Letter From The President: Ready to relive a tragedy?

Fri, 13 May 2005 Source: J. A. Fukuor/Daily Dispatch

Countrymen and women, loyalists and opponents, our nation has been commemorating the 4th anniversary of the May 9 tragedy this week. This year, the celebrations were rather on the quite. I don?t know why the Sports Ministry and the National Sports Council decided to commemorate the tragic events of that day on such a low key. For me it?s yet another indication of typical Sikaman complacency. May 9 happened just four years ago (just a few months before September 11) and we seem to have forgotten about it. We are back in business-as-usual mode. When September 11 happened the Bushman declared war (his own unique war on terror) and so far he?s gone to war in two dangerous countries. If Iraq had gone according to plan he might have sent his forces to North Korea or Iran by now.

When our September 11 happened (on May 9) we wailed and pointed accusing fingers at each other. We should have declared war on football hooliganism but we did not. As a results the very events which led to the stampede at the stadium occur with such alarming regularity whenever and wherever there is a football match.

I am not very interested in Sikaman football because the national team is in utter disarray with no clear-cut direction or vision. I am also not interested in the domestic league, either. I?d rather be in the bosom of a concubine than go to the stadium to watch a dreary league match. But every now and then I am forced to take notice of what is happening to Sikaman football, especially when I hear of acts of hooliganism.

Since we last commemorated May 9 in 2004 there have been several acts of hooliganism at various stadiums ? From Accra to Kpando, from Kumasi to Tamale. Football fans and managers of the sport in our country appear not to have learnt any useful, life-saving lessons from May 9.

Let me start with the managers of the game. Our referees are among the most dishonest in the world. They can be so easily bought (even with tubers of yam). And when a referee is bought he can easily convert a thrown-in into a penalty. They are so bad that recently, the FA was compelled to ?import? referees from Togo to officiate a match in Sikaman. This is all because, the FA refuses to pay the referees ?realistic? allowances. They are therefore forced to make ends meet by taking bribes. When a referee takes a bribe he officiates with one eye shut and the other wide open and they are able detect offences which are ?invisible? to most spectators. The (mis)behaviour of referees often tends to incense overly passionate fans into hooliganism.

You see, most of the young men (and women) who go to the stadiums to watch football matches are unemployed or underemployed. They have little or nothing to do. They have nothing to cheer about. Life for them is a daily hustle through the scorching sun, doing menial jobs and getting chased off the pavement of Accra and the other big cities. They are a frustrated bunch. The one thing that delights them most is to see their clubs triumph. So when a bribe-taking, half-blind referee makes the wrong calls, they get angry. When they get angry, they break up the plastic seats and throw the pieces either at the referee or at each other. If my memory serves me right, a scenario like this has been played out at the Accra Sports Stadium at least once in the past one year. This, for me, is a clear indication that May 9 can happen again. And it seems to me that no one cares ? not the FA, not the Sports Council, not the Sports Ministry.

But I care. I don?t want to go through another May 9. That?s why my government has tried all it can to implement the recommendations of the Odzuketo Commission which investigated the tragedy. At least the spectators are not locked up in the stadium like goats in a pen ? as the case used to be. We have also increased the width of the stairwells at the Stadium and we now even have a well-furnished sports clinic at the Accra Sports Stadium. We are doing our best. But if referees continue to misbehave and fans continue to throw plastic seats at each other, our best efforts will come to nothing. That?s why I want the Sports Ministry and the FA to put their feet down and do the right thing. Some drastic actions need to be taken to get supporters to behave and ensure that May 9 never occurs again.

Wayward referees and other match officials should be stripped of their credentials. They should not be allowed to officiate matches in Sikaman again. Those who are found to have taken bribes (cash and tubers of yam) should be named and shamed. If they can?t change, we should use the Togolese referees more often and, perhaps, invite some others from DR Congo as well. Football fans who cannot control their tempers should not be allowed into any stadium. Most of those who perished on May 9 2001, did not engage in the angry and violent exchange of plastic chairs. Those who did survived the tragedy and they continue to engage in the same acts of vandalism and hooliganism. I don?t know why no single person has been charged so far with destroying public property ? even for the most recent cases of chair-ripping. But I can hazard a guess. The police officers who are deployed to the stadiums to ensure law and order just seize such duties as opportunities to watch the football matches from the sidelines. They are often more interested in the matches than in crowd (mis)behaviour. The police officers should change their attitude. If we can?t afford to install CCTV cameras in the stands, police commanders should deploy plain-cloth officers to sit among the spectators so that the first spectator who breaks a plastic chair gets arrested immediately. Those arrested will be prosecuted, their pictures published and they should banned from entering any sports arena in the country.

Finally, clubs whose supporters misbehave should be severely sanctioned. The half-hearted, not-so punitive sanctions imposed on clubs by the FA are not yielding any results. The FA should adopt the stance taking by UEFA ? clubs should be forced to play in empty stadiums if their supporters misbehave. In addition, heavy financial penalties should be imposed on the clubs. This goes especially to Hearts and Kotoko whose fans are the most intolerant and rowdy in the country.

Sportingly yours,

J. A. Fukuor

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: J. A. Fukuor/Daily Dispatch