President of the Ghana Football Association, Kurt E. S Okraku, on Wednesday, May 13, 2020, gave an update on the impact of COVID-19 on the football industry and other matters related to engagements with stakeholders and government about the way forward for the sport.
Mr. Okraku was on a program organized by Accra-based radio station Happy 98.9 FM and GTV Sports+. On the panel were Deputy Youth and Sports Perry Okudzeto, Ben Nunoo Mensah, President of the Ghana Olympic Committee, Hon. Alex Kofi Agyekum M.P for Mpohor and Chairman of the Parliament Select Committee on Sports and Culture. Another guest on the discussion was Charles Osei Asibey, Secretary of the Sports Writers Association of Ghana (SWAG).
Read in full, a transcript of what the GFA President said:
How has COVID-19 affected the development of football in Ghana?
“If there is an industry in this country that has suffered over the last four years, it is the football industry. I am saying this because of what we went through after ‘Number 12’ exposé when everything ground to a halt completely for almost two years where our male and female suffered as a result of no football activity. There are about 5,000 people who are directly employed in the top flights of our football. So going two years without football was not easy because owners of clubs went through a lot. Today, players are struggling to showcase their talent because of COVID-19. Club owners do not see their way clear because of this pandemic. At a time when we thought the game was picking up, on came COVID-19 so the effect is unquantifiable. Even the media has been badly hit. When I think about my colleague club owners, for instance, I have 5 clubs in Ghana, move to the 18 Premier League clubs, 48 Division One clubs, Division Two, Women’s League, Colts League. As things stand, the football industry has really suffered within the last three years. For us to be on our feet again, God must intervene.
If we decide to annul the League. What will be the revenue loss to clubs?
As we speak, there’s no decision as to whether the Ghana Premier League would be cancelled or not. We are still in talks. If we are to cancel the league, it will be another trying period for players, clubs, referees and everybody involved in football.
A cancellation will almost certainly mean loss of sponsorship revenue to clubs. I don’t have the exact figures as to how much revenue clubs will lose if the league is cancelled. But you don’t expect sponsors to continue sponsoring when there are no football activities. The financial challenges mean the issue of player salaries, already a sensitive subject, has come up. I share in the pain of club owners at this point in time. Throughout the world when issues like this come up, the issue of salary comes up. FIFA has spoken about the issue. They don’t want us to touch the salaries of footballers but it is something that has come to our attention but we would like to respect the decision of FIFA.
On decision making at this moment
At the last Executive Council meeting, we gave ourselves up till the end of June to make a decision. We are considering all scenarios in our engagements with stakeholders. Our medical team led by Dr. Adam Baba is working very hard to come up with a document for us to consider. I want to call for calm. We shall take a decision in the interest of everybody. We will communicate our decision if we decide to either cancel or truncate the season. In the meantime, FIFA remains the GFA’s main hope of financial salvation. We are also waiting for FIFA to fast-track the process and get us the Emergency COVID-19 Fund.
Is it not a flaw that we don’t have figures to back our argument on losses and contributions of football to the GDP at this time?
I think we are in a stage in our football development where we need to make room for science to play a big part in whatever we do. That would mean science will lead in the things we do to provide information to the nation. This is something that the FA under my leadership will do. The fact that it hasn’t been done in the past does not mean it won’t be done. It is something that I really want to do.
What can you tell us about the stimulus package from government?
Before the new football season under my leadership, we approached government for support and it was because of the problems we faced within the last two years. There was a need for us to be helped to come back on our feet. So we met the Sports Ministry and indeed they shared in our concerns for which reason the Sports Minister arranged for us to meet the President, H.E Nana Akufo-Addo. Just a few months after our engagement, boom, on came COVID-19. So it has halted everything we put in place. Football is big, it’s one of the strongest vehicles that can be used to transform the nation. It has affected every facet of the economy. You look at the guaranteed revenue streams for football clubs in Ghana, from player trading, to gate proceeds and the likes are all off. So we went back to the Sports Ministry again with a proposal seeking for help. Discussions have gone on very well and we are looking at government to come up with a package to help the football industry.
What about International bodies?
Beyond government, we have engaged WAFU, CAF and FIFA. Indeed WAFU was looking at CAF; CAF was also looking at FIFA. But what I can say is that the FIFA Bureau is doing a lot to help alleviate the hardship of Member Associations during this time. We have had several meetings with the leadership of FIFA; all our discussions have been positive. We cannot make progress without FIFA and government intervention because government is a major stakeholder in football development in Ghana. The FA will sit over the issue, consult and make decisions that would benefit our members because clubs are really suffering. It is a fact that before football can grow; there is a need for government to invest in the game. In other countries, government gives direct money to clubs. The platform is amazing and it can only be harnessed properly if we all come together and work.
So what next?
At this stage, stakeholders know the process involved and the stage we are. We all know cabinet met a few days ago to make a decision. Again, FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he is doing his best to fast-track the process and make some money available to Member Associations.”
“Even in scarcity, we found a way to support our clubs. The clubs are playing a waiting game but they are positive because we have been very open and transparent to them. We know it’s not easy but we are positive.
About FIFA Forward and Emergency Fund
The FIFA Forward operational fund, which is $500,000 and the COVID-19 Emergency fund that is unknown, these are two different funds. The money has not yet come from FIFA but we believe it will hit our accounts soon to be put to good use.
Your clubs wanted you to share the money to them. What can you say about that?
The FA shares in the pains of our clubs and our direct stakeholders for which reason we came to their aid when we received the one million dollars from Glo before the commencement of the league. It gives you an indication of how much we know our clubs, how much we respect our clubs and how much we always try to meet them halfway. However, when FIFA gives you money for a particular project, FIFA tells you exactly what to do with the money. You can’t withdraw cash, you take loans with the money, and you can misappropriate the funds. With FIFA Forward, it’s as strict as IMF, even though I don’t have experience with the IMF. But let me hasten to add that the FIFA COVID-19 Emergency Fund will come and when it comes, the FA will take care of our clubs.
Update us on your Visit to Prampram on Tuesday
The Executive Council met to take a decision and one of the foremost things we did was to use our intangible assets so our Communications Department together with the International Relations Department decided to use our foreign-based players to record educational videos on COVID-19 in the fight against the pandemic. Beyond this, we looked at our facility at Prampram that can house at least 250 people and that decision was well received by the Council. The facility is going through a major facelift and I am sure within the coming days, the place will be ready for use. I would like to take the opportunity to thank President H.E Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the Ministry of Health, the Ghana Health Service and all the stakeholders for their roles.
On the way forward for Ghana Football
The Executive Council shares in the pain of all clubs in Ghana during this challenging period. We are in this together. We play a big part in the lives of every Ghanaian. We bring hope, we offer aspirations to people who would not normally be found from the woods of Ghana. We heal wounds. It is at this time that we need to stay together as a family because no single individual has answers to all the problems facing the football industry. And at this moment, we need all industry players on board. Let’s fight internally and let’s agree on the best foot to put forward for the good of the Football Association. I believe we have enough quality in this country and I believe with very good management, we would get back to our glorious days. We are yearning for the big trophies, just as the President Nana Akufo-Addo said. We are yearning for the AFCON, we are yearning for the CAF Champions League and with hard work, these trophies would come.