Why is refereeing so poor in domestic football?
Some of the least trusted persons in Ghana football are referees. Week in and out, stories of match manipulation by officials are very rampant across the country, and it appears that the few who have taken to this profession in past and present, have done very little to improve its dignity and credibility.
Whereas referees are supposed to be a source of justice on the playing pitch, those in Ghana are a source of constant confusion, agitation and bad decision making. It is therefore a little wonder that during local league matches, every decision of the referee is met with jeers.
Mistakes, bad decisions and wrong interpretations of the rules by referees are part of a soccer game, even at the highest professional level. Unfortunately in Ghana, it happens too often, especially in the Premier League and is even worse at the lower divisions, where demand for good referees is much bigger than supply.
Errors are a part of human nature, so it is normal for a referee to have bad day, however, it becomes terrible when a referee demonstrates open bias in an unremorsefully manner just to favour one team over the other.
Bias officiating has almost become like a norm and is becoming increasingly rampant in the last two decades. And despite video evidence of such an unacceptable behaviours, the Ghana Football Association has done very little to clampdown on the canker.
Countless bad calls by football referees have led to loss of lives, property and pride over the years, yet the FA has always turned blind eyes to it.
Unsurprisingly, Ghanaian referees, despite the country being one of the pacesetters in the African soccer, are hardly selected for CAF and FIFA competitions. This has been a topic for debate for some time now, with many calling on the Referees Appointment Committee to find a lasting solution to the disgraceful behaviour of officials in the country.
Most often, when a referee demonstrates blatant bias towards one team, instead of condemning it, the beneficial team and its supporters could be seen defending such decision. It is this type of behaviour that has allowed the problem to persist for many years.
For instance, two of the most important games in the Ghana Premier League this season involving Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko were decided by contemptuous calls from referees in both legs.
During the first leg in Accra, the home team and its supporters found nothing wrong when a dubious penalty was awarded to Hearts of Oak, which resulted in the only goal of the game. Whilst in the return game in Kumasi, Kotoko also benefited from a questionable penalty and equally found nothing wrong with it. This type of behaviour by referees and clubs is not only unacceptable, but also disgraceful and discourages hard work and quality football.
Influencing referees to win games has almost become like some sort of equalisation in the various legs in the country. The problem is even more serious in the lower divisions where matches are played behind cameras.
A recent case which however, deserves commendation and mention is Kotoko Coach, Steve Pollack decision to openly criticised referee Nuhu Liman for awarding his team a penalty during an MTN FA Cup clash against Nea Salamina, a lower division club last week.
This is what he had to say about the decision: “Look, I am not going to hold brief for the referee. I am always honest when it comes to penalties and I will say this: No, it is not a penalty in my eyes.
I was embarrassed at the penalty. I wanted to win the game but not this way. It wasn't a penalty," Pollack said during the post-match press conference.
Increasingly, clubs and fans are beginning to believe that one can easily win a game or even the league by simply influencing referees to manipulate matches in their favour.
The problem, if not checked, threatens to wane the gains made by the country as a football nation, especially in league football.
It is therefore not surprising that Ghanaian referees are hardly selected to officiate in international matches. Even countries like Eritrea, Rwanda and other minnows in football have referees officiating in both CAF and FIFA competitions.
For instance, the FIFA Disciplinary Committee decided to ban Ghanaian match official Joseph Odartei Lamptey from taking part in any kind of football-related activity (administrative, sports or any other) at national and international level for life.
The official was found guilty of breaching art. 69 par. 1 (unlawfully influencing match results) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia qualifying match between South Africa and Senegal on 12 November 2016, in which he dubious awarded a penalty to the South Africans.
It was not the first time Lamptey was involved in match manipulation. In 2011, Lamptey was handed a six-month ban by CAF for allowing a controversial goal in a CAF Champions League game between Esperance of Tunisia and Al Ahly of Egypt.
In the face of all these, Ghana Football Association Referees Appointment Committee Chairman Eddy Doku, had the ‘balls’ to defend Mr. Lamptey’s disgraceful behavior.
The lack of punitive actions by the GFA for referees engage in bias decision making and match manipulation is not only an endorsement of it, but the last the straw that could broke the camel's back.