I just saw this story about government asking everyone to start showing support for the Black Stars. First of all, the BBC reporter said many Ghanaians clearly missed the memo and I was one of them. When was the directive given and where? Three weeks or so to the tournament, are people really going to follow it? This was before the Champions league match and fans were more likely to be seen in red for Bayern Munich and blue and black for Inter than seeing any red gold green outfits.
Nevertheless, it is a noble idea and I hope we all join to show some pride in the national team. Let’s start this Friday. This article and the launch of the Professional Footballers Association of Ghana (PFAG) last week Friday got me thinking about what it means to be patriotic. Where does it begin and end especially when it comes to sports? Tough question but let me offer a few points.
The chance to represent Ghana is an honor and the desire to represent the country as one of 23 ambassadors should be applauded. Too often, we the fans forget how hard these players work to be in the team. Obviously it helps to get professional contracts when you do well for your national team but there is also a pride that comes with being chosen that must be different from donning a club jersey.
At the launch of the PFAG, it was heartwarming to see current and former national team players. It reminds you of the sacrifices they make for the country. It was especially powerful to see in a short video, C. K. Gyamfi talking about coaching Ghanaian players to the cup win in Libya while playing at least one group match with ‘coal tar’ jerseys. Coal tar jerseys were necessary because they had to use the uniforms they trained with to play the games. They didn’t have numbers on the backs of their training jerseys so they used coal tar to mark the jerseys. This is not only the stuff of improvisation and genius but of dedication. No matter the odds, the players were willing to lay it on the line for Ghana. And yet, coach Gyamfi has still not got his pension and is fed up of chasing it.
And that leads me to how we think of rewarding our players. Football players have relatively short time spans to earn good money. At the just-ended African Cup of Nations there was some grumbling at the bonuses that the players earned after winning. There was also some talk about whether the earnings should be taxed. And yet, not everyone earns Michael Essien money. These players typically have a six to ten year period of maximum contract money. They play professionally and competitively until their mid- late 30s and rarely beyond that. That gives them another 40 or so years to earn a living other than playing or live on their riches depending on how you look at it. Given the backgrounds of many of our players, their options are limited in retirement. Saying they should be paid less than what they earn should be taken within this context. Is it patriotic on our part to deny them what their value at the peak of their athletic prowess is? Tough question. How many of us when told to take pay cuts when we are valued at a certain number for mother Ghana would take that cut? Again, tough question but hopefully thought provoking.
For more pictures on the PFAG launch, check this link out. Sorry for the graininess of the pictures.