Monday, July 17, 2006

Offside goals: What referees do when they see black faces….

Ghana lost to Brazil 3 - 0. While I had ample faith in our ‘first-time-world-cup’ abilities, I had always thought that Brazil is as famous as they are for a reason. I wasn’t really sure that we could beat Brazil, especially 2 – 0, as some of the predictions ran.
However, despite the score, we played phenomenally well and really made an impression. I’m convinced that next time around (South Africa 2010) we will progress even further, even with a good chance of winning the cup.

The controversy however was in the fact that two of the goals that Brazil got (especially the 2nd goal by Ronaldo) were offside. And the referee didn’t call them. As we all saw with our own eyes, and indeed in many, many, many, replays since then – the goals were clearly offside, without a shadow of a doubt. There is no way you could think of them as anything else. Well…the referee did. Ghana was outraged. Africa was outraged. Our Serbian coach, Ratomir Dukovicz was outraged – he asked the referee “Why don’t you just ask Ronaldo for his yellow jersey, so you can play with them?!” Of course, he got a red card and got sent off.
Then there were the funny calls. One, a clear foul and possibly penalty on a Ghanaian player, ended up with him having a red card. Fouls with free kicks always awarded to the Brazilians, but empty hands and oversights when it came to Ghana being fouled..

All in all, it left a bad taste in Ghana’s mouth. Our boys came home, and we received them heartily, with parades and honours and interviews. But still, Ghana was seething. Phone calls after phone calls came in to GTV and ‘lim group’ which produced the world cup games for the African continent – “How can it be called a World Cup if they systematically try to eliminate African teams?!”, “Franz Beckenbauer doesn’t want the prospect of Africans winning the cup!”, “FIFA hates blacks!”, “The referee just has to see a black face, and they call yellow cards..”. Interesting statements, and a very telling sample of Ghana’s feelings on the world stage – they know they’re the underdogs, and they’re sick of it.

As for the ideas themselves – I don’t know what to think. I’m neither a FIFA official or a vast source of football history and knowledge. I’m apt to believe that FIFA wouldn’t go so far as having an ‘anti-African’ conspiracy to eliminate the African teams. It seems a little bit ridiculous. As well, I had many a time explained (mostly to my co-workers) that “black players” did not exist only in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, and Angola – surely they had seen the French team, even the Brazilian team, the American team – even the German team with its 2 Ghanaians. They all had ‘black’ players did they not? How then could FIFA pull such a stunt? The referees are not racist.. But as of yet, Ghanaians are disgusted.

As for the problems that Ghana faces – poverty, lack of infrastructure, illiteracy, AIDS – Ghanaians always take full responsibility for those. Sometimes you have to work hard in the argument to convince some people here that outside factors such as the world bank and global economics are responsible for some of the problems here – Ghanaians will take too much responsibility. But football? They saw their boys play well, on and above the skill level of many other teams, in front of their own eyes. They took full responsibility for the success – after all, all these boys are born and raised here, began playing their football here, coached by Ghanaian coaches – but when they tried and got slightly screwed over…

It brings up powerful questions too – what do Ghanaians feel about race and racism? I’ve always been a firm believer in having non-academic answers to questions regarding discrimination – no statistician or sociologist can tell you as well as a regular person on the street, especially the ‘discriminated against’, whether these problems are real. Its also a question about information spread. The information that reaches here about other countries is often terribly inaccurate and builds up equally inaccurate portraits here. A man told me that he saw on television how everyone in the west had robot servants. What?! Or that there are no black people in Canada at all… how there are no poor people, or street children, or crop failures, anywhere in the west. When I told someone about hurricane Katrina they were surprised – how can a natural disaster kill people in the west? Surely they were invulnerable to such attacks. To a degree some of the perceptions are based on fact – farms flooding in Altona doesn’t mean that all Manitobans starve.. but it is nevertheless an occurrence with fairly devastating economic consequences.
People in rural Ghana don’t have internet – most of the time, if they get electricity even, they will have a television. The only views of the west and westerners they get will be seen on their televisions, and more and more I’m starting to loathe t.v as the vehicle for ‘junk’ transmission.
It goes both ways though – what we see in Canada on t.v about ‘Africans’ is mostly crap too.. I wonder, if we require (although to what degree does it happen..?) corporations to be socially responsible, why isn’t information transfer also held to some kind of standard? Its implications and repercussions are far wider than we could have ever dreamed of, so where is the great responsibility that should come with such ‘great power’?

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