In 2019, Alex Aso signed his first professional contract with Inter Allies in the Ghanaian Premier League. Two years later the right winger had established himself in the team and was playing regularly, despite being one of the youngest players in the squad. The team, however, had a poor run of form in the 2020/21 season and were relegated with games to go.
In their final match of the campaign, Inter Allies were beaten 7-0 by Ashanti Gold and the result prompted the Ghana Football Association (GFA) to launch an investigation into match-fixing. In May 2022, the GFA suspended all 28 players involved in the match for periods between two and four years. Aso was one of them and received a 24-month ban.
Ghanaian player association PFAG and FIFPRO supported 21 of the players in their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), having analysed the evidence on file and concluding that the players’ procedural rights had been violated and that no evidence was available that would support their involvement in any match-fixing. In August this year, CAS upheld the appeal of the unions and overturned the players’ bans. Aso was one of the players whose ban was overturned.
By Alex Aso
A week after the match, we were informed that all the players and officials had been placed under investigation. This came as a big shock to me as I was not aware what the issue was.
I was called to appear at the GFA offices for a hearing with the disciplinary committee. I went there with our club lawyer. It was quite a frightening experience. We then heard nothing for a while before I saw on social media that virtually all the players had received long suspensions, and I was one of them.
The very next day, we appealed to the GFA Appeal Board. We then had to wait for nearly a month before being told that our appeals had been turned down.
I knew it was not right that I had been suspended, but I did not know what to do. I felt hopeless. For a month-and-a-half I was just home with depression. I felt I could not go to my family as I was so embarrassed, so I stayed with one of my close friends at Ideal College in Accra. During this time, I also started building a closer relationship with God. Praying to God to see me through that moment of my life gave me strength because I believed that only God could help me in those difficult times and moments.
What made matters worse – if that was even possible – was that I do not have any other skills apart from playing football. I have been playing football all my life. I found a small job at a car wash. I was cleaning cars and getting a commission depending on the number of cars we had cleaned. I did that for some weeks before quitting. I then found a job at the Great Man Laundry Service in Accra. At that time, I had really given up on my football career because I thought there was no coming back.
One of my team-mates then told me that he had given my telephone number to the Professional Footballers Association of Ghana (PFAG) and they said they would try to help us. I was really scared that I could never return to football. But the PFAG said they would take it to CAS in Switzerland.
The first thing they did was ask CAS to temporarily lift the suspension and allow us to play. They said that we would suffer irreparable harm if we remained suspended whilst our appeal was being heard. They said that if we could not train or play during this time, our careers would be badly affected.
We told CAS that if we are unable to work for a substantial period of time that it would affect our livelihood, as for most of us football was our primary source of income. And the time we missed out could never be recovered, either from a financial or a sporting point of view. A football career is very short, so to lose several months is a very long time.
There was also the issue of registration as the deadline was 22 September and if our suspensions were to be lifted after that, we would miss the whole season. In August 2022, CAS said that we could play football again whilst our appeal to CAS was being heard. After we won the first case, I started to have belief since the union also kept our hopes alive with permanent support. Receiving the news was a big moment of joy. We did not expect it.
I was able to resume my career and signed first for Legon Cities, and this season I am with Bibiani Gold Stars.
A few months ago, CAS ruled the case in our favour. They said that the GFA was wrong to suspend us. The feeling I had when I heard that news is difficult to describe: it is probably like that of someone who was sentenced to life imprisonment and a month or a year later got released. Knowing I can continue my career on the field of play was the greatest moment of joy and happiness that I have experienced.
All I wanted was to know that I could play without any restriction. Before the second decision, I always played knowing that it could come to an end at any time.
Without the union’s support, sacrifice and time, most of the players involved in this case would have probably given up on their career. So, all the credit and thanks has to be given to them for their encouragement and continuous support. They played a very vital role in this case.