearts of Oak executive, however, added on a conciliatory note that it was not too late for the defaulting organizations to make amends, although the process and manner in which such amends were to be effected were not specified.
Needless to say, those of us avid students of Ghanaian soccer, particularly regarding the latter’s cultural centrality in our national life, cannot but wholeheartedly concur with the call of the Hearts of Oak executive board for amends. We also note the fact that the protracted administrative wrangling and litigation between the GFA and its former head, Dr. Nyaho-Tamakloe, which was only recently resolved, must have considerably impacted the ability of the Ghanaian Football Association to promptly respond to such matters of protocol and sheer courtesy as the Salifu Ansah funeral. Indeed, the generally shabby treatment meted our national sporting heroes (and sheroes) in the past has had a profound impact on athlete loyalty, as well as the salutary development of sports, in general, in the country. We recall, for instance, the virtual neglect of immortalized soccer legend Mr. Baba Yara by the National Sports Council following the former’s accidental injury and professional incapacitation during the late 1960s. It, therefore, came as quite refreshing news when recently the greatest pioneering Ghanaian soccer star had the country’s second most significant soccer arena, the Kumasi Sports Stadium, graciously and posthumously renamed in his honor.
It also comes as no surprise that Ghana, a former nuclear power of African soccer, having won the coveted African Nations’ Cup at least four times, today has had to pathetically struggle against virtual no-name national teams as Rwanda, Upper Volta, Togo and Liberia to qualify to play soccer on the august world stage. Then also, the alleged prevalence of rank corruption in the recruitment of players, particularly at the junior national team level, has not augured well for the development of the sport in the country. Interestingly and ironically, it is the national junior team that has proudly put Ghana on the world map in recent years. And regarding the prevalence of rank corruption, this writer recently encountered a former “Starlet” who bitterly lamented the fact that he had been denied several opportunities to participate on the international soccer scene, simply because he lacked the monetary resources or wherewithal to offer kick-backs to the largely cynical personnel in charge of the player selection and participation process. In other words, a pathological culture of anomie was created which virtually killed the patriotic zeal and spirit of these young players. And, indeed, the preceding state of affairs may largely explain why the overwhelming majority of our best players seem to prefer playing abroad, especially in Western European and American leagues, where they are well-respected and better remunerated.
We, however, vehemently disagree with Mr. Ashford Tettey Oku, the administrative manager of Accra Hearts of Oak, that merely “announcing to the nation the [untimely] death and funeral arrangements for Mr. Salifu Ansah,” amounted to an official invitation to the executive personnel of the Ministry of Education and Sports, the Ghanaian Football Association and the National Sports Council to partake of the ceremony. Needless to say, Ghana’s is a bona fide traditional culture, rather than a fundamentally labile popular culture, where protocol is derigueur or a matter of course. In sum, this means that the management of Ghana’s putatively premier soccer club ought to have dispatched official memoranda, with the consent of the deceased man’s family, to the various national sporting institutions and clubs. Consequently, for the abjectly defaulting management of the “Phobia Boys” to have blandly presumed that the Ministry of Education and Sports, the Ghanaian Football Association and the National Sports Council were going to casually present themselves in – or dispatch delegations to – Sekondi for the funeral and burial of Mr. Salifu Ansah, constituted the very height of naivety, to speak much less of the shamefully infantile and outright unimaginative.
Of course, those of us who have been studiously following events in our dear, proverbial motherland (and fatherland, for that matter) fully appreciate the volatile sentiments invariably evoked by the mere mention of our two leading football clubs, Kumasi Asante Kotoko and Accra Hearts of Oak, within the same breath. And needless to say, Hearts of Oak, in recent times, for good or ill, has come to be almost exclusively associated with the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), chaperoned by ex-President Jeremiah (Jerry) John Rawlings. Similarly, the “Porcupine Warriors” are routinely associated with the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), spearheaded by President J. A. Kufuor. It is also significant to observe that our sitting president is also a former chairman of Asante Kotoko.
Four or five years ago, when a championship match between the two arch-rival teams resulted in untold human carnage at the Ohene-Djan Sports Stadium, in Accra, many spectators and critics read the divergent ideological personalities of Messrs. Kufuor and Rawlings into the tragedy. In sum, if, indeed, the management of Accra Hearts of Oak turns out not to have officially invited the top personnel of the Ministry of Education and Sports, the Ghanaian Football Association and the National Sports Council, among a host of others, to the funeral and burial of the late Mr. Salifu Ansah, then, of course, the entire management of the “Phobia Boys” have themselves to blame. And to be certain, belatedly calling on the preceding national sporting organizations to amends would then not cut ice. Indeed, the proper thing would be for the Hearts of Oak management to officially apologize to the concerned sporting organizations, the family of the late Mr. Salifu Ansah and the nation at large. Needless to say, Ghana is a civilized nation with a respectably elaborate culture regarding the proper conduct or observation of crises situations like the funeral and burial of Mr. Salifu Ansah. And then at a reasonably spaced later date, a more fitting memorial service may be organized as a final send-home tribute to our late national soccer prince. Or is this, indeed, too much to ask? *Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of ten volumes of poetry and prose, including ODO YE ’WU: Love Is Till Death (2005) and SOUNDS OF SIRENS: Essays in African Politics & Culture (2004), all of which are available from Amazon.com, iUniverse.com and Barnes & Noble.com.