WILLIAM EZAH / AIPS Africa – ACCRA: Until June 6, 2018, football corruption was merely a matter of speculation in Ghana.

Suspicions about referees taking bribes, match fixing, influence in national team selection, creation of fake agencies for sponsorship deals, undercutting of sponsorship funds and so on mere a matter of allegation with no hard evidence in support.

It took two years of painstaking investigations by ace journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas to demystify the perception by digging up that evidence to prove that the such ills did indeed exist in the administration of Ghana football.

It was not only a matter of existence, but a deep rooted canker that had eaten into the very fibre of the Ghana Football Association, players, referees, club officials and all those involved in the daily running of the game.

His Bribery of Referees and Match fixing investigative piece provided a detailed insight into match fixing by referees.

These were referees who accepted sums of moneys from the investigators acting as club officials seeking illicit assistance. Some of the referees managed to influence the matches they were paid for.

Referee involvement

In a typical case referee Samuel Suker, a physical instructor at senior high school St Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Accra, took GHC 2,000 (equivalent of $400) to influence one of the fiercest local rivalries between Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko.

Referee Suker did not act alone, but with the support from the linesmen who had their fair share of the deal.

Hearts of Oak were indeed awarded a dubious 84th minute penalty, which was expertly converted to grant them the three maximum points at stake.

It was indeed a doubtful penalty that was followed by weeks of debate among sports journalists and football pundits. A year after the match, the documentary confirmed that indeed the match had been influenced by the referee and his assistants.

In all, it was estimated that more than over 80 referees and assistant referees were found wanting on different occasions, taking money from match fixers to influence the outcome of matches in both the lower divisions and the elite league as well.

National team selection influence is another challenges to bedevil the nation’s football and impede quality players from making it into the national teams. This has no doubt affected the performance of the teams since players generally were no longer invited on merit but on the ability of their managers or handlers to influence their invitation by paying huge sums of money.

National team choice

After many years, the perceived practice was given credence when an official of the GFA was seen taking an unspecified amount of money from under cover reporters to influence the invitation of Patrick Razak, a player of Ghana Premier League side Accra Hearts of Oak to the national Team B, that participated in the West Africa Football Union Cup hosted and won by Ghana.

Similar arrangement was made for Thomas Abbey, also a player of Hearts of Oak, with the communications manager of the GFA seen on video in a discussion over the deal though he did not accept the offer of money.

For many, this was enough evidence to prove that indeed the negative practice that has over the years denied many quality players the opportunity to gain entry into the national team on fair grounds actually exist.

Next came the case of the now-former president of the Ghana Football Association Kwesi Nyantakyi who had supervised the game for 13 years.

His reign saw the senior national team, the Black Stars make three consecutive appearances at the FIFA World Cup in Germany, South Africa and Brazil, an opportunity that has eluded the nation several years before he took over the administration of football in Ghana.

Indeed, his reign, could be described as the era of “Golden Football” as corporate sponsorship flowed from different directions for the national teams, but the latter stages of his era saw gradual decline and was climaxed with the most overwhelming evidence of some of the practices of which he was accused.

Sponsor deals

For years, the GFA president was accused of undercutting sponsorship contracts, diverting funds meant for the association into private agencies and generally supervising bribery and corruption in Ghana football.

Finally Nyantakyi – a member of the council of world governing body FIFA and first vice-president of the African confederation – was caught on tape negotiating with prospective sponsors of the Ghana Premier League, who were later discovered to be “undercover journalists” on how to create a separate agency to serve as a broker in a sponsorship deal that would see the company making between 20-25pc of the package of $15m

In addition, he was seen to be receiving a cash amount of $65,000 from the prospective sponsors as a gift after negotiating with them in Dubai.

With a significant amount of political influence in Ghana, Nyantakyi was also captured luring investors into the country, as well as negotiating some cash gifts for the president, his vice and other key members of government.

The premiere of the documentary on June 6, at the Accra International Conference Center (AICC), sparked mass public uproar and the need for swift government action.

Nyantakyi  subsequently resigned as the GFA president, as president of the West Africa Football Union (WAFU), as first VP of CAF and from his FIFA role. He was also was banned by FIFA for 90 days pending an ethics committee investigation.

Bank information

Ghana’s Financial Intelligence Center has directed all banks to furnish them with bank details of the embattled former GFA president as he was suspected to have engaged in money laundering.

Subsequently, the CID declared the offices of the GFA a crime scene and prevented its workers from going to work pending the completion of investigations, whilst the Ghana Premier League remains halted until further notice.

The government of Ghana moved to dissolve the GFA, and was initially granted a court injunction to restrain all GFA members from holding office while all football activities were placed on hold due by a 10-day injunction.

The Attorney General of Ghana, Gloria Akuffo, described the GFA an ‘obscene emblem of scandal, corruption and illegal enterprise.

She added that GFA was an instrument of “self-aggrandizement and used by some people to enrich themselves”.

Clearly the GFA needs reforms that will eliminate under declaration of sponsorship funds, clearly define the role of middle men in sponsorship deals, softwares to monitor the performance of players in both local and international matches, to ensure fairness in terms of player invitations into the national teams and more stringent punishments for referees found to be involved in match fixing.

In addition, efforts must be made to take a critical look at the growing numbers of betting companies in Ghana and their role in Ghana football.

Finally, clearly defined term limits should be is entrenched in the GFA – especially for the president of the association and the executive committee.