Feature: How deep will COVID-19 plunge into the GPL?

Author: Sakyibea Ofori Nana Ama
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The Ghana Premier League has been suspended since March 15 due to the pandemic

COVID-19 has changed the sports calendar in a drastic manner many did not see coming. With many international games shifted to 2021, spectators have no choice but to keep football on the waiting list. No more gatherings at stadiums, pubs, or game centres as Ghanaians love to call it to watch the game that has brought us so much pleasure and unity. We have no option than to reminisce months where we had live games to watch.

The pandemic has travelled across the globe making it a point to infect over 3 million people and killing over 200,000 people. Footballers, coaches and fans have tested positive for the virus with some losing their lives.

The Ghana Football Association (GFA) released a statement on March 15 suspending the Ghana Premier League because of the havoc the pandemic has caused.
"The Ghana Football Association following directives given by the President of the Republic on Sunday, March 15, 2020 has suspended all its competition with immediate effect until further notice," the statement said.

Leagues around the world, including the top five European leagues, were also put on hold, however, Serie A has resumed individual training. 

Spain's top-flight league has also been given the go-ahead to clubs to start individual training with the season set to continue on June 17 behind closed doors. On May 6, news broke that Bundesliga will resume on May 15. The French Ligue 1 took a bold decision by ending the 2019/2020 season and crowning Paris-Saint Germain as champions.

The leagues around the world are already finding solutions to this pandemic but it looks like the Ghana Premier League is not sure of the way forward. Despite The Confederation of African Football (CAF) setting May 5 as the final day for member clubs to decide on whether their leagues will continue or be cancelled, the Communication Director of the Ghana FA, Henry Asante Twum, has affirmed that there is uncertainty as to when the GPL will continue.

"Currently we are in limbo because, for three years running, we have not had a full season in the Ghana Premier League. So deciding to truncate it is something that needs a lot of deliberation. The President has told the clubs, they are in the consultation process and will come out with a decision when the government gives the go-ahead for the league to resume," he said.

The question hanging over the heads of football clubs and the owners is "How deep will COVID-19 plunge into football?”

The economy of football has been hit hard. La Liga clubs, for instance, could lose as much as 600 million euros (377billion Ghana cedis) in income and tickets if the season is cancelled, according to a study by a Spanish radio station, Cope.

Cancelling the GPL season will be detrimental to the coffers of the clubs. It should be kept in mind that if the season continues, it is likely to be played behind doors and there will be no ticket sales. Meaning the clubs will have to do with TV deals and when the money generated from the TV deal is less, 'small' clubs will find their economy in trouble.   

If the 2019/2020 season does not resume quickly, bankruptcy will be knocking on the door of some clubs and it’s no secret that football has employed a lot of people and clubs who do not have enough money to support their workers will have to offload them. In some circumstances, players have been advised to take pay cuts. Realistically, it will be impossible to do that in the GPL.

The salary of some players is scanty and will seem unfair to take some part of their hard-earned money. Some club footballers are paid as low as 300 cedis per month so a reduction in their paycheck will not go down well with them.

When FIFA released $500, 000 to the GFA as relief package because of the virus, it looked like there was light at the end of the tunnel for teams believed they will receive a portion of the money but that light became dim when the GFA revealed they are buried in over GHc 11 million debt.

However, no decision has been made on how the $500,000 will be disbursed.

In issues pertaining to the transfer market and contract of players, the international governing body of football, FIFA, has put measures in place to protect players whose contract will run out at the end of the season. In a statement released on April 7, 2020, FIFA made it clear the contracts of players can be prolonged.

“Expiring player contracts usually end when the season ends, with a termination date that coincides with the end of the season. With the current suspension of play in most countries, it is now obvious that the current season will not end when people thought it would. Therefore, it is proposed that contracts be extended until such time that the season does actually end,” the statement said.

”With regard to transfer windows, again, it is necessary to adjust the normal regulatory position to the new factual circumstances. Accordingly, FIFA will be flexible and will allow the relevant transfer windows to be moved so they fall between the end of the old season and the start of the new season,” the statement added.

This may come as good news to footballers but what happens after the season ends? Now it should be kept at the back of their minds that most clubs will still be financially unstable after the pandemic. So finding a new club or extending their contract with their current club is foggy.

Selling and buying players may not be a good option for clubs. Digging deep, you realise that there might not be enough money to purchase players to make your team better, and selling your player will depend on the team buying him.

Amid all the heat the novel coronavirus has caused is betting companies. Now there are no games to bet on and those companies must find a way to survive.

It is been reported that Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne told his wife he would delay his retirement by two years because staying indoors had made him miss football.

COVID-19 has taken a toll on us all. It depends on how everyone will embrace it. Whilst some sportsmen will take time to reflect on their career and decide to call it quits, others will hunger for football. The head coach of Ghana football club, Hearts of Oak, Edward Nii Odoom, has given his players individual special training hoping they will not lose focus when the Premier League returns. Some Ghanaian players have been seen doing individual training in their homes.

March 15, 2020 was the last time a game was played in the GPL, since then spectators have their fingers crossed praying fervently to see the back of COVID-19 so they don the jerseys of their favourite clubs and march to stadiums to shout on top of their lungs and profess their undying love they have for their clubs.

Until then, we can only rely on the hopeful words of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo: “This too shall pass”.

-The author is a level 300 journalism student at the Ghana Institute of Journalism