By Ken Bediako
I had a call into a programme by Tema based Amansan TV on Founders Day last week discussing how to celebrate the founding sports personalities of our dear country.
I found the impromptu call rather interesting when I realised it was prompted by a panel member, Kwabena Sarpong, whom I served together as board members of the National Sports Council when the late Baah Wiredu was minister in charge of sports. Indeed, it was Baah Wiredu who in 2004 set up a committee to recognise the nation’s outstanding sports personalities. He felt strongly that people who have projected the image of Ghana through sports, should be celebrated to encourage the current generation to follow suit.
As it may be well known by now, the committee headed by astute sports administrator Dr Owusu Ansah who did a thorough work tracing the history of the nation’s sports from the colonial days and identifying both outstanding administrators and active participants for honours.
A sports hall of fame was recommended in addition to sports facilities being named after some of these past heroes in a special category.
Top of the pack is Arthur Hercules Patmandurai Joseph, affectionately called Paa Joe who established sports administration in this country. Fortunately, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology has a Stadium named after him.
So the committee decided to endorse the action and named the Accra Stadium after Sports Director Ohene Djan, Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi, Azumah Nelson Sports Complex, Theodosia Okoh Hockey Stadium, Hathiramani Sports Hall all in Accra as the first instalments with more to be established later. Surprisingly, some ruffians later on pulled down the structure naming Accra Stadium after Ohene Djan for no apparent reason at all and the nation is quiet over this buffoonery. It baffles me. I expect the SWAG to speak up as the nation prepares to host the Africa Games next year so visitors will know we appreciate the contribution of those past heroes who projected the country’s image through sports.
I know some people may not appreciate the wisdom in spending money on sports development but let’s face it. Those people don’t have any sense of humour. Sports in general is now a big industry. Apart from the health benefits, it is a big vocation especially for the youth who can now add value to their youthful legs and hands. You can now run fast enough in 10 secs and get handsome reward.
Nations that invest in sports, derive a lot of employment opportunities that you may not get if you are not all that academically sound.
The experts have determined competitive sports a healthy programme. That’s why we have invented numerous sports disciplines to kill boredom including darts and even arm wrestling.
Satellite Television has also really given competitive sports extensive exposure as depicted in the just ended Commonwealth Games in England as a huge entertainment package. The opening and closing ceremonies of major international sports programmes have turned out to be spectacular events themselves and I believe the Tourism ministry watched the Games with keen interest,
the magnificent cultural displays at this sports extravaganza.
For us in Ghana, it should be something special. Exactly a year from now we are hosting the whole of Africa in the 13th continental games. The nation deliberately sent top officials of the local organising committee to Birmingham to get a feeling of how to manage such huge influx of sportsmen, sportswomen and a demanding sporting media. There is no doubt attention for details must be paramount. There should be no room for any technical oversight like what happened to Ghana’s hopeful men’s sprints relays team that denied us a chance to fight for a medal.
Strangely enough this was not the first occasion our sprints relay team has floundered in such Games.
Let’s check the records.
After the classic performance of the 1962 and 1966 Commonwealth Games quartets of Mike Ahey, B.B Bashiru, B.K. Mends and M F Okantey (Perth) and the Kingston 1966 squad of E. C. O. Addy, B.K. Mends, J.A. Addy and Stanley Allotey,
there seems to be some jinx haunting Ghana’s subsequent sprints squads at both the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games.
At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, for example, sprints anchor man, UK based Ernest Obeng and US based Fred Kwasi Owusu (400m) had their entries withdrawn on the eve of the athletics competition by the Ghana Olympic Committee for “gross indiscipline and lack of patriotism”. Their offence? The two athletes had left camp without permission and stayed for days.
In the case of Obeng, he didn’t even attend the usual flag raising ceremony and he flatly refused to run in the sprints relay when asked to do so. Not even the intervention of the secretary for Youth and Sports, Mr Amarkai Amarteifio, could make him change his mind.
Obeng later sarcastically told reporters there was no rule an athlete should seek permission before going out of the village. There was no curfew, he said, alleging that the action against him was “personal hatred”.
Six years later at the 1990 Games
Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand, there was another jinx when our sprints quartet of Nelson Boateng, Laud Cudjoe, Augustine Nketia and Gabriel Osei was disqualified in the heats for running in the wrong lane. As if that was not enough, Laud Cudjoe and Gabriel Osei absconded from the Games Village never to be seen again fast forward to the 1996 Olympiad in Atlanta, USA, the jinx appeared to be vanishing as the Ghanaian quartet of Abu Duah, Albert Agyemang, Eric Nkansah and Aziz Zakari had survived the crucial semis but the jinx raised its ugly head again when Eric Nkansah was injured and needed to be replaced by Christian Nsiah in the final. Presto! The jinx resurrected…Ghanaian officials were told that apart from the time lapse, Nsiah was technically disqualified because he had previously been substituted. Confusion galore. The utterly confused Ghanaian officials however did the unthinkable by arrogantly and unsportingly ignoring the disqualification and sent Nsiah and Co to the pitch.
Can you imagine? In the glare of worldwide television coverage, the Ghanaians embarrassingly delayed the start of the race as they insisted on taking part against all the principles of Olympism.
Indeed, Olympic security officers had to be brought in to stop the rot before the disgraced athletes finally left in a leisurely walk around the tracks.
Back home, an embarrassed Sports Minister, E.T. Mensah, ordered the chief sports development officer, George Dasoberi to probe the incident. Not much was heard about the probe except that the chief athletics coach, Rose Hart, was transferred to the Western Region and she resigned in protest.
This was not the only setback in the athletics competition in Atlanta. The marathon runner, Fred Adongo was disqualified because his time which was filed by the Athletics Association, did not match what was on the official records. Ghana had submitted 2hrs 22 mins 49secs. But the official records read 2hrs 40 mins 21 secs, which was below the Olympic qualifying mark.
Another embarrassment was Vincent Assumang, the walker, who was also disqualified because it was pointed out what he had been doing in Ghana was demonstration events. It was not the competitive walk for medals. At best “keep fit exercises” if you like. There was nothing on record making him a competitive walker. Ladies and gentlemen, it appears there is a whole catalogue of clumsy decisions affecting the smooth running of athletics in this country.
It is my sincere hope the top officials of the upcoming African Games who were in Birmingham will return home full of fresh ideas that will help to make the Games in Ghana a memorable event.
It’s a huge task but I trust with the support of the local media, especially the SWAG as an entity should be proud to host all these ever prying fastidious sports journalists and make them comfortable to see the bright side of sports to the exclusion of all others.
Cheers everybody and keep loving sports.