Monday, March 5, 2007
We’ve come full circle
Article: FELIX ABAYATEYE
AT 50, Ghana Sports must have come full circle for rejuvenation forwards the challenges ahead. Our successes, more than failures, arguably have been rooted in the solid foundations laid in the early years of nationhood.
Thus, the achievements that we must be celebrating today as a nation have not been as a result of one single event, but a process of the efforts by successive plans and programmes over the years, no matter how insignificant in some cases.
On attainment of independence in 1957, the founder of the nation saw the need to give sports a radical push in line with the country’s aspirations towards excellence in all spheres of endeavour. This was against the background of the individualistic character that sports participation took before the establishment of the Gold Coast Amateur Sports Council Ordinance in 1952 which also brought into being the Gold Coast Amateur Sports Council which ensured that amateur sports associations for athletics, boxing, tennis (lawn tennis) and cricket gained footholds in schools and clubs and thereby facilitated the country’s participation in international competitions.
However, according to records, the immediate factor that influenced the need for a policy change for Ghana Sports was our participation in the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games and the Europe Day and Commonwealth Games in 1954 and 1958 in Vancouver and Cardiff respectively, events that increased people’s yearning “for a bigger central administration and increased Government financial assistance” – A.K. Deku in his book Sports Development and Organisation in Ghana.
This led to the appointment in July 1960 of Mr. Ohene Djan by President Nkrumah as Director of Sports with wide and sweeping powers by which he ran and controlled amateur and professional sports in the country, and by which powers the Gold Coast Amateur Sports Council and the Ordinance that established it both disappeared with the advent in October 1960 of the Ohene Djan new sports policy, christened the Central Organisation of Sports (COS).
The spirit or principle behind the COS was to ensure mass participation in sports for the identification of talent for selection to represent the nation at international competitions. Thus, schools, colleges, clubs and other sports organisations were mobilized, funded and equipped into strong sports units that served as breeding grounds and honing of these talents into international stars during the period and beyond. Football clubs were buried into sporting clubs to which were attached other disciplines like athletics, hockey, table tennis and boxing. These disciplines were to develop on the wings of football.
To facilitate the objective of the COS and the country’s desire to rub shoulders with others in the international circuit, the training of Ghana coaches and other technical and administrative staff to manage and drive the new philosophy became necessary. Consequently, young officials were sent out for training outside the country, and when they returned a massive development in various disciplines including soccer, table tennis, boxing and athletics began to show.
Having inherited the Accra Sports Stadium built in 1952 by the Gold Coast Sports Council with support from the colonial government, and the Kumasi Stadium built in 1959 by the United African Company (UAC) that first donated it to the then Municipal Council, the sporting activities during the early years and thereafter were centered mainly on these areas. And except for smaller fields dotted around the rest of the regional capitals, little was done to improve facility development in the country.
Yet for President Nkrumah, the one most important area worth his attention was the development of football as a vehicle for the enhancement of his African Unity idea. To this end he encouraged the formation of a model club, the Real Republicans, also christened Osagyefo’s Own Club (OOC), into which Ohene Djan recruited and poached top starts from rival clubs like Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak. This model club also served as the nucleus of the national soccer team, the Black Stars, who were expected to lead the African revolution in football.
Thus, while Osagyefo personally donated a trophy the Osagyefo Cup, to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to be competed for by champion clubs in Africa, he also ensured that Ghana hosted the Nations Cup for the first time in 1963 which the Black Stars won. The team, captained by Aggrey Fynn was coached by C.K. Gyamfi. The Stars went on to defend this trophy successfully in 1965 in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, under the captaincy of Charles Addo Odamettey, and again under the technical headship of C.K. Gyamfi.
With the solid foundation laid for football, the baton of excellence passed on successively, albeit punctuated with setbacks along the way. For instance, the Black Stars failed to defend the Cup at the 1968 Nations Cup in Ethiopia and subsequently were anonymous until 1978 when the country hosted and won the trophy for the third time and for keeps.
At the 1980 championship in Nigeria, the Black Stars failed to reach the grand final but two years later in Libya where Ghana’s participation was decided at the very last moment by the revolutionary regime of Chairman Jerry John Rawlings, the Stars again lifted the Cup for an unprecedented fourth time before successive failures to reach the final again saw Egypt equal that record and indeed later break it when they hosted and won the tournament for the fifth time last year.
Beginning from the 1980s, youth football in Ghana started to gain recognition internationally and the country presented teams for the CAF and FIFA age competitions in the U-17 and U-20 categories. Ghana’s Black Starlets, twice World U-17 champions in 1991 and 1995, had their first taste of the competition at that level in Scotland in “89.
It may be needless to stress that the pool of talents that have emerged from the Starlets experiment over the years has been the source of strength for the senior teams to date.
When Ghana won bronze at the 1992 Olympic Games in Spain, the first ever medal in football by an African country, before the gold medal feats by Nigeria and Cameroun, most of the star performers were graduates from the Starlets. And indeed, Ghana’s maiden World Cup appearance and high performance at Germany 2006 which has attracted worldwide acclaim, was driven by key players like skipper Stephen Appiah, Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari and John Paintsil, all of whom were products of the Starlets system.
While we celebrate our football heroes from the time of the first captain of the national soccer team, Chris Briandt, and the first Ghanaian coach, C.K.Gyamfi, to the World Cup team last year, it is important to acknowledge the modest contributions that our women footballers have also made in raising the image of Ghana internationally.
Since the arrival of women’s football to Ghana, the national team, Black Queens, have virtually been at every African tournament and to a lesser extent World Championship, at both of which they have left their footprints on the sands of time. Alberta Sackey, Elizabeth Baidu, Memunatu Suleman and Mercy Tagoe (now FIFA referee) and Dora Zutah were some of the pioneers.
It does appear that football’s near excellence tends to obscure the shine and pride of place of other disciplines in the 50-year sporting life of the country.
But some will argue that given the push and enormous sponsorship by officialdom which football has enjoyed, the performance of disciplines like athletics, boxing, hockey, table tennis and tennis, which comparatively have been orphaned, should be worth double praise in a jubilee year.
Just at the time in the 1960s when the Black Stars began to dominate football on the continent, Ghana’s performance in Track and Field was also being felt on the continent and beyond and names like Mike Ahey, Alice Annum (Baby Jet), Christina Boateng and Rose Hart were legendary.
According to records, Mike Ahey had held the Africa and Commonwealth records for over four years in the long jump event. Ghana won gold medals in the 200m and 4 x 100m events at the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica where M.F. Okantey and Stan Allotey featured prominently while Alice Anum and Rose Hart were among the outstanding athletes at the All Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville.
And today, just when the Black Stars had made a World Cup appearance, Ignatius Gaisah, Vidah Anim and Majeti Fetrie had shot Ghana athletics to a new height with medal winning feats at the World, Commonwealth Games and African Championships.
Gaisah won gold in the long jump at the World, Commonwealth and Africa Championships, Majeti Fetrie also won gold in weightlifting at the world championship while Vida Anim garnered three gold medals in 100m, 200m and 100 x 4m at the Africa Championships.
These were individual feats worth the recognition the government gave them when last year both Gaisah and Vida Anim were inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside other past heroes and heroines.
Like athletics boxing, both amateur and professional, brought honours to the nation in a very big way such that in 1962 Ghana was adjudged the Commonwealth’s strongest amateur boxing nation. Thanks to the exploits of Eddy Blay and Ike Quartey who won gold medals in Perth, Australia, and silver medals by Jojo Miles, Cassi Aryee, Thomas Arimi and Sammy Abbey at the same Games.
But before this Commonwealth recognition, Ike Quartey had made the most memorable yet at the 1960 Olympics with a silver medal which, to date, has been the nation’s best ever in any discipline at that level, Eddy Blay had also come away with a bronze medal for the nation at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics while Prince Amartey similarly took bronze at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
In later years, medals in amateur boxing have been few and far between. While Raymond Narh made gold in 1998 at the Malaysia Commonwealth Games after a long lull, if was not until last year that another medal (bronze) in boxing came through Amusoni Yekini at the Melbourne Games.
In professional boxing, the early marks made by Roy Ankrah, Floyd Klutei Robertson, Joe Tetteh, among others, must have been the inspiration that drove the younger generation of boxers into world beaters.
While Ghanaians must be hailing D.K. Poison for his legendary feat of landing the country’s first-ever world title in 1976, the iconic feats by Barimah Azumah Nelson and Ike Quartey and, to perhaps a lesser degree, Nana Yaw Konadu, Ebo Danquah and Alfred Kotey who followed, gave Ghana Boxing a real shot in the arm.
In other sports, names like E.A. Quaye, Okai Quaye, Joseph Quansah, Ebo Bartels, Asare Amoyaw, Ethel Jacks, Ernestina and Theresa Akuetteh could be mentioned for making their marks in the field of table tennis while those of Kwame Saarah-Mensah, K.N. Owusu, Johnfia and Andy Sam come to mind for sending Ghana to the World Cup for the first time in 1979 in Malaysia on the wings of hockey after becoming champions in Africa in 1975.
Unfortunately, however, all these disciplines including athletics and boxing, are in the throes of survival bereft of the necessary training facilities.
The irony though is that while athletics seems to have brought some of the best results to the nation in recent years, there are hardly training tracks in the country for young athletes to practice or even to hold a national championship.
The springing up of new stadia facilities across the country in preparation for CAN 2008 which Ghana hosts early next year gives signs that the country will soon satisfy some of its infrastructural needs to give sports a booster.
But that booster certainly hangs on the crest of football, the heartbeat and passion of Ghanaians and the Black Stars will be expected to rise to another level with a fifth Nations Cup triumph next January. ‘Hosting to Win’ is the battle cry. Fiat.
Daily Graphic - Monday, March 5, 2007 Pages: 62 & 63