Let’s give Ohene Djan his due

BY: Razak El-Alawa
Ohene Djan
Ohene Djan

On Tuesday, July 12, 2016 I listened to a BBC report on how Africa, as a continent, boycotted the World Cup in 1966, which was hosted and won by England. I think I listened to the report three times that day. 


I was actually attracted to the report when I heard the name of Ohene Djan being mentioned, followed by an interview with Osei Kofi and Kofi Pare, both members of the Black Stars squad that won the African Nations Cup in 1963 and 1965.

The report was carried on the BBC Focus on Africa, first at 3 p.m. and then at 5 p.m. On these two occasions, I was doing something else, reading my newspapers and jotting down some points. 

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So I was not paying too much attention to the report until I heard about Ohene Djan, Osei Kofi and Kofi Pare. I tried to shift attention to the radio report and I got to know that it was written to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup and how Africa decided to boycott the event in 1964 at the initiative of Ohene Djan, Ghana’s Director of Sports, and a member of both FIFA and CAF executive committees and Ethiopia’s Yidnekatchew Tessema, also a CAF executive committee member.

Fortunately, for me, later in the evening, the lights went off at Gbawe and I could not watch the television. Everybody in the house had gone to sleep and I was the only one left in the sitting room listening to radio.

Then the story of the boycott came up again and this time I listened to the entire report. I was surprised the BBC reporter, Piers Edwards, was actually in Accra and he told listeners he was at the Accra Sports Stadium, where Ohene Djan held sway and presided over the golden age of Ghana sports, adding that he was only a short distance away from Ohene Djan’s famous office.

Many believe that that little-known boycott was to change football’s greatest competition, the World Cup, forever. 

The boycott

I must confess that as I listened to that BBC report that Tuesday, I kept asking myself what boycott it was. I have been following Ghana sports religiously since 1958, when I entered Middle Form One and could read and understand what I was reading.

I was helped by the fact that from 1958 to September 1960, when I entered secondary school, I was a newspaper vendor and I made sure I read everything, especially the sports pages in the Daily Graphic, the Ghanaian Times and Ashanti Times.

I was an avid reader of newspapers throughout my secondary school days (from 1960 to 1965) and beyond, and I still am today. I was, therefore, surprised to learn of an African boycott of the 1966 World Cup only two weeks ago, which I had never heard of.

I got to know through that BBC report two weeks ago that in January 1964, FIFA decided the line-up for the 16-team finals would include 10 teams from Europe, including hosts England, four from Latin America (i.e. South America) and one from the Central American and Caribbean region. That left just one place to be fought for by three continents: Africa, Asia and Oceania. Within a month, Ohene Djan, Ghana’s Director of Sports and also a member of the FIFA’s executives committee, cried foul.

He sent a telegram to FIFA condemning the decision and calling it “pathetic”. Ohene Djan challenged FIFA to reconsider the decision since it was unrealistic for Afro-Asian countries to go through the exercise, struggling through painful and expensive qualifying series for ultimate one finalist representation.

He described the decision as unsound and unfair. 

 Ohene Djan was probably the greatest sports administrator in Africa during that time. For political reasons, Ohene Djan could not ascend the presidency of CAF. The Egyptians always made sure one of them was in charge, with Cairo being the headquarters. 

However, Ohene Djan had the support of Ghana’s President, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, who wanted to use football, in particular, to unite Africa and, therefore, told Ohene Djan to do whatever was necessary to put African football on the world map.

Apart from the Osagyefo, Ohene Djan had the support of the Ethiopian football administrator, Yidnekatchew Tessema, in his crusade to get Africa to boycott the 1966 World Cup.

Tessema joined Ohene Djan to present Africa’s case to FIFA, arguing that Africa’s standard of play had significantly improved in the preceding years. 

Despite the pair’s sound argument, they could not have their way. FIFA went on to organise the 1966 World Cup without Africa’s participation. Eventually, it was North Korea that won the slot to represent Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Significantly, North Korea put up an impressive performance, defeating Italy in the group stages only to lose in the quarter finals 5–3 to Portugal after leading 3–0 at half time. 

Moreover, an African player from colonial Mozambique, Eusebio, who played for Portugal was the leading scorer at the tournament. 

FIFA revised its notes and decided that Africa should have one slot for the 1970 World Cup. 

Today, Africa has five slots and for the 2010, hosted by Africa, the continent had six representatives and have never disappointed. 

So if Piers Edwards was in Accra on the 50th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup early this month, he came to see the legacy left behind by Ohene Djan who led a boycott that had changed the format of the World Cup in favour of Africa.

In Accra, Piers Edwards was able to speak to Osei Kofi and Kofi Pare, stalwart players of the Black Stars who could have played in the World Cup of 1966 in England for Ghana because Ghana had won back-to-back Nations Cup in 1963 and 1965.

Piers had heard of the exploits of Osei Kofi, variously called “One Man Symphony Orchestra” and “Wizard Dribbler” in the mould of legendary George Best of Manchester United fame.

He wondered the impact Osei Kofi would have made at the 1966 World Cup if Africa had not boycotted the event and if Ghana had represented Africa. 

Osei Kofi told Piers Ohene Djan was the greatest sports administrator he had ever seen, while Kofi Pare said Ghana could have reached the final of the World Cup in 1966 and even won it if the country had been given the chance. 

Piers paid an emotional visit to the wife of Ohene Djan at Nsawam, where the Octogenarian widow told him that her only regret was how some people stopped the Accra Sports Stadium from being named after her husband. 

Rename Accra Sports stadium

I felt sad listening to that interview and I thought the authorities should take another look at the naming of the Accra Sports Stadium after this great son of Ghana, Ohene Djan. 

The stadium is a national asset, even though it may be in Accra and on Ga land.

However, we must know that Ohene Djan did a lot to put Ghana on the world sporting map operating from the Accra Sports Stadium. 

Apart from football, Ghana was adjudged one of the best sporting nations at the Commonwealth Games in 1962 in Perth, Australia, winning gold medals in athletics and boxing. Even though by the time of the Kingston Games of 1966, Ohene Djan had been removed following the coup that toppled the Osagyefo, Ghana’s flag was raised higher with some stunning performances.

I don’t think anybody will lose if the Accra Sports Stadium is renamed after Ohene Djan. He deserves it.