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29.11.2004 Sports News

Poisoning Football With Politics

By Graphic

Graphic -- A palpable feeling of depression naturally hung over the country in the aftermath of the postponement of the Confederation Cup final matches between Kotoko and Hearts.

Their appetite having been whetted,and match hype having reached a crescendo, all was set for, perhaps, the greatest showdown between the two big clubs.

Countless people are beside themselves with incomprehension as to why a sporting event should come under a heavy cloud of politics to necessitate its postponement. However, in a country where support for the two most glamorous clubs over a decade now has been injected with an overdose of partisan politics, we have had to walk a tightrope from time to time.

It's not for nothing that a great number of Ghanaians find themselves on edge anytime a confrontation between Kotoko and Hearts approaches. Normal rivalry was allowed to degenerate into a latent force that exploded on May 9, 2001.The triggering of trouble that day might not have been informed by any political considerations, but it highlighted an evolving danger that couldn't be overlooked.

Red-hot rivalry had all along existed between supporters of the two clubs but they handled it well and never allowed things to get out of control.It must be stated in unambiguous language that supporters of Kotoko and Hearts have over the years been good ambassadors of good sportsmanship, even in the face of some humiliating defeats suffered by either team.

The trampling to death of nine fans in a stampede after a Kotoko-Hearts match at the Kumasi stadium in 1976 and the tragic May 9 incident were not the result of any clashes between supporters of the two clubs. In both cases, indiscretion on the part of some security personnel was cited as the cause.

Many people are of the view that if things got worse between the two clubs between 1999 and 2001, it was largely because of the perception among Kotoko supporters that some power brokers were out to ensure the decline of Kotoko and the management style in Kotoko at the time.

For me, what is more disgusting is how occasionally incidents tinged with serious political connotations have occurred either before or during matches between the two clubs.During the inspection of teams in a match between Hearts and Kotoko at the Accra Stadium on June 4, 1989, a key player of Kotoko, Sarfo Gyamfi, refused to shake hands with the then Head of State,Flt-Lt Rawlings.

Whether the player's action was steeped in superstition,or simply an act to spite the Head of State, it was an act of disrespect that amounted to a slap in the face of the highest office of the land. Whether Sarfo Gyamfi liked it or not, Flt-Lt Rawlings was the de facto Head of State and so should have been accorded the due respect.

The matter would have become a political volcano if the entire Kotoko team had engaged in that damnable act.

If Sarfo Gyamfi was guilty of infantile indiscretion, the barefaced display of political bias by some top officials of Hearts towards the then Presidential aspirant, J. A. Kufuor, in December 2001, was the height of political naivety.

After accepting a donation from Prof. Atta Mills, the then NDC Presidential candidate, there was no reason to reject that from Mr Kufuor.That was a monumental error in judgement that sent dangerous signals to the entire country. What it meant was that Hearts was more aligned to the NDC than to the NPP.

The Hearts top officials didn't have to be that discriminatory on account of the fact that Prof. Mills was once on the Hearts board and Mr Kufuor too, at a point in time, headed the Kotoko board.I wondered what went through the minds of Mr Ato Ahwoi and his colleagues when they led Hearts to present the continental trophy they won to Mr Kufuor who had just won the Presidential elections.

Support for Hearts, Kotoko and all other clubs in the country cuts across political, religious and ethnic lines, so we should at all times strive to leave them out of partisan politics.

No one can deny that in the past few weeks there have been some worrying signs of some Kotoko and Hearts fans mixing football with politics in the most dangerous manner. They are leading us down a dangerous road.

The time has come for us to separate our football clubs from political parties. That is the only way we can save our clubs from the negative effects of politics.

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