Memoirs and Lamentations of Kwabena Amikaketo (15) Putting Professional Soccer Players on Salary?
Kwabena Amikaketo sat in his favourite chair on his balcony, viewing the setting sun which was making way for the shadows to grow longer and soon cover his part of the world like a dark blanket.
That evening, his mind was still in full pensive mood, lamenting again on some issues that reflected from promises made in the National Democratic Congress (NDC) manifesto.
The NDC is saying that when voted back into power, it will put all professional soccer players on salary, and the amount is quite huge compared to the salary of the ordinary worker. At GH¢1,500 a month, a professional footballer will receive an annual gross salary of GH¢18,000.
Well, on the surface it sounds good news, however, there are problems which this can create. Kwabena reflected on the current way sports was being driven in the country, where emphasis or priority was placed mostly on the senior male national soccer team to the detriment of all other sports, even including the female and the junior national soccer teams.
In the sixties and seventies, Ghana was a sporting nation which rubbed shoulders with other top sporting nations in Africa and the world. We used to have a strong athletic squad, when even, at one time, during a Ghana-Nigeria games our ladies junior sprint quartet, made up of Mary Mensah and company, beat the Nigerian senior women quartet, which placed second to the Ghana senior women team, made up of Hannah Afriyie, Grace Bukari and company.
Ghana used to have a strong boxing team as well, and he remembered how Azumah Nelson went from a nobody during the third National Sports Festival, rejected first by the Greater Accra team because he was height-challenged and settled for the Prisons, ending the competition as a somebody moving on to win gold during the Commonwealth Games, and later became an international boxing icon in the world.
Kwabena also remembered how our national hockey team was a powerhouse in Africa, including our basketball and volleyball teams as well. Soccer, boxing and track and field were great sports, with some athletes winning sponsorship to pursue further education in the United States.
The country went into some slumber, and sports administration became lax, so it came out that soon our sports did not have well organised junior “academy” to bring out talents into the junior and senior teams. Students’ sports suffered greatly, so there was nobody to be turned into good material for the main line teams, as players like Kofi Apprey and Kofi Badu matured from the National Academicals into the Senior Men’s National Soccer team.
One by one, fields which were used by the youth to both train and play were taken over by the land owners. The famous De Gaulle Park in La, which produced great footballers like the Kayode brothers, Abu Moro and George Alhassan, is now home to a magnificent church belonging to the Presbyterian Church of Ghana. The state never considered developing parks for the youth to play on.
Kwabena Amikaketo, who was once a national academicals athlete, felt sad as he recounted how sports fell from grace to grass in the country. There were those days when Ghana achieved tops in African soccer with local players, there were no professionals among the team. The last time Ghana won a trophy in African soccer at the senior level was in 1982, and the squad was managed by a Ghanaian coach.
Since then, the Afcon cups have eluded his beloved country for thirty-eight years and counting. The now then over-reliance on foreign based players, and the highest level the country had reached in world soccer, was quarter finals in the FIFA 2010 tournament.
Kwabena Amikaketo readjusted his thoughts. His again focused on the salary the NDC promised to pay soccer players when voted to form the government.
Assuming the government will consider only Premier League teams, it will mean considering eighteen teams to deal with. And assuming each team will have twenty-five players, it will mean finding GH¢450,000 every month to pay professional players, and that works to be GH¢8,100,000 for players who are playing professional soccer, and this does not include their handlers and managers. Over millions of dollars a year, just for professional players picked from a selected group.
Kwabena Amikaketo believed that the NDC could just not be serious with this promise. Firstly, and most importantly, we are here talking about professionals working in the private sector. So what is more important with paying them salaries and leaving out doctors, nurses and teachers who are engaged in the private sector? A hard working nurse in a private hospital may get paid GH¢700 a month and will be happy if she gets GH¢1,500 a month, but here a player gets GH¢1,500 every four weeks working in the private sector.
The question is why leave out these professionals who are working to save lives and to transform lives to continue collecting meagre salaries, while boys and young men get so huge amounts of money from government and they are working for the private sector, but for the public.
What about the youth porters who carry loads of stuff from delivery trucks to shops and market stalls, and even assist customers? What about operators of tricycles who go on delivery duties and even collect refuse to dump them at refuse dumps, yes, what about these? Are they also not in the private sector? So why should they not be paid some salary?
The NDC said when elected into power it will legalise the okada (commercial motorcycle) business which it banned in 2012. Why not add that all those operating okada will be paid some salary every week, just as the professional footballers will be paid?
Secondly, what happens to the other sports, most importantly, what happens to the female soccer teams? Why will such sports men and women not be paid any salary, but only the male premier soccer league players?
Thirdly, why did the NDC not consider coming out with ways to make the professional teams, and, in fact, all the sports, to start generating funds by way of adverts, sponsorships and other income generating factors, so that they can pay their players and sports persons very well?
It will be okay for the NDC, and for that matter the New Patriotic Party (NPP) as well, to learn from the professional sports world and find out how to inject such innovations into our sports administration. For one thing, local sports must be revived and made to develop national interest. Gone were the days when the stadia are packed to capacity when any sports were being played. League matches between even lower clubs on the league table used to attract crowds. People go to watch soccer and their team gets beaten, but they leave for home very content because they had watched a good game. Today, people go to the stadia to catch a nap and wake up to leave after the match is over.
Today, nothing seems organised except a few dedicated persons like Rex Brobbey, who is doing all he can to get Ghanaians to win medals in the sprints in the Olympics and world championships. How serious is the state and the Olympics Committee in Ghana encouraging this national hero? Paying professional players some salaries and leaving out the Ghana’s fastest in Rex Brobbey’s teams will dampen not only his spirit and efforts, but those of the hard working athletes as well, who want to put Ghana back on the world map.
Kwabena Amikaketo believed that Ghana is home to world class sports men and women, but until the whole sports administration is overhauled and we start looking for ways to make sports very attractive again to catch the crowd and sponsors, we shall have talents eroding away or many fleeing to countries where their talents are recognised and enhanced for them to reach the top where they deserve.
Today, so many of Ghanaians are running or playing for other countries in athletics and soccer, and not just any other country, but countries like France, UK and Germany. We are losing it in Ghana and Africa where our Blacks go to win World Cups for Western European countries like France, and yet we can’t reach far during the FIFA World Cup tournaments.
What is different from the Black player of African descent playing for France or UK, and the Black player playing for the country of his ancestors like Ghana? The difference is that in the Western countries, they know how to organise sports very well, but not here in Africa, and in places like Ghana.
Every FIFA World Cup we attended the country paid out more dollars for our squad than the US and UK and others do. The reason is simple, in those countries sports, which includes soccer, are in the private sector and managed well to generate lots of money annually, and so in any world championship the teams are paid heavily, and their countries just top up with something small to show how much they care.
The NDC to pay professional players is going to create a backlash that will shake the very foundations of this country, because other sectors do deserve the same treatment, if even not more.
Kwabena Amikaketo felt a cold wind blowing around him and saw some lightning flashing. October rains, he said to himself, times are changing. Maybe the NDC may come and pay the rain god to fall during the dry season, that will be the best it can do, instead of paying professional players and leaving out other youth who are sacrificing their all for the good of this country.
He rose and went indoors right in time to meet his favourite Echele who was coming to call him to table. He promised to be back tomorrow evening to sit in his favourite chair on his balcony and lament over issues.
Paying professionals from state coffers, well he must as well go back jogging and training to get into a premier league club, he could do with such a handsome amount of GH¢1,500 a month until he retires again from sports.
Hon. Daniel Dugan
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect The Chronicle’s editorial stance