The trouble with Ghana Premier League

As the curtain was brought down on the 2023/24 Ghana Premier League last Sunday, it came down with an image so brutally battered that local football risks losing its identity.

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Such was the extent of damage to the local game that what is abhorred in elite societies now appears normal in Ghana football. If the controversy that characterised the fiasco of a fixture between Dreams FC and RTU in the midweek preceding the final day of the season was a signal of the joke staged as a football competition, the final day would expose the depths of the comedy.

These familiar scenarios of the survival power of some clubs at just the crucial point of the league is discomforting to the neutral who would want to see the best of local football.

It is undeniable that local football has lost its attraction in recent times over a number of factors, including poor officiating and talent dearth. The popularity of the foreign leagues is not only because of the “stars” they parade but the genuineness of the results they produce.

Match-fixing is a major sin in football in serious societies, but has been treated largely as a taboo subject in our local circumstances until it shows itself in a messy form.

For those who may not have followed, RTU travelled from Tamale in the Northern Region to Dawu in the Eastern Region for an outstanding league match against Dreams FC. Dreams FC, owned by the Ghana Football Association (GFA) President, was threatened by relegation despite their heroics in the CAF Confederation Cup.

Indeed, despite reaching the semi-finals of the continental club competition, the team could hardly replicate the same form in the local league, and a drop to the second tier, Division One League, suddenly appeared a possibility.

But RTU, having already been relegated from the premiership as bottom club, only had its image to protect, if they were minded to. Otherwise, the club's interest in the league campaign was long gone.

Given the scenario and the history of Ghana football, few would expect RTU to emerge from the game with a result that could jeopardise Dream FC's stay in the premiership. But who would have imagined that RTU would parade a squad of fake players bearing the identities of their actual players? They lost the match 8-1.

The GFA has since launched a probe, at least per a statement, into the issue, with RTU owning up to the sham they helped to enact, explaining that it happened because they could not raise a team for the match. Their players were said to have embarked on a strike over months of unpaid salaries.

The lack of concrete evidence had always left issues of potential match-fixing hanging as mere rumours until four Division One clubs brought the game into disrepute with outrageous scorelines on the final day of a competitive mini-league.

Nania FC beat Okwawu United 31-0, while Great Mariners beat Mighty Jets 29-0 in two matches in March 2007, that were to lead to the promotion of one of them to the premiership.

The four were all banned for a year and subsequently demoted. In similar circumstances, AshantiGold and Inter Allies were demoted to Division Two after evidence emerged of a match-fixing scandal in 2022. AshantiGold, a three-time Ghana Premier League champions and Champions League finalists in 1997, have since been expelled from football after dragging the GFA to court in relation to the matter in contravention of football regulations.

For now, the above interventions are the closest the system has come to purging itself of the allegations of match-fixing, diplomatically referred to as matches of convenience. And while hard evidence is still difficult to come by, last Sunday’s matches in the battle against relegation were sore to the eye.

Accra Hearts of Oak beat Bechem United 3-2 in a match they needed to win; Heart of Lions secured the point they needed to survive in a 2-2 draw away at Berekum Chelsea, while Karela United beat Medeama 1-0 away at Tarkwa to also survive relegation.

With those three results, the fate of Accra Great Olympics, along with Bofoakwa and RTU, was sealed for Division One League football next season. It is curious that at a time the local league has sunk to its lowest ebb, officials continue to clamour for positions in the GFA.

Is there a reason for the concentration that has been on the Black Stars and other projects that can deliver per diem to officials rather than delivering competitive local football? It is time to work to win back the interest of fans and exorcise any perceptions of match-fixing allegations in the local football league.

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