Bribery accusations threaten Ghana top-flight


The build-up to what is supposed to be an engaging weekend of football in the Ghana Premier League is being undermined by accusations of match fixing, and a betting investigation threatens the integrity of the league.

On the face of it, there is a thrilling finale in store this weekend. There are two relegation spots to fill and five clubs in danger of going down. At various fixtures 'survival battles' will take place, with the prize of another year in the top-flight at stake.

Overshadowing this is the fact that police are investigating a case in which operations manager of Hearts of Oak Joshua Acquah, who has reportedly since resigned, is accused of betting on games involving the club.

Additionally, there have been claims by those directly involved in the league that some games are undermined by a rampant culture of referee inducement.

"Clubs induce referees in the Ghana Premier League and we all know it,"Tema Youth coach Edward Nii Odoom, who has been vocal about the matter in the media, told KweseESPN.

"I am not afraid to say it because it is so disheartening to put in so much work on the training grounds and then discover that on match-day, a referee has made up his mind to just determine the outcome of the game."

Odoom's club Tema Youth is one of five clubs at the risk of dropping out of the league and must win their final game of the season against Bechem United, who themselves need to win to stay up.

He says he will prepare his team well for the game and hopes they win, but he clearly does not trust the system: "We will do everything to win, but I have seen too many games and seen from the first minute that the referee has an agenda. I hope it doesn't happen on Sunday."

Odoom has not been the only one complaining this week. Paa Kwesi Ndoum, who owns Ghana Premier League club Elmina Sharks, stuck the boot into the league after his side lost to Aduana Stars via a controversial penalty that earned them the league title.

"When is football not football? When administrators strategise to cheat. When referees take bribes to decide the outcome of matches, when losers on the field rely on "ways and means" off the field to win points, when fans believe they must make opposing side afraid to play, when players are given money to play against their own teams, etc, etc. This is the football I have come to experience in this first year of our team being in the Ghana Premier League," Ndoum wrote on his Facebook account.

The complaints have centered mostly on referees, but the vice-chairman of the Referees Association of Ghana, Joe Debrah, hopes they prove the critics wrong on Sunday.

Debrah told KweséESPN: "I want the referees to go to the matches on Sunday with a clean conscience and do justice to the games they will officiate in.

"Everyone keeps saying referees are taking bribes, but they have not reported any such thing to us. In any case the referees are not extorting monies, so those offering it should stop as well while we take care of our end as referees."

Debrah admits the fresh accusations against referees sinks their reputation further, especially off the back of a lifetime ban for Joseph Lamptey, considered the best Ghanaian referee, for match manipulation in a World Cup qualifier between South Africa and Senegal.

The Ghana Football Association (GFA)'s Premier League Board, which organises the league, is worried that the allegations -- traded mostly via traditional and social media -- is eating away at the integrity of the league and undermining its already limited ability to attract sponsors.

GFA communications director Ibrahim Sannie Daara says the issues are at the heart the integrity of the league, telling KweséESPN: "We have systems to deal with these things. There is a match review panel that has consistently banned referees in Ghana for poor performances and an ethics committee that deals with bribery.

"We are determined to make the game clean but we think if people have the league at heart, they should forward their complaints and evidence to us rather than trade accusations on radio."