In Kigali some 13 years ago, Rwanda, fresh from the travails of war, handed Ghana a shocking 1-0 defeat which denied the Black Stars a place in the 2004 Nations Cup. It was the most humiliating defeat at the time, worse than the Bochum disaster. Those were the days when the Black Stars was good for nothing. Those were the days when players paid for their own flights into the country on match days with a promise of a refund by officials of the FA and the Ministry; those were the days when players of the Black Stars were vilified as being unpatriotic, unwilling to die a little for their country; those were the days when players of the Black Stars wore jerseys for matches, washed and hoped the jerseys would dry early enough for the next game during major tournaments. Those were the days when Sammy Kuffuor complained about training kits at Mali 2002 and was sacked by Osam Duodu for indiscipline. Those were the days when Ghana had never qualified for the World Cup and Ghanaians, dreamt and hoped for the day Ghana will join the elites of world’s best soccer nations at the biggest football extravaganza.
It was also the days when Nii Lante Vanderpuye was commentator in chief of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. During those days, he and a few broadcasters, myself included, decided to form the Association of Sports Broadcasters (ASBOG) to seek the interest of sports journalists and to build a united force against a system that appeared not to be interested in the affairs of Sports journalists. Even though Nii Lante lost the presidency of the Association to Kwame Baah Nuako, together the Association criticized the Ministry then headed by Edward Osei Kweku, the GFA, then presided over by the late Ben Cuofie and later by Nyaho Tamakloe.
Our criticisms were fierce but decent; they were well intentioned and without malice because, the Black Stars was, at the time just a team, not a brand; the players played with no conviction, no motivation. They played to the tune of the officials who were busy singing songs of no money! no money!! no money!!! The country achieved nothing but the people suffered severe heartache anytime the Black Stars was bundled out of a World Cup dream.
This weekend the Black Stars play Rwanda again in a Nations Cup qualifier but under different conditions. At least we have qualification sealed already. A lot has also changed for the Black Stars since the debacle of Kigali 13 years ago. The country has witnessed three successive World Cup appearances, even if the last one was such a disastrous outing. The Black Stars is no longer a team but a brand supported by sponsors.
Indeed Nii Vanderpuye has also seen great transformation. He has progressed from being a sports journalist/commentator role at GBC, became a presidential aide/staffer, a deputy minister and now a full minister of Sports with a duty to ensure that all the sporting associations are well resourced and run efficiently. That means progress isn’t it?
When the news of Nii Lante’s appointment came, I hailed it. Even in the face of skepticism, I embraced it. He is a big brother and has a depth of knowledge in sports, gathered not just through the practice of journalism but through experience as an active sports man, a great libero and an outstanding footballer. If anybody was fit to manage the Sports Ministry, I thought none was more qualified than Nii Lante Vanderpuye. For what use will these experiences be if my big brother cannot manage a Sports Ministry?
However when 23 Black Stars players, dominated by foreign based players, line up Saturday to face Rwanda at the Accra Sports Stadium, my attention will be focused at the presidential lounge of the stadium to see if Mr Vanderpuye as Sports Minister will be courageous enough to be there to watch the game.
My hunch tells me he won’t (I am open for surprises) because if he did he will be one of the bravest and boldest personalities with little sense of shame.
When a Minister of Sports suggests that a final, competitive Nations Cup qualifier with Rwanda is not important and that we should use local players to play; when he threatens not to pay the air fares of the players to come down and play, he will certainly have rotten eggs thrown in his face if these players come down on their own to play. That is what has happened and our Minister, has lost authority over a key sector of the ministry he is expected to be in charge of.
And when a minister charges the players to pay their winning bonuses the same way they paid their air fares, then I say the minister has moved from the voice of reason to one of condescension. I write this piece with great disappointment because I have been forced to eat humble pie and to admit that my support for Nii Lante was a blind one influenced by the relationship i have with him. Through his utterances, attitude and behavior ever since he was appointed, Nii Lante has not shown enough leadership at a ministry begging for cooler head and a sounder mind. Rather the minister says he is a “Zongo Boy” and his ready to get into the gutter of insults with the “small boys” at the FA who have made it their business to insult him. But the truth is, managing a ministry is not a contest of insults. If that were the case, a razor tongued-person would have been appointed. Heading a ministry is about solving problems and there are many such problems at the Sports ministry.
In one of his usual rounds of commentaries and bitter exchanges with the FA on radio, the Minister said the local league is not attractive, and that is why the FA cannot attract sponsorship for the league. If that were the case why then must we select all 23 players from a dead and unattractive league to represent the Black Stars in a competitive Nations Cup qualifier?
Again if the “small boys” at the FA are so incompetent they cannot secure funding for the local league then what about the minister who has never had money for anything ever since he assumed office? All Nii Lante Vanderpuye has done is to lament about the lack of funds for boxing, football, athletics, etc. It has been a season of lamentation and nothing else.
But Nii Lante is a smart man. With the embarrassment the nation suffered from the hands of the Black Stars at the Brazil 2014 and the backlash the team has received since then, it is so easy to get Ghanaians to rally behind him in an empty crusade of cutting down cost. And with the perception that the current Black Stars players are selfish and play only for money and not for the country, the man who comes with the promise to instill in these players, values of patriotism will be praised. But let nobody be fooled. When the qualifiers for the World Cup begin, money will be needed. It will no longer be enough to be running around on radio and TV stations lamenting about the shortage of cash.
If Nii Lante Vanderpuye cannot raise money for the Stars to come down to Ghana and play in the last Nations Cup qualifier, will he be able to raise money for them to come down to Ghana, for training and fly them to Uganda or Egypt for the World Cup qualifier?
I am not unaware about the rot at the FA but dealing with the FA needs a lot more tact and diplomacy not vendetta and contest of insult. The FA may be corrupt but my biggest fear is not the corruption there. It is the incompetence and inconsistency at the Ministry.
Even though the FA may be a cow dung as the Minister said a ‘Rambo or Akua Donkor’ style leadership is not the best way to solve the problem. At this rate, nothing will get solved. The worst that will happen is a return to the picture I painted of the Black Stars in the beginning of this piece. Some of those have begun happening already. We may not qualify for Russia 2018 and then we will all happy with our sorry lot.
I end with this story. Around 2005 when the chips were down with the Black Stars, a Sports minister stood up and made a bold promise: “I will take Ghana to the World Cup” and he did. Ghana did not have money at the time. Those were the HIPC days but the minister, working in unison with the FA, found money, turned the Black Stars into a brand, made it attractive for companies to sponsor. The sponsors came with money, kits, food, drinks, all in the form of sponsorship. The result? Ghana qualified to the World Cup on three consecutive times.
Can Ghana make it to Russia 2018 with vintage Nii Lante Vanderpuye on his usual forays on radio?
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