With over 1,500,000 infections and billions restricted in their movements all over the world, to say the novel coronavirus has brought the globe on its knees will be a gross understatement.
And this devastating effect of COVID-19 has been brutally felt in the world of sports. For a field that is considered as the pulse and economic juggernaut for a lot of nations, the grinding halt of basically every major sporting activity has come at a huge cost.
The rippling effect of this global standstill is having its bearing on Ghana football. Due to the contagious nature of contracting coronavirus, the Ghana Football Association (GFA) had to call off the local Premier League when the country recorded its first 2 cases on March 12.
For a country that has lacked an active local league and a functional administration after the expose by award-winning journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas on the Kwesi Nyantakyi regime in June 2018, the return of football in December, 2019 brought a huge sigh of relief to lovers of the game in the country.
One of the firmest decisions that the Kurt Okraku administration made when they assumed office in October, 2019 was to enact a nationwide campaign to solicit the love Ghanaians had for their football back.
With a well coordinated #BringBackTheLoveCampaign, the Ghana Premier League started gaining buzz both in the media circles and among football loving enthusiasts across the country.
Stadia attendance have improved tremendously, social media interests have peaked and the rivalry between Kumasi Asante Kotoko, AshantiGold, Aduana Stars and Madeama for the ultimate crown have been keen.
However, these steady progress made by the young Okraku administration have blown up into thin air due to COVID-19.
Financial struggles of Ghanaian League Clubs
For a league that was without a headline sponsor, the financial struggles of Ghanaian clubs are well documented. Prior to the commencement of the 2020 season, Premier league clubs were only given a small financial package to help prepare from the TV rights deal that was sold to Startimes.
In a statement by the Ghana Football Association, it said: "package is an advance to the clubs to help them prepare for the upcoming season, and it will be deducted from sponsorship funds due to the clubs should the GFA secure sponsorship deals for the respective leagues".
In the breakdown of the Startimes deal, Ghana Premier League received US$700, 000 from out of which US$540, 000 will go directly to the clubs while the rest of the amount will take care of “administrative work, the merit awards for positioning on the league table and officiating expenses.
Per the calculations, all the 18-clubs competing in the 2019/2020 season received $30,000 each which barely can’t sustain most of the clubs beyond 2 months.
Looking at how most European clubs despite their huge financial war chests are struggling to keep up with the wages and bonuses of its staff during this pandemic, it won't be far-fetched to conclude that most Ghanaian league clubs are barely surviving now and won’t be able to pay its playing body and staff.
In light of this, the Ghana League Clubs Association chairman Kudjoe Fianoo says his outfit will team up with the Ghana Football Association to engage the government about lending support to clubs in these challenging times.
“GHALCA has been discussing with the GFA on a daily basis and discussions to meet the Minister of Youth and Sports is in the offing so the Government can come to our aid in these trying times,” he said.
“Our situation is very serious coming back from Number 12 debacle and now coronavirus, our industry also employs a lot of Ghanaians ,look at the Premier league ,Division One ,the number of players and technical team members not forgetting division two” he concluded.
Calls for cancellation of the league
Several calls have been made to call off the season due to the uncertainty about the resumption of the league.
This idea is being championed by some football administrators and players alike.
However, it has faced some stiff opposition by stakeholders and some stars in the Premier League as well. Former Accra Hearts of Oak Board Member, Isaac Tetteh popularly known as ‘T.T Brothers’ described the calls as baseless.
“I don’t support those calling for the cancellation of the season, it is too early to think that way. We are just in the fourth month in the year and so why should we think about nullifying the season?," he quizzed.
“We have about eight months before the year ends and I think we can continue with our league when we are able to kick out the disease on time.”
Joint top scorer of the league, Aduana Stars Yahaya Mohammed also dispelled the idea that the league should be cancelled.
He said: “I will suggest to the Ghana FA not to think about nullifying the 2019/2020 season because when they rush to take any decision they will regret along the line. We should all keep quiet and fight the coronavirus because after the virus we will get to know if there is ample time to continue or not.”
“To avoid any inconvenience we should maintain how we are playing. We can use two months to finish it and catch up because when they cancel it the club at the bottom will be happy and this will raise a whole lot of issues.”
Uncertainty over league’s return
One of the reeling effects of COVID-19 has been the uncertainty of all the things it has devastated. And this is the quadrum the Ghana Premier League finds itself.
Officials at the FA don’t have an idea when the league is likely to resume and FIFA has warned against any premature decision to start it.
The GFA is among FIFA's 211 member associations that Infantino has said that such behaviour would be 'irresponsible' as the world fights to defeat the deadly disease.
"Our first priority, our principle, the one we will use for our competitions and encourage everyone to follow is that health comes first," Infantino said in a statement specially aimed at its members.
"I cannot stress this enough. No match, no competition, no league is worth risking a single human life. Everyone in the world should have this very clear in their mind."
Despite all these uncertainty, one thing remains true: the league will definitely come back whether as a new season or a continuation of this current one. But until that time, the surge and traction the #BringBackTheLove campaign had on the Ghanaian football populace would have died out.
And the Okraku administration will have to come up with another idea to rev up again the interest in a sport that used to be the pulse of the nation