Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Why Ghana sports are on the rocks

Ebo Quansah

Ebo Quansah, our sports writer, x-rays Ghana Sports and exposes the weaknesses that have reduced it to shambles.
The success story of a lone star, Azumah Nelson, in his campaign in world rings which has left many an official of Ghana basking in undeserved glory, appears to have overshadowed the basic fact that this West African nation, one-time showpiece of African sports, is witnessing its leanest season in international sports since the Union Jack was lowered for good in the early hours of March 6, 1957.

For a government, most of whose members have sporting backgrounds, the People's National Defence Council, has the most appalling record in history as far as investment in sports and results are concerned.

That is why instead of finding scapegoats in sports writers (Talking Drums November 11, 1985) Flt-Lt Jerry Rawlings would do well to conduct a proper inquiry into sports promotion with a view to re- moving the many self-imposed obstacles in the way of sports development.

Eliminated from both the African and World Cup series, the famed Black Stars, undoubtedly the most celebrated national team on the continent of Africa, have lost their shine.

In athletics, Ghanaian performers, who came close to breaking the world 4×100 metres record in the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston and have been a dominant force in African sprint events, are mere participants in continental meetings.

That Ghana, for several years the best boxing nation in both the Commonwealth and Africa, could claim only one gold medal in a three-nation amateur boxing tournament with Nigeria and Guinea is a clear manifestation of how the Black Bombers are being bombed out of the ring these days.

With the retirement of Mr D.G. Hatharami, the only sponsor of table- tennis in Ghana, ping-pong, which once put Ghana on top of Africa, appears to be destined for the files at the National Archives in Accra.

Hockey, which gave the nation the African championship for an unprecedented 10 year period, is struggling along, while events like lawn tennis, volleyball, basketball, handball and cricket appear to exist merely for recreational purposes.

While it would be unrealistic to blame the PNDC for all the nation's sporting ills, policies initiated in the name of the holy war have gone to a very great extent to push Ghana sports further into the woods. Like the society itself, sports in Ghana have been on the decline long before Flt- Lt Jerry John Rawlings and his kinsmen introduced their brand of revolution.

The abolition of the national inter-schools competition was what really signalled the beginning of Ghana's downward trend in sports.

Men and women performers like Stan Allotey, Owusu Mensah, George Daniels, Ohene Karikari, Joshua Owusu, Alice Anum, Hanna Afriyie, etc, who brought the athletic honours in the 70s, Jones Attuquayefio, Frank Odoi, Ben Kusi, Anue Cofie, Willie Evans, etc, who faithfully took over the soccer mantle from the ageing stars of the 60s were all spotted from the schools.

Without a co-ordinated body to monitor school sports, most of the talents went to waste while Ghana struggled to build effective national teams.

With such a state of affairs, Ghana sports needed an effective dose of official encouragement to revive its spirit. Instead, the PNDC provided a retrogressive programme in its "Sports For All" policy launched by Mr Zayo Yeebo, in his capacity as secretary for Youth and Sports at the early stages of the revolution.

Azumah, the lone star in Ghana sports?

In those days, when Col. Muamar Gaddafi was godfather of the revolution, everything in the country was modelled on the text and spirit of the Libyan leader's "Green Book" philosophy. One of such wholesale importations from the arid lands of Libya, was this "Sports For All" policy.

In his "Third Universal Theory" Col. Gaddafi likens sports to religion. "It is illogical," writes the Libyan leader, "for people to enter mosques, see people worship without taking part. In the same vein, it is stupid for crowds to enter stadia, see people participate in sports without taking part."

Incidentally, when the Libyan leader entered the National Stadium to open the 13th African Cup of Nation tournament in March 1982, his only participation was clips of him on the TV screens doing occasional kick-abouts with kids.

Notwithstanding this hypocrisy, the leaders of Ghana's revolution found it fit to direct all sporting efforts on this concept to the total neglect of building national teams made up of talented sportsmen and women.

Undeniably, the promotion of mass sporting events to include indigenous games like "Oware" and draughts in state-sponsored meetings was a good policy, but then this was done at the expense of building national teams, the result was the collapse of Ghana's image in competitions with other countries.

Added to this negative approach was the wanton dismissal and transfer of technical men who are the sine qua non of sports development. Mr Alex Asiedu, chief executive of the National Sports Council, the most experienced technocrat in Ghana sports at the time, and Mr E.C. Nyarko. Chief Sports Organiser, and the man responsible for the grooming of the nation's athletes since the era of Dr Kwame Nkrumah were removed for not tuning in to the revolutionary tempo. A lot of coaches were sent to areas where their usefulness was at best ineffective.

When it was realised that the policy could not deliver the goods, attempts at revival, at best, proved a mere placebo.

But like the ITV advertisement on washing machines, 'there must be an answer'. As explained by the vice- chairman of the PNDC Mr Justice Dan F. Annan (Talking Drums, October 21, 1985) the government is seriously considering introducing professionalism as a means of getting sports in Ghana on the road once again.

In a country where facilities are an apology to sports, it is very difficult to discern how professionalism can succeed let alone save the image of the various disciplines.

With the exception of the Accra and Kumasi stadia, which have facilities for quite a number of disciplines, the rest of the nation has nothing save undersized football fields. That is why the government should think of the improvement of sports installations and kits before embarking on its plan.

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