MORE WOES: Telecast on Minister’s orders puts league in jeopardy
Football, the nation’s passion, is beginning to look like the problem child of this cash-strapped society. Ghana has slumped very low on the ladder of African soccer nations giving soccer-mad Ghanaians a lot to agonize about. From being the leading light in the African game, Ghana, four times winners of the African Cup of Nations, now occupies the unenviable position of 10th on the league of African soccer nations.
Accra Hearts of Oak, the Premier Club of Ghana, which redeemed some national pride in the African Champions’ League in 2000, have failed to qualify for the league phase of the continental series on three consecutive occasions since the continental triumph.
Plagued by administrative blunders, lack of total commitment from players and unreliable refereeing, the Ghanaian game is gradually passing into oblivion. When 127 soccer fans died at the Accra Sports Stadium following riots at the end of the game involving Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko, the two most glamorous club sides in this nation, the Ghanaian game truly became an orphan.
Now another problem is adding to the headache of both football administrators and political leaders. The indecision by the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, the nation’s leading broadcast station with nation-wide coverage of radio and television to join in the network of broadcast stations for the competition, means that a large chunk of the nation is cut off from viewing football matches as well as listening to radio commentaries.
At the moment, TV3, the private television station, owing its birthright to the sale of Ghana Film Company to a Malaysian company under a contract that has attracted criticism from the rank and file of the population, has the television rights to league matches under a deal brokered by Kinapharma, a local drug firm to sponsor the league. TV3 has a very limited broadcast range covering the Greater Accra, parts of the Eastern Region and parts of Ashanti Region, leaving the large chunk of the nation unable to follow proceedings from the various league centers.
This situation has attracted criticism for both the Ghana Football Association and political leadership. The New Patriotic Party Administration of President John Agyekum Kufuor, particularly, has been uncomfortable with a situation that tend to suggest that under their political leadership, there is discrimination in viewing football matches.
Several attempts to broker a deal to get GTV, with its wide network to be involved in the coverage of the league matches had stalled.
According to usually reliable Public Agenda sources at the Castle, the issue was discussed at the Cabinet on Thursday, June 14, at length at the end of which Minister of Information Nana Akomeah and Youth, Education and Sports Minister Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu, were mandated to try and bring GTV on board. To find a way out, Akomeah invited the Director of Television Kofi Bucknor and impressed upon him the need to telecast the league.
Public Agenda gathered that Bucknor took the minister’s intervention as an order to telecast the league and consequently sent his Outside Broadcasting Team to the Accra Sports Stadium without any clearance from the GFA and started a live transmission of the game involving Accra Hearts of Oak and Brong Ahafo United last Sunday.
Accra Hearts of Oak, the team were not amused and furiously protested to officials of the GFA who ordered transmission to cease at the end of the first half.
Claiming loss of revenue resulting from the live transmission of part of the game, Hearts wrote to the Professional League Board of the GFA demanding c500m compensation with a proviso that the club would withdraw from the league if their demands were not met. “If the request is not heeded, we would advise ourselves on the future participation in the ongoing premier league.” The Ghana League Clubs Association were even more scathing in their protest to the football association. “We wish to register our strongest protest against the flagrant disregard for and breach of the sponsorship agreement for the Kinapharma Premier League by the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation” and demand that GBC should be stopped from further telecasting the league.
“The unconventional inferior communist tactics adopted by GBC to cover yesterday’s match without seeking and obtaining the written approval of the owner of the broadcast rights for the league, GFA and its collaborative partners, namely Ghalca, Kinapharma , TV3, Graphic, Times, Peace FM & Joy FM, is to say, the least very regrettable.”
The main sponsors of the league, Kinapharma threatened legal action. “GTV’s unapproved live telecast which refused to as much as even refer to the league appropriately as THE KINAPHARMA LEAGUE,” said a missive from the league sponsors to the Ghana Football Association in a letter signed by Kofi Nsiah Poku Managing Director and Nuamah Eshun-Famiyeh, Area Manager, “ leaves us with no option but to quietly refer the matter to our lawyers and ask them to prepare notification of our disinterest in continuing this partnership agreement.”
Alarmed at the loss of the Kinapharma sponsorship package valued at c1.5 billion cedis, the GFA wrote to the Director-General of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Ms Eva Lokko, copied to the main sponsors, demanding c1.5bn from GTV for the unilateral decision by the nation’s leading broadcast station to telecast the match without approval.
“We wish to register our protest against the decision of GBC to record and telecast live the Kinapharma League between Hearts of Oak and B.A. United played at the Accra Sports Stadium on Sunday, 15th June, 2003.”
The letter signed by General Secretary Kofi Nsiah also asked GBC “to deliver up to the GFA for cancellation all tapes on the Kinapharma Premier League match between Hearts of Oak and B.A. United recorded and telecast by GBC on Sunday, 15th June 2003.”
The GFA also asked GBC to desist from engaging itself “by way of telecast, preview or review, showing highlights or excerpts of any kind of the 2003 Kinapharma League matches until due authorization has been given by the GFA.” Both political officials and leaders of the football fraternity are locked up in a frantic search for solution to the impasse.
Contacted on the line, Minister of Information Nana Akomeah accepted responsibility for the apparent confusion that has engulfed football. He told Agenda that the discriminatory nature of showcasing the league, via TV3 studious, had created both a social and political problem.
“We had been inundated by personal calls from people throughout the country expressing concern about the nature of showing matches by television stations which could not cover the entire nation. The matter came before Cabinet, which appointed Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu, Minister of Youth, Education and Sports to try and resolve the issue for the whole nation to benefit from television telecast of the league.
‘As Minister of Information, I contacted the Director of Ghana Television and impressed upon him the need for GTV to telecast the matches. I didn’t call for a live telecast. But GBC went ahead and telecast the first half of the match involving Hearts of Oak and B.A. United. It is unfortunate in the sense that the consent of the Football Association was not sought. But I think this is a matter which import has been grossly exaggerated. I think we all need the GBC to be part of the whole deal. I’m not suggesting that GBC was right in telecasting the match without authority. But we can resolve this matter without the acrimony from all angles,” Akomea said.
The successful resolution of this matter would be in the interest of the football controlling body, which needs to convince the league’s sponsors that the money they have sunk into the venture is worthwhile. It would bring a lot of relief to soccer-mad Ghanaians in places like the north, Western and Volta Regions that are currently denied of the highlights of matches shown exclusively on TV3 and particularly the political leadership of this country, which stand accused of not catering for soccer-deprived areas outside the national capital and the Ashanti Region.