The curtains will be drawn on the 2017 West African Football Union (WAFU) Cup of Nations on Sunday when the fierce rivalry between Ghana and Nigeria is re-enacted before an expected capacity crowd, including the Executive Committee of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) led by its president, Ahmad Ahmad.
No clash befits the final better than another mouth-watering clash between Ghana and Nigeria, the two most successful football nations in the sub-region with an unmatched rivalry which brings the best out of the two teams. And the presence in Cape Coast of Ahmad and his high-powered executives, including Ghana FA president, Kwesi Nyantakyi, who is the second-in-command at the continental body, attests to the level to which the WAFU Cup has been elevated in size and prize money.
For all its shortcomings, this WAFU Cup tournament has been a success in many respects. The competition may have started slowly, but Ghana’s progress naturally raised the level of interest by the locals and the attendance at matches has been impressive, albeit due the smart decision by the organising committee to open the gates free of charge.
Hosting 16 teams can be a logistical nightmare and the WAFU Cup again tested Ghana’s readiness to host international competitions, particularly with Ghana playing host to eight teams at next year’s African Women’s Championship. Thus the sub-regional competition served as a dress rehearsal for the Ghana Football Association and the Ministry of Youth and Sports as it provided important lessons and guide for the Local Organising Committee (LOC) when it is formed.
For countries which have qualified for next year’s African Nations Championship (CHAN) to be hosted by Kenya, the WAFU Cup no doubt is a useful exercise to test their readiness.
Despite the stated importance of the revived tournament, the timing of the competition was just wrong for very strong reasons.
First, it will not serve any important purpose for the teams that have qualified for the CHAN which is four months away from now.
The teams who used the WAFU Cup as preparation may have to have alternative plans when the competition nears given that between now and late December when they round up their preparation, anything can happen to their players.
More worrying, the WAFU Cup forced the Ghana Premier League to a month-long break at a time the domestic competition had reached the homestretch, with clubs in fierce battles to win the competition, as well an intense fight to escape relegation.
For a competition punctuated too many times with interruptions, the WAFU Cup was another avoidable disruption, especially with Ghana’s domestic calendar not in sync with the rest of the world which often has a negative impact on Ghanaian teams who go into CAF competitions ill-prepared because of the late start of the season.
The break of the league will no doubt impact adversely on the standard of the competition when it restarts next month, and it could further affect attendance at matches which has direct impact on the clubs’ revenues.
A greater danger in disrupting the domestic calendar for such international competitions is that it makes the Premier League less attractive to its corporate partners, including the Broadcast Sponsor, StarTimes, who are forced to tinker with their schedule all the time.
The lack of attractiveness of the Premier League to corporate bodies must be of primary concern to the GFA because such disruptions of the domestic calendar do not only affect the clubs due to inactivity, but ultimately, they make sponsors shy away from the league.
For all the commendations Ghana gets for good organisation of such competitions, it is equally important to pay more attention to timing and planning, by ensuring that all such programmes are incorporated in the football calendar before the start of the season in order to avoid such unplanned breaks, which eventually come at a big cost to clubs and other partners.