Sports

Officiating in the #GhPL; mistakes or products of a systemic flaw?

AsaaseSports' Atsu Tamakloe explains why officiating in the Ghana Premier League is sub-par.

The Ghana Premier League is heading down the home stretch, and with it, comes the now ritual conversation about the falling standards of officiating. The latest is, according to a section of Kotoko fans and some pro-Kotoko journalists, part of a grand plan hatched to ensure Hearts of Oak end their trophy drought. There are others, of a bigger constituency, who believe the problems run deeper.

But have the referees covered themselves in glory? No.

There is no other way to put it. Some of the decisions have been incomprehensible. Last week, Maxwell Owusu awarded a penalty to Hearts of Oak. The video below says enough about the kind of decision it was.

There have been many such decisions in the league. But what explains the staggering ineptitude we have seen this season?

Structural changes

The year is 2018. Ghana football has just been rocked by Number 12; an investigative piece by journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas, that exposed systemic corruption in Ghana football. Referees, match commissioners, football administrators were caught on tape engaging in various acts of misconduct. In a desperate move to purge itself of duplicity, sacrificed 61 referees. Yes, 61.

It was done ostensibly to regain the trust of stakeholders and partners alike. The 61 included the country’s best referees. David Laryea, Reginald Lathbridge, Safo Adade, Samuel Sukah, Dally Gagba, Furella Bamie, Charles Dowuona, and Umar Teni were given lifetime bans. Others like Cecil Fletcher, Eric Nantierre, Dawood Ouedraogo, Nathan Anafo, Otis Oppong, Salifu Rahman, Yaw Ametepey Uriah Glah, William Agbovi, and Awal Mohammed were part of 53 officials who were banned for ten years.

These referees averaged no less than ten years of top-flight experience under their belt. To officiate in a Ghana Premier League, a referee must have done three years in the colts and Division Two league and pass an exam to first win their Class Two certificate. From there, the referee spends a minimum of three years in the Division One League, and based on performance assessments done by the Referee’s Association of Ghana (RAG), they would be invited to sit for an exam for the Class One Certificate. By the time they start officiating matches in the Ghana Premier League, they had a minimum of six years of experience. Take for example the outspoken Eric Owusu Mensah AKA ”Kala”. He spent eight years in the lower leagues before spending nearly two decades in the country’s toplight. To his credit, not once was he summoned by the Disciplinary Committee over questionable officiating. Not a single time.

However, after the tsunami of September 2018, the GFA and RAG needed to replace these referees. And even though the promotional system was not ready to produce such a huge number at once, exigencies of the situation demanded it. The impact of this is the half-baked referees we are seeing. And it is only natural. What we are experiencing is essentially what would have happened if the league had run its course the previous three seasons. By now, the post-Number 12 referees would have become fully-fledged or something close to that.

But, alas, that has not happened and we are worse for it. We have a good number of referees who have been thrown into the deep when they are still learning the ropes.

GFA’s responsibility. 

At the beginning of the season, the GFA signed a memorandum of understanding with the State Transport Corporation to move match officials from their base to the cities where they would officiate matches. It was warmly received. Eight months later, match officials still pay for transport costs. Beyond that, the GFA has consistently failed to match referees on time. Currently, there is an outstanding debt of thirteen matchdays owed to these referees. On Friday morning, GFA President Kurt Okraku told Kumasi-based Kessben FM that payment would be made to cover the cost of six matches in 48hours.

There is the small matter of the broken promises made to them. The GFA has a standing agreement to pay them in tranches; each payment would be made after every five matches. That agreement has been violated.

Regardless of these circumstances, referees are expected to find the money for transportation to match venues and for accommodation when they travel. It goes without saying that the GFA’s inability to effect payment on time, makes the referee’s susceptible to bribery and for that matter any other kind of influence. While there is no suggestion that the performances we have seen are a result of bribery, we also cannot rule it.  The current economic climate referees operate in, is every enabling for such. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Agenda?

I would be the first to admit there is an agenda at play; a grand puppeteer pulling strings from behind. But it is not the Ghana Football Association. Neither is it the Referee’s Appointment Committee. It’s that of a fan group whose agenda is to stop the ”favors” handed rival clubs. Fair play to them. Nobody likes to be cheated. But to suggest there is an agenda to favor Hearts of Oak is just silly nonsense. By all means, hold referees to higher standards. But the smear campaign we have seen against the GFA President in the past week and the attempts to discredit Hearts of Oak are just unsporting. They stink to the high heavens.

If the GFA President has questions to answer, it has to be over the lack of an independent assessment system for referees. It has to be the lack of practical moves to improve refereeing standards in Ghana. And do not mention the Catch Them Young Policy because I would scoff at it. It is a project in its infancy. And while it is a laudable idea for the future, we need a solution for today’s problems and at the moment, the GFA does not seem to have one.

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