Sports stagnation after 61 years as a nation

Isaac Asiamah, Minister of Sports

World boxing champions, world football champions, record African title winners, Olympic medalists, Commonwealth Games medalists, you name it, at one point in time or the other, Ghanaians held these accolades. In sixty-one years of nationhood, in spite of the political turbulence in a large part of its history, Ghana had quite a bit to be proud of in the sporting sphere.

Among the older folk, very few could forget the joy David Kotei “Poison” brought to this country when he became our first boxing world champion. From him down to perhaps the greatest African boxer of all time and the only African in the world boxing Hall of Fame, “Professor” Azumah Nelson, to Ike Quartey, Alfred Kotey, Nana Yaw Konadu, Joseph Agbeko, Joshua Clottey, Isaac Dogboe and Emmanuel Tagoe, there has been quite a bit to celebrate.

In the nation’s favourite sport, football, until 1998 we were the record African champions, having won the African Cup of Nations four times, until Egypt equaled that and ran away with the record having last won it for a seventh time in 2010, incidentally against Ghana. Ghana finally also made it to the World Cup for the first time in 2006, and made three consecutive appearances, giving quite a good account of themselves too. Except for their last appearance, of course.

Our younger players have had more luck on the world stage, with our under-17 squads utterly dominating the World Cup competitions in the ‘90s, winning it twice, being runners-up twice and placing third once. The under-20 side, which had been runners-up twice in the U20 World Cup, finally became champions in Egypt in 2009.

Our ladies have not fared badly either. The Black Queens, once regarded as a superpower in Africa were constantly battling it out with Nigeria for supremacy on the continent, winning gold in the All Africa Games in 2015. They first made it to the Women’s World Cup in 1999 and their juniors have made many other appearances there as well.

At the Olympic Games and other big sporting events, Ghanaian sportsmen and women have made their marks. Unfortunately, it has only been in boxing and football that we have won our four medals at the Olympics, none of them being a gold medal. For a country with the talent that we have, that has not been good enough. Apart from boxing, where world title reigns can be as short as six months, we haven’t had any senior Olympic champion or world champion in any sport, where we can brag for at least four years that we are on top of the world.

This is not meant to be a history lesson, but in sixty-one years of being independent, as a huge sports fan, I would have wished there would be more to boast about. The theme for this year’s Independence Day celebration is “Ghana beyond aid”. The president wants to ensure that Ghana moves from depending on handouts and the benevolence taxpayers of other countries to mobilizing our own resources to solve our own problems. I wish the same for our sports.

As nice a gesture as it may be, we should be able to move away from receiving balls, kits and other sporting equipment as gifts from foreigners to creating our own ecosystem, borne out of our own sports “economy” and solving our own problems. At worst, we should be able to get investment from foreigners and push for terms that make them leave once they make their money and not take over our sports as well. The space over here is wide open for that.

We need to be revolutionary in our thinking and actions, and simply go back to basics. We need to focus on community sports (to unearth talent), data collection (to know where to find the talent), media (to tell our sports stories), partnerships (to acknowledge the roles of corporate partners) and investment (to enable more opportunities and harness potential), among others, and manage them properly, to be able to rise again.

When we do these things right, we will roar our sports back to life. I know about certain projects in the offing, some of which I am personally involved in, and I am raring to go. Such programs to elevate Ghana sports should go a long way to increase participation, interest and investment in sports. Slowly, but surely, we will build a solid sports industry and have a fair chunk of the US$100 billion pie. Perhaps, our contribution towards it can make the pie as big as US$110 billion, who knows?

After sixty-one years, we appear to be a nation of talkers. The time has come for us to stop the talking. It is my wish that by our 75th anniversary as a nation, we will have many gold medals, world titles at senior level and other significant accolades to brag about. But that can only happen if we start now. It is time!

The writer is the Director of Operations and Social Projects, Centa14 Sports and Entertainment.