On Monday, April 16, 2018, football fans watching a Division One League (DOL) match involving Agona Swedru based Proud United and New Edubiase United at the Swedru park pounced on Class One Referee Anthony Mensah and his assistants, Stephen Alhassan and Philip Quansah, mercilessly assaulted them and inflicted severe injuries which prevented them from further officiating the match.
The match which had traveled 78 minutes when the incident occurred, was called off at a time New Edubiase was leading 1-0.
There were policemen providing security for the match officials, but agitated by what the fans described as “unfair decisions by the match officials”, the fans first overpowered the security men at the stadium, broke the inner perimeter before pouncing on the helpless and defenceless match officials.
The policemen who had been rendered powerless during the attack called for reinforcement, but before the other policemen arrived, the harm had already been done. This was because the match had ended abruptly.
Satisfied with their ‘handiwork’ of inflicting bodily injuries to the match officials, the fans had dispersed, leaving the match officials to their fate.
The team of policemen who responded to the emergency call had no option but to rush the match officials to the hospital for emergency treatment to save their lives, but no further action was taken afterwards.
The implication was that the happy stone-throwing fans who attacked the referees were left Scot-free. Sadly, however, nothing was heard about this tragic incident, mainly because it was a football match involving two Division One clubs struggling to escape from the soccer wilderness.
On Sunday, March 28, this year, another tragic incident occurred during a match involving two Division One clubs which was being honoured at the Wamanafo Town Park.
Moments after the match had ended in a goalless deadlock, referee Niatre Suntuo Aziz and his assistants, Sumleman Mohammed and Yakubu Abdul, were brutally assaulted, leaving them badly injured.
Referee Aziz lost his two incisors and bled profusely from his nose, mouth and face due to the severity of his injuries.
His assistants also had a fair share of the injuries during the attack, a situation that forced them to rush to hospital for medical care.
Restrictions on football matches
Unlike the 2018 incident when fans had the free-will to watch football matches, the Ghana Football Association (GFA) had imposed restrictions on all football matches in the 2021 football season due to the COVID 19 pandemic.
Fans were, therefore, not allowed to be in any football stadium or park to watch any match.
It was quite interesting that while the GFA’s ban on sports stadia remained enforced due to the COVID 19 protocols, the Mighty Royals FC fans succeeded in not only finding themselves on the match venue, but also invading the Wamanafo Park in their numbers in the full glare of the police.
They attacked the match officials and escaped arrest and prosecution.Ironically, fans at Wamanafo did not only break the COVID 19 protocols to watch a match involving their local team and Bofoakwa Tano, but also went the extra mile to inflict serious injuries on helpless match officials as happened at Swedru three years ago.
Just like the Swedru incident, no fan has been arrested so far, but the GFA took the first step in imposing a ban on the Wamanafo Park.
Suspension of match venues
Reacting to the incident, the General Secretary of the GFA, Prosper Harrison Addo, announced that “the venue where the attack of match officials took place remains banned until culprits are arrested and handed over to the police for criminal proceedings to commence.
“It is also worth noting that all officials bound by the various regulations and statutes of the GFA found culpable in such acts shall be punished accordingly as the GFA continues to roll out programmrs and seminars to enhance and improve match day safety and security in all of its competitions,” Mr Addo hinted.
He added: ‘“We are at that point where these kinds of acts that bring global shame to our sport should no longer be countenanced. The slightest attack against any match official shall be met with the appropriate response as permitted by the relevant regulations.
We will also in the coming days intensify our corporation with the Ghana Police to ensure criminal proceedings are brought against culprits of such attacks.”
Two weeks after the Wamanafo incident, the FA took another step when the President, Kurt Simeon Okraku, started a tour of the Bono Region not only to interact with the police but also to encourage them to do everything to arrest and prosecute football fans who invade any football park to attack match officials.
For its part, the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) condemned the incident at Wamanafo, describing it as “completely unacceptable.” In his reaction, the General Secretary of the CAF, Veron Mosengo-Omba, called for a full investigation to get to the root of the disgrace.
He noted: “The image and integrity of football in Africa is very important. Part of this is the complete respect of match officials and the role they play in our football. It is important that match officials feel they are completely protected and are free to apply the FIFA Laws of the Game without fear or prejudice.”
Mr Mosengo-Omba also hinted that “CAF is liaising with the GFA to get a full report on what transpired and the way forward. CAF is treating this matter with the seriousness and urgency it deserves. CAF has appealed to all member associations to ensure that CAF Safety and Security Regulations are fully implemented in all matches.”
Beside the two incidents, incidents of violence at football venues have been rampant at all levels in Ghana football. In spite of the criminality of such incidents, security men either turn a blind eye or influential people connected to football intervene to set free the few who find themselves in the grip of the police.
Emboldened fanatical fans
The situation, which undermines the beauty of football, seems to have become the motivating factor which induces some fanatic football fans to attack match officials with impunity.
What is worthy of note is that unlike the 2018 incident where little was heard, that of the Mighty Royals FC fans at Wamanafo has now caught the attention of CAF and other international football bodies.
It is for this reason that all stakeholders should join hands to uproot any form of hooliganism from our local football. Football fans who resort to violence in matches should be treated as criminals who should be hunted, arrested, prosecuted and punished in line with the laws of the country, and by this, all forms of hooliganism in football will be curbed.
Football fans should appreciate that just like any sports discipline, football is also governed by a set of rules and regulations, hence the need to apply such rules when any match official falls foul.
Using any other means to instill discipline among officials officiating in the DOL is tantamount to snuffing out the life of the Division One League which has become the bedrock that feeds our Premier League with quality players.