It was during a women’s U-17 world cup qualifier at the Accra Sports Stadium. Ghana was playing South Africa. The Black Maidens eventually won by 5 -1 after the South Africans had caused a scare by opening the sores. A player of Ghana’s got injured and had to be attended to by the medical staff. I was looking out to see one medical doctor I had watched celebrated on television as one of the few distinguished women doctors. During that TV programme, she mentioned that she was with the Black Maidens and so, out of curiosity, I turned my gaze to see whether she was still with the team. However, two women, who could hardly carry their bodies, ran to the far side of the pitch to attend to the injured player. Their wobbly run across the pitch became entertainment for the sparsely gathered spectators who, at this time, were screaming in excitement. As to what exactly they were excited about, I cannot tell. But I was struck by the buxom stature of these medics and wondered whether they were really up to the task. Of course, one cannot tell a good doctor by the nature of their body, but in practicing on footballers, one expects an athletic personnel; one who can run up and down the field without any signs of tiredness. The corpulent women’s quasi-successful effort in trying to get to the injured player, who was by then wincing in pain, sent me thinking about how important footballers’ medical disposition is to stakeholders such as the Ghana Football Association.
As a matter of fact, with its superintendent role of being the mother of football in the country, the GFA, as part of its operations, must ensure that all medics and masseurs of registered football clubs in the country get professional training. Nonetheless, one will agree that the development of the game is still at its fledgling level and it will be quite suffocating for most of the burgeoning clubs if the GFA is to enforce these rules to the letter. However, clubs in the Premier, Division One and Division Two Leagues should not be excused. The GFA must bind clubs in these tiers of national football to have well trained medical staff. Any football administrator should not only ensure that this happens in interest clubs or divisions but also in clubs or divisions they are not bound to superintend. It is about human lives and when a catastrophe occurs, it affects us all. I was thus quite dumbfounded when a top official of the Premier League Board stated categorically on an Accra-based radio station that he was only interested in the health of players in his area of jurisdiction – the premier league.
Notwithstanding, the Premier League Board came out last week that all host clubs must ensure that they provide an ambulance at venues before a match kicks off. The PLB also called on referees, match commissioners and co-ordinators to see to it that this regulation is strictly adhered to before a match begins. I guess this was prompted by FIFA’s urgent call on member associations to ensure the safety of footballers at match venues. Inasmuch as I will like to commend the PLB for this gesture, I must mention that they don’t have to wait for such directives before ensuring what must be done. In fact, Ghana has perhaps suffered so many casualties on the field of play that the PLB and GFA do not need an external force to put them to action. Footballers and football administrators alike have collapsed, and later pronounced dead, on the field of play. Mentioning names of these late loved ones will be a trite but cases like those should have prompted the GFA and PLB into action long time ago.
Quite recently, there was an instance at the Accra Sports Stadium when a referee demanded that an ambulance be made available before he whistles the start of a premier league game. I hear most of the fans gathered, and officials of the home team, got on the referees’ nerve by saying it is usual for matches to begin without ambulances and that he was being ‘too known’. But upon his insistence, the ambulance was made available and during the match an injured player had to be carried to the hospital in that ambulance.
Many regulations have been wantonly glossed over by the football-governing body and most people are taking advantage of that. For instance, it is a requirement that clinics become a required facility in any stadium to the extent that minor injuries can be treated within the stadium. Also, medical examination of players must be adequately conducted in any transfer transaction. But, honestly, how many Ghanaian clubs talk about medical examination when discussing the transfer of players? What they are interested in is getting players to play for them.
The Confederation of African Football, the governing body of football on the African continent, should have taken players’ medical conditions more seriously. Issues regarding the health of players came to the fore after the on-pitch death of Cameroon’s Marc Vivien-Foe. But it will interest you to know that CAF were just woken from their dreams by taking an action on this issue. It was quite recently, after the collapse of Fabrice Muamba and demise of Pierremario Morosini, that CAF was prompted to act on its hitherto dormant “Contract With Africa” Project. They distributed medical life emergency kits as well as laptops to all member associations. That should send signals that every regional body is taking the medical condition of the ‘actors’ on the football stage seriously.
It is in this light that I call on the Premier League Board to be firm on their ‘medical regulations’ to ensure that a sad blanket does not envelope our football one day. Prevention is better than cure!