In our part of the world, football is reserved predominantly for men. In fact, most parents would deliberately discourage their girl-child from engaging in anything football, as it has long been the preserve for men. But that narrative is changing, thanks to Linda Ansong, the Chief Executive Officer of one of Ghana’s elite clubs, Liberty Professionals. Currently the only woman to be the CEO of a football club in the top flight and also the only woman on the Premier League Management Committee, her passion for the game has inspired her to compete with men for the top job in football administration in Ghana. Her goal is to become the next President of the Ghana Football Association (GFA).
Yes, you got it right – she wants to be the GFA President. One would ask why a young lady her like her is trying to tread where even the toughest of men have dared and fallen? The answer is simple. Linda is the daring type. She challenges herself to big tasks and deliver, not focusing on whatever is considered a challenge or hindrance. What is moving her to pursue this dream that some would imagine is impossible? Read on as she shares her passion with the B&FT.
Linda Ansong is the second of four children born to business magnate Felix Ansong (founder of Liberty Professionals Football Club) and his wife Victoria Ansong. Born and bred in Dansoman, a very popular and prime suburb in Accra, she had a secondary education at the Holy Child School and proceeded to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology where she studied Actuarial Science. Following that, she was admitted at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology where she furthered her studies in software entrepreneurship.
As a native of Kwahu – a people well known in Ghana mostly for their entrepreneurial prospects and success, being an entrepreneur came to her naturally. After she competed the Meltwater course, she got funding of US$100,000 to start her own software company with four other partners. But after she worked with the company for one year, she decided to resign and join her father to manage one of the toughest jobs in the world – running a football club.
Joining Liberty Professionals F.C
In 2015, Linda made a decision that would change the entire course of her life. She left all that she had laboured for in life to become part of the management team of Liberty Professionals F.C, one of the country’s biggest clubs which has contributed immensely to the success of the game. It is this club which birthed and nurtured legends such as Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari, Asamoah Gyan, among other successful footballers in the country.
It all began with the unfortunate passing of Sylvester Tetteh, her father’s right-hand man who was managing the club. His passing came as a big blow to her father and he found it hard to replace such a key figure who, together, they both conceived and birthed Liberty Professionals. Linda realised her father needed someone who understands the club’s DNA and has been around the club for a long time to know the culture and tradition of the club. And considering the amount of money her father had invested in the club, she couldn’t think of a future where the club may fall in the wrong hands and ruin all the gains made over the years. So, rather than to go on a frantic search for someone who they don’t know, Linda decided to sacrifice her career to fill that gap and take over the management and administration of Liberty Professionals F.C.
Friends were surprised about her decision, so some expressed genuine concerns as to whether she would be able to handle the numerous challenges that come with managing a football in this country? In fact, such fears were the very things that motivated Linda to take over the club. For her, the only way to prove to people you can do something is to try it. That philosophy is what moves her into areas dubbed ‘no-go-area’, especially for women. And try she did, and can now look back with pride in making that decision.
With her expertise and hard work, the club’s finances have significantly improved ever since she took over. She has introduced structures and systems that have cut down on expenditure and kept cash flow up. She has been able to secure sponsorship deals for the club. One of her biggest achievement so far, is to secure a contract in Granada F.C, a club in the coveted Spanish La Liga, for one of her players, a feat that has not been achieved by any Ghanaian club in recent years.
Besides her success with the administration of the club, the staff feels happier than before as they are now better remunerated and taken care of. These are but just a few plaudits to her CV as the club’s CEO.
Why she wants the FA job
So, with the experienced she has gathered on the job, and how she has been able to turn the club’s fortunes around in a very difficult environment, Linda feels it is now time to move into an area where she can impact football in the country. She is acutely aware of the challenges Ghana football is facing; and those challenges are her main motivation for eyeing the FA top job.
Linda says there are numerous challenges that football in Ghana is facing which have taken the beauty of the game away. And it is now time to try a woman to bring about change. One of the main challenges she has realised in the past five years she has been at the helm of affairs at Liberty Professionals is the lack of political will in supporting football. She said there is little or virtually no governmental support for clubs in Ghana and this has contributed greatly to the financial struggles of football clubs in Ghana. She feels government must have a deliberate policy to support clubs become financially stable. Such policies, she said, may include giving companies which sponsor and support football clubs some tax rebates or some incentives in order to motivate them to do so. Without such support, Linda says, companies will always be reluctant to support clubs as they feel they won’t be able to make the needed returns from it.
To address this challenge, Linda says when she becomes the FA President, she would lobby and engage government to come up with a policy which would incentivise companies to sponsor football clubs in the country so as to help them beef up their finances.
Another major problem which has become a bane in Ghana Football is bad officiating due to bribery and corruption. For this canker to end, Linda says, two things must be done. The first is harsh punitive measures for the perpetrators. She says the current punitive measures are too soft to deter officials from engaging in such misconduct, hence, officials caught in bribery and corruption scandals should face long term bans from the game. And this, she would ensure is done when she becomes FA President in order to bring sanity to the system.
The other measure is the qualification of people who are used as referees and match officials. She feels the bar should be raised for such officials so that accomplished people who have a passion for the game can also apply to officiate. In her opinion, officiating should not be left to only those who are involved in football. Other professionals like lawyers, lecturers, doctors, bankers, among others who want to be part of the game should be trained and given the licence to do so. This, she would make sure is done when she gets the FA to job.
There is also the challenge of negative reportage and publicity from the media. The too much negativity, according to Linda, is among the reasons the love for the game has cooled off. With this particular challenge, she admits it will be difficult to address as FA President as she would have no direct control over what should be published by any media house. But she believes regular engagement with the main stream media would reduce the negativity.
Tackling corruption in football
The Ghana Football Association has long come under attack of being perceived as one of the most corrupt institutions in the country. Therefore, few women will dare enter into football management let alone to eye the top job of becoming the President of the Ghana Football Association, a position that has longed been tagged with corruption, especially with the release of an investigative work dubbed ‘Number 12’ which caught a former President of the association, Kwesi Nyantakyi and some other officials in bribery scandals. The GFA has since then, been branded a corrupt organisation which is seen as an entity for officials to siphon state funds and share among cronies. In fact, the GFA has, since, struggled to keep a good name in the eyes of the public. And yet, such is the kind of environment Linda is pushing herself into.
This confirms how daring she is. Her quest is to rebrand football and make it great again in the country. How would she do it? Through transparency, communication and inclusivity. She thinks the reason people perceive the FA to be corrupt is the lack of information and transparency in communication. This is what she would change.
Communication and transparency have been her main strength which has contributed to her success as CEO of Liberty Professionals. She makes sure that in decision making, every relevant stakeholder is involved and those who should be informed are also accorded that respect so that no one works with some ill-feeling, thinking management is taking advantage of them in some way. In the same vein, if the Ghana FA is run as such, she says, all clubs, football fans and other stakeholders will erase any perception of corruption they have. This will be her approach to giving the FA a new face devoid of any corruption tag.
Overall vision for the GFA job
Linda’s vision is to make Ghana football great again. She wants to make football in the country attractive; she wants people to bring back the old passion they had for the game which made the stadium full whenever there was a tough match.
“When I become the FA President, I don’t think I am going to do something extraordinarily new. There is nothing new under the sun. I will just look at what is being done in other places that we don’t have here and introduce them here. Things that the majority of people feel we should change, I will change.”