To Brazil and Back

In Ghana, the most glorified sport is soccer, and ever since the national under-seventeen team, the Black Satellites, won the FIFA World Cup in Italy in 1991, the interest in the game has grown. New kids on the block, namely Ben Owu, Osei Kufuor, Odartey Lamptey, Sebastian Barnes, Daniel Addo, Yaw Preko and Mohammed Gargo, among others, became national heroes overnight.

The sport, which had held the nation captive even before independence, had an upsurge in patronage. Parents, who, hitherto, would skin their sons alive if they found them playing football instead of figuring out what the principle of if-more-less-divide was all about, suddenly became born again in the game, bought soccer gear for their sons, and drove them out in the sun, or in the rain, to go out kicking balls around.

In 1993, our young boys placed second in the FIFA U-17 World Cup, and even though we never retained the cup, we looked into the future with faith and hope that, sooner than later, we would grab the ultimate world cup trophy from countries like Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy. Our U-21 national team also staked their claim of leadership in the category, when they also placed second in a FIFA U-21 World Cup.

We sounded the warning to the world about our intentions in world soccer, when our U-23 won bronze at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

However, the chance came fourteen years later, when we qualified for the FIFA World Cup, Senior Division, in Germany, 2006.

Soccer has since been adored and glorified in the hearts of many Ghanaians. We retained our African slot for the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa, and missed the semis by a freak of a penalty kick. So in Brazil 2014, we would not accept anything less than a third place match against whatever nation.

That was where we were cut down to size and reduced to minors. We gained only one point in the group stages and took an early shower.

It was then that it was revealed that all was not cool within the camp of the Black Stars. The cold-war which existed between the players and officials heated up before our last group match against Portugal, when the players held the nation at ransom, and threatened to lay down their boots if they don’t see cash in their hands. Reason: they had been deceived for far too long, and enough was enough. So, on the night before their crucial game, they received their dollars in their hands, and counted and recounted all night long. The money was flown in, via chartered flight direct from Ghana, and this made us famous on this planet. The then ailing Brazilian economy got a shot of unexpected revenue, through the import license taxation of the over $3 million we exported from Ghana to Brazil.

What seemed like mere the payment of wages to by-day workers, turned out to be a litany of problems which did not in effect its start in Brazil, but way back before the birth of Cain and Abel. Yes, outstanding issues like non-payment of appearance fees, non-payment of winning bonuses, poor accommodation, poor means of transportation, and, what have you, compounded and moved from tolerance level to the intolerance level of the we-no-go-gree status of rebelliousness. That was because the extra-luggage officials, who accompanied the players, were living like royals, with some chilling in town while crucial Ghana games were being played. They watched them live on television at the pubs, just as Ashie Kotei watched the matches in a pub in Osu, Accra, Ghana.

The balance of co-efficient of probability here is that one got state funding to travel first-class, with first class per diem paid, and lodged into first class hotel facilities, but ended up watching our matches on television in first class bars, all at the cost to the state, while another bore no cost to the state, but also watched our matches on television in the comfort of his home or popular drinking spots riddled with mosquitoes, and the strong scent of Akpeteshie and Alomo Bitters.

As the players were being booted and kicked about on the field, some officials who represented the nation were cooling it off well, well, and in the end, the players get nothing. Their anger and disappointment exploded beyond repair, when more officials kept flying into Brazil without a single cent for them. What actually sparked the fire was when the holder of the purse himself arrived. “At last, our money is in!” the boys smiled with a sigh of relief. “I am sorry, I have no money for you, boys,” was the reply. “So what did he come to Brazil for?”

Then the rebellion started, which engaged in ears being blocked to the never-ending assurances by the FA boss that their monies would be paid. This resulted in slaps and counter-slaps, and sooner than later, the confusion became basaa, with life bans placed on three senior players by the Ghana Football Association (GFA).

The others, not too sure when the ban on kicking ball and legs will be placed on them, declared self-imposed exile from playing soccer until they saw their monies in cash, and not in kind.

Well, the government had to find the money, but unfortunately, at that time, all higher denominations in the forex bureau, over-the-counter shops, and the black market gyina ho gye (stand-and-collect) open top shops were in Brazil in the pockets of non-players who were chilling wildly, including buying our indigene food at kenkey bend-down-boutiques, which we took along. It was alleged that a ball of kenkey without fish cost anything from $20, depending on who is buying. So add fish and pepper, and you will surely go pass the $100 line. Something that will not exceed GH¢10, or $2.50, in Bukom Square, Accra, has got market and is competing with the likes of top-of-the-art sophisticated Infinix Hot mobile phones. That is economics in play; things are far cheaper at the producer areas, than at the consumer destinations. That is why chewing stick is free in the forest, but always on sale in town.

So the government had to do with $1.00 bills, and had to transport them by cargo, over three million of the dollar brothers in single unit category, to far away Brazil. With cash in hand, the boys still could not just trust their officials, so they have to count every single note, one after the other, at the going rate of hundred dollars a minute, which took almost 17 hours for the $100,000 they landed. This took up their training time at four in the afternoon, and they went on to skip supper, and did an all-night, praising God and counting cash, and ended their ordeal at nine in the morning, tired and hungry, and almost missing breakfast. The problem was due to the lack of trust in their officials; the players were checking for counterfeits as well. With special mobile phones which had counterfeit detection apps, it was easy to go up to hundred dollars a minute, from the manual twenty dollars a minute, looking out for fake notes.

So, with tired eyes and weak bodies, they went to face Ronaldo and Portugal, and Ghanaians saw the game. Confused and unstable minds made some players kick balls as if they were jumping ampe. Our goalkeeper suffered most from the all-night self-induced ordeal, because, unfortunately for him, he had dirty notes, and so had to work extra hard and fast to catch up with his brothers. At a crucial stage of the game, he thought he was playing at one of the Nima football parks, and even went on to think that Cristiano Ronaldo was the Albino guy who always played in defense on his side, so he passed him the ball. End of story, Ghana was out with only one-point, and the worst result in our three-tournament history in the World Cup.

The nation boiled up, and no one sympathised with the boys, and it was clear to notice their amateurish style of game, because, in Ghana, there are over 26 million player-coaches, and any one could play better than the professional soccer players – that is, on the lips, but not on the fields.

The embarrassment was too much for the state, and so the government quickly inaugurated a commission of enquiry into what actually happened in Brazil. Revelations clearly exposed the spendthrift culture adopted by some officials and supporters who accompanied the boys, and the players’ gross misconduct.

But, without hearing the boys, some of the members of the panel started drawing conclusions, and sympathised with the FA for over-pampering the players.

Instead of calling the boys, most especially, the three banned seniors, to tell their side of the story, the commission came out to tell us that the boys would be invited to tell their story in-camera. Good news, and that means everything will be viewed live on CNN, BBC, CBS and all the top world media networks, via the television cameras positioned in the room. Sorry! In-camera, in Latin, meant behind-closed-doors; in private; in chambers.

Was it something the commissioners feared the banned players would say that could bring shame and confusion upon officialdom of the FA?

Anyway, the three players refused to come and testify, if they were to do so in-camera, for the fear that what they would say could be cut-and-pasted to suit someone’s cause.

So, till this day, the boys who could tell their side of the truth have left it hanging, and we do not know who to blame, or who to support.

There is sacred tradition within the sporting circles, where players are used and abused by officials who feed fat without sweat, while the players sweated blood without sweet.

So the chance of using the Brazil-fiasco commission to unearth and bring into the open, age-long cheating, malfeasances, and abuse of offices by sports officials, not only in soccer, but in other sports, could not come on. The nation was made to believe that it was the boys’ acts of indiscipline and unpatriotic nature that led to our early exit.

They lost support from their home-based stadium, Kumasi Baba Yara Sports Stadium, and had to be flirting around stadia to try and get a new home.

Everything was going on fine for the officials, until a certain educated fisherman, who doubled as a one-time sports gong-gong beater, entered the Sports Ministry.

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