The GFA vs UK high commissioner Jon Benjamin: What you didn’t know

first_imgThe Ghana Football association have launched a broadside at the British High Commissioner to Ghana, Jon Benjamin, after he alleged that they had dissipated FIFA funding on luxury SUVs.The FA labelled his comments “at best stupendous ignorance or, at worst, sinister.”  A diplomat for more than 25 years, Benjamin is no stranger to controversy.Joy Sports’ Kweku Arhin and Gary Al-Smith look behind the scenes at what precipitated this furore.What was the occasion for the comment?The High Commissioner was hosted on Tuesday morning at Viasat 1. The show, Sports Xtra, is a magazine show airing hosted by Thierry Nyann (both men are shown above, pictured). Think of it as Viasat’s version of Multi TV’s Sports Today hosted by Nat Attoh.Was the FA the topic of discussion? No. The show was geared towards his love for club football with emphasis on African players in his native England. Jon is a known fan of London side West Ham United and discussed their relatively impressive start to this Premier League season. In his submission he touched on Ghanaians in the league and their impact.What was Benjamin’s claim?The discussion of Ghanaian players led to the issue of development of the sport in the country. In his assessment, Jon raised concerns about the growth of the game, the demise of grassroots football – the very place from where Ghana’s national stars emerge. The High Commissioner further questioned the use of FIFA money granted to the football associations. In his view, he had not seen a lot of money invested in community pitches where the “common” Ghanaian could go and have a kick about. Benjamin believed he had seen more football administrators in SUV’s rather than these community pitches. Did he really say that?Oh yes, he did. Benjamin is a bit notorious for his bluntness so it’s no surprise. And here are the quotes: “Speaking personally as this is not the view of the British government, I have some questions about Kwesi Nyantakyi’s use of the funds he receives from FIFA.” he started.“Six months ago the President of the Ghana Football Association said he was fully behind (Sepp) Blatter but a couple of weeks ago he praised FIFA for suspending Blatter and that’s contradictory. “But as I understand it, the thesis of him and the GFA is that Blatter should be supported because of what he’s done for African football which I understand and think is right that Africa was given more places at the World Cup.“What I have seen is GFA officials in very expensive SUVs and land cruisers. What I haven’t seen is really good pitches at grassroots level for the ordinary Ghanaians.“I apologize in advance if I have missed and I would like to meet them but if this FIFA money coming through the GFA, then it should be promoting grassroots football.”Why is the GFA upset?The Football Association is visibly upset mainly because they felt the diplomat was in no good standing to discuss issues pertaining to the FA.  The press release also suggests his ignorance on these issues should have prevented him from making comments without cross checking. Furthermore, responses on various media platforms suggest the journalist who hosted the show should have corrected the High Commissioner once he made these claims, which pro-FA people label ‘unsubstantiated’. In the words of the spokesperson of the FA, “this was lazy journalism”.Why has it taken days to reach the national spotlight?Well, it’s simply the nature of some news stories. While some catch fire immediately, others simmer before exploding. This story, in particular, came to national prominence when mainstream radio stations in Accra picked it up late Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning. It got more prominence when Ibrahim Sannie, the FA spokesman, started giving official responses, especially on Asempa FM.What are others saying?Just as every Football Association issue has split opinion in the past, there are always two schools of thought.  One section believes there are certain elements of truth in the High Commissioner’s statement. And hence, they feel the FA response was harsh and went overboard. In their opinion, the FA should silence their critics by being accountable to the general public rather than scathingly attacking a diplomatic figure.The other school of thought has basically laid the blame at the doorstep of the journalist who conducted the interview. In their opinion, he had the power to correct the High Commissioner or better still ask him to retract his comments but rather allowed him to continue. They believe projects have been under taken and was out of place for Jon Benjamin to make these comments. Some have also pointed to his well-known behaviour of commenting on national affairs in his numerous postings around the world as symptoms of a loud-mouth.What’s the precedent for Benjamin’s comments? As stated earlier, Jon isn’t known for his ability to be mum on issues. He speaks his mind. As Britain’s ambassador to Chile, Benjamin was forced to apologise for what was meant to be a private Twitter jibe against Argentina and its defeat in the Falklands war.Adopting a Chilean football taunt that goes “Argentines, faggots, you lost the Malvinas because you are idiots”, Benjamin tweeted in Spanish, asking: “Which islands did they take off who and for being what?” But he forgot to make it private.Twitter criticism of the self-styled “Hammers fan, Londoner at heart, Jewish atheist” included threats of violence and antisemitic responses.Benjamin deleted his offending tweet and apologised, saying it had been a private tweet and that he had “great affection for my Argentine friends and respect for their team”. Gary’s viewYes, Benjamin has a history of being vocal when it comes to issues even beyond his traditional remit as ambassador. But as many have noted, what must concern Ghanaians is whether his observations – made in his personal capacity – are true or not.Fact is, we need to see evidence of what the GFA does with its FIFA allocations, which total about $2.3 million from 2011 to date, In fact, according to sources, some more money is expected in the country by the end of November for some other projects.When quizzed on Asempa FM on Friday morning, Ibrahim Sannie noted that the calendar year is not over, and hence there cannot be any evidence of misappropriation of funds yet. He also noted that all the FA’s accounts are audited every year, which is true. Sannie went on to give examples of capacity building workshops and training modules undertaken by the GFA as cases in point of the use of these monies over the years.Question is: so where are the tangible projects? Things that Ghana sorely needs like astroturfs, training centres and so on that can be extremely visible legacy projects all can be proud of?That’s what matters. The FA took a hardline stance against legitimate concerns by the UK’s rep – no matter how diplomatically misplaced they are – which was not necessary.In my considered opinion, a better FA response would have been to 1) welcome Benjamin’s concerns, 2) urged him to use existing channels to get such concerns answered and 3) simply point Benjamin and the rest of us in the right direction by showing us what exactly, when, and how these monies were used.And for Benjamin too, he should learn to be a diplomat, in the strict sense of the word. Sometimes, silence in your host country is an asset.ConclusionThis issue will not go away, and it is up to the GFA to make sure that their public image, which is usually in tatters, is given a positive gloss by continuously striving to inform Ghanaians about their operations. Journalists are very aware of some of the good things the FA does, but knowing that the general public easily latches on to bad news, they hardly mention it. And that is where the FA must do more to educate the populace on how they use these monies, and not wait for people like the UK high commissioner to muddy the reputation. –Follow Gary on Twitter: @garyalsmith and Kweku @nana_odum. Get more updates on Facebook/Twitter with the #JoySports hashtaglast_img

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