Initially when I heard the story, I was struggling to believe it, but apparently, after checks I carried out last week, it turned out to be true and for me, rather than any concerted effort to get the best out of the Black Stars, it is rather the next instalment in the ugly spat between the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ghana Football Association.
The facts of the matter are that the Ministry has refused to pay for tickets to bring down invited players for Ghana’s final 2017 African Nations Cup qualifier against Rwanda in Accra this coming weekend. The reason given is that since Ghana has already qualified for the AFCON in Gabon, it was needless to bring in top stars when local talent was available, as it would amount to waste of funds.
The GFA initially denied knowledge of any such instruction from the Ministry, until Travel Matters notified the hierarchy that the Ministry had ordered the outfit not to provide any air tickets for the Black Stars. In order not to disrupt the plans of head coach Avram Grant, the players have been asked to pay their way to Ghana for the match. My understanding is that the players are unhappy but have resolved to come with Vice captain Andre Ayew reportedly offering to foot the bill for tickets for some of his team-mates.
I would not have had a problem if Grant himself had decided to use locally based players or decided to give some of the Black Stars regulars a rest, but the timimg of such an instruction from the Ministry is suspicious to say the least. Indeed, one could even say it is an attempt by the Sports Minister, Nii Lante Vanderpuije to show who is boss. If this had been the last international game for the Black Stars, perhaps such a move would have had its merits, but in about six weeks’ time, Ghana will begin its 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. So the Rwanda game is actually a preparatory match of sorts for Grant and his coaching staff, which is why the big guns were all invited.
This is unnecessary power play on the part of the Sports Ministry and I believe that under the circumstances, the GFA has done well in not allowing this particular issue to escalate. What worries me though is that a precedent is gradually being set. I am beginning to wonder whether the Black Stars have lost support from the Ministry and recent comments by Nii Lante Vanderpuije seem to amplify that fact. In welcoming the athletes who represented Ghana at the 2016 Olympics, the Sports Minister commended the athletes for focusing on competing despite the non payment of their entitlements, adding that their behavior is far better than what the Black Stars put up in Brazil two years ago.
It is very worrying if the movers and shakers begin to regard the Black Stars as mercenaries who only care about the money they would get after games. I condemned the actions of the players back then, but that should be the end of it, especially with such a difficult group that contains the likes of Egypt, Congo and Uganda to come in terms of world cup qualification. Otherwise, any dream of reaching the 2018 World Cup in Russia might as well be abandoned.
In my view, Nii Lante Vanderpuije should be holding regular meetings with the GFA hierarchy in a bid to resolve whatever differences they have, instead of the unnecessary power play going on because in the end, it is the Black Stars that will suffer, not to mention the fact that the team may no longer become the global brand Ghanaians have been proud of for the last decade at the very least.
By Christopher Opoku