Tuesday, March 6, 2007
SPORTS HAVE SERVED THEE NATION WELL
By: EBO QUANSAH
On Thursday, March 1, as the movers and shapers of African football met in Accra and conferred the lead title on Didier Drogba, captain of the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire and leading marksman in the English Premier League this season with Chelsea, the event officially kick-started the Golden Jubilee of Ghana’s independence.
While Drogba’s award received the approval of the large crowd, the most popular award was the National Team of the Year title, appropriately conferred on the Black Stars of Ghana. The audience went into frenzy as the MC pronounced the winner as “G-H-A-N-A”.
Ghana and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) have a lot in common. At a time CAF was celebrating its birth in Sudan with the maiden edition of the African Cup of Nations, the streets of Accra and other cities and towns at the centre of the earth were awash with revelers celebrating the birth of the nation as an independent nation within the Commonwealth.
Last Thursday, this fact was not lost on President John Agyekum Kufuor, President of the Republic when as Guest of Honour at the CAF big bash in Accra, the Head of State invited all those present to the nations big do at the Independence Square in Accra, today.
President Kufuor told his audience that apart from lighting the torch to independence in sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana has also done a lot to build a positive image of African sports in the international community. The head of state was spot on.
The construction of the Accra Sports Stadium by the colonial government and the imperial administrator’s success in getting the United African Company of Africa (UAC), now Unilever, to build Kumasi Sports Stadium in the early 1950s gave the nation a great start in sports at a time most Africa nations lacked facilities for effective competition.
The Coussey Commission that investigated the 1948, established a link between that lack of facilities for recreation was and the ferocious nature of the disturbance and recommended strongly to the infrastructure for sporting activities.
The facilities the two stadia provided attracted a number of great performers into sports and as early as 1954, the then Gold Coast participated in the then British and Empire Games (now Commonwealth Games) in 1954.
No medals were won but it prepared the grounds for Ghana’s domination in the boxing event of the games from 1962 to 1970. Ghana became the greatest boxing nation in the Commonwealth at the games in Perth Australia.
In Kingston, Jamaica in 1966, Eddie Blay captained the boxing squad to retain the title as the best boxing nation with three gold medals. At the same game, Ghana came within a whisker of breaking the world record in 4x100 relay. Stan Allotey, who had already won the 200 metres gold medal, anchored the quarter featuring Mike Ahey, B. K. Mends to grab the gold.
Alice Anum won two silver medals in the 100 and 200 metres. The boxing team returned from the 1970 Games in Edinburgh with Two Gold and Two Silver to retain Ghana’s title as the best boxing nation in the Commonwealth.
Many Ghanaians might not know this: A Ghanaian won the first Olympic medal credited to a Black African.
In 1960, Ike Quarte, Senior, won silver in ring in Rome, to become the first black African to win a medal in the Olympic Games.
Ike was decorated before Bikila Abebe of Ethiopia, running bare-foot grabbed the gold medal at the marathon.
Eddie Blay won bronze in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Prince Amartey also won bronze in the Munich Olympics of 1972.
After the Munich Games, Ghana had to wait for 200 years, before winning the next medal at the Olympics. That was at the Barcelona Olympics. The Meteors of Ghana won the soccer bronze.
Incidentally, that was also the first medal won by an African team in the soccer series of the Olympic Games. It was after Ghana’s triumph that Nigeria went to win the Olympic soccer gold in Atlanta in 1996 and Cameroon becoming the winner of the soccer series in 2000.
Inspired by the philanthropic gesture of the late D. G. Hathramani, table tennis stars like E. A. Quaye and his junior brother Okine, Ethel Jacks and Ernestina Akuetteh invaded Africa with success and made Ghana African champions in the 1960s and 70s.
In amateur boxing Ghana was without peers in Africa. Boxers like Eddie Blay, Joe Darkey, Joe Destimo, Sulley Shittu, Flash Nelson took Africa by storm.
In professional boxing Black Flash Roy Ankrah set the pace by winning the British and Empire featherweight title in 1951. In May 1964, Floyd Klutei took on Sugar Ramos of Cuba then domiciled in Mexico in a bloody 15-round World Featherweight title in Accra and was nakedly robbed by two Mexican judges.
In a comedy of errors, Prince Boateng, Chairman of the Ghana Boxing Board of Control at the time, mounted the ring and announced a reversal of the decision. However, that found no favour with the World Boxing Council who order a return match later.
But before the contest could take place in Mexico City, Sugar Ramos had lost his title to a local champion. Floyd failed in his bid against the new champion. But his exploits set the pace for other Ghanaian pugilists.
In September 1975, David Kotei Poison, managed by the Ghana Boxing Promotion Syndicate, a consortium of gurus in the game put together by the government of the Supreme Military Council of General Kutu Acheampong, won the first world title for Ghana in Los Angeles. Poison lost the title to Danny ‘Little Red’ Lopez in a bloody 15-round encounter in Accra, on November 6, 1976.
It took eight years for another Ghanaian to capture the world title. Azumah Nelson, who had had a distinguished career as an amateur, with gold medals in the Africa and Commonwealth Games, defeated Wilfredo Gomez of Puerto Rica to win the WBC featherweight title in 1984 and strode the boxing scene like a colossus.
He was followed by Nana Yaw Konadu who snatched the world Flyweight Crown and inspired Ike Quartey to become a world champion in welterweight division. Ebo Danquah also took the World International Title in the bantamweight division.
In athletics, Mike Ahey, B. K. Mends, Stan Allotey, Ohene Karkari, George Daniels, Sandy Osei-Agyeman, Alice Anum, Hannah Afriyie and many other unsung heroes took the national flag to rostrums in Africa and the Commonwealth to be decorated.
But Ghana never really hit it on the world stage until the arrival of Ignatius Gaisah and Vida Anim recently.
Gaisah won the All-Africa gold medal in the long jump at Abuja in 2003 and claimed the silver medal in the World champion in Helsinki. In a whirlwind 10 days of action Gaisah claimed the World Indoor title in Moscow and jetted Down Under to capture the gold medal in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
Vida Anim raised high the flag of Ghana in the Africa Athletic Championship with three gold medals in the women’s 100,200 and 100x4 metres relay. She then represented Africa in the World Championship and claimed three bronze medals in the same events.
In hockey, the nation has made inroads into Africa, Commonwealth and world championship. Even in the relatively new event like weightlifting the nation is making a huge impact. The national game is the baby of Mr. Johnson Aboagye, chairman of the National Road Safety Commission who is single-handedly funding the event.
Ghana surprised quite a few in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne when Bernard Fetrie won the gold medal in the middleweight division. Games like handball; volleyball, basketball badminton and even the recently introduced rugby is doing well in selling the image of Ghana in international community.
There is no doubt though that football is the number one sport and the leading image builder of this nation.
When the Black Stars played in the 2006 World Cup in Germany and defeated the likes of Czech Republic and the United States, the world applauded the skills exhibited by the men in national colours. But the foundations had been laid in Africa as far back as 1963, when the Black Stars won the national first honours in the African Cup of Nations on home soil in 1963.
The heroes of the time were J.E. Aggrey-Fynn, Edward Acquah, Wilberforce Mfum, Dodoo Ankrah, Franklin Crenstil, Addo Odametey, Mohammed Salisu, Dogo Moro, etc. Baba Yara, king of the right wing was paralyzed in a road accident and was ruled out of the championship.
In 1965, with the cream of the national players ruled out for one reason or another, a group of talented young men comprising of Osei Kofi, Franklin Odoi, John Naawu, Ben Kusi, Sam Acquah, Oman Mensah, etc, took over the mantle and retained the cup in Tunisia playing delightful soccer.
Though the Black Stars lost the final of the 1968 championship in Addis Ababa to Congo Kinshasa (Now Democratic Republic of Congo), the Black Stars bounced back in 1978 to regain the crown ; winning the original Abdel Aziz trophy for good.
Two years earlier, the national team had contested the final of the finals and lost by a lone goal to host nation Sudan.
When the Black Stars won in Libya in 1982, Ghana set a record of four championships. Unfortunately, since that time Ghana has never won the cup again. The closest the Black Stars have come to regaining the African title was the runners-up spot claimed in the 1992 championship in Senegal when Abedi Pele and Tony Yeboah were in fantastic form.
On the world stage, the Black Starlets, the Under 17 national team have claimed two championships and two runners-up spots. This nation has reached the final of finals twice in the Under 20 World Cup with the like Nii Odartey Lamptey, Mohammed Gago, Yaw Preko, Sebastian Barnes etc, catching the attention of big clubs in Europe.
At the moment, the Black Stars are one of the hottest national teams on the globe. The 4-1 drubbing of Nigeria in a friendly match in London recently clearly underscores the national team’s determination to win back the African Cup of Nations home soil in 2008.
With the government of Ghana constructing two brand new stadia in Sekondi and renovating the Ohene Djan and Baba Yara stadia in Accra and Kumasi, the stage is set for Ghana to play a leading role in global sports once more.
As president Kufuor said at the International Conference Centre on Thursday, the African Cup of Nations in Ghana next year will set the stage for Africa to challenge the rest of the World when the World Cup comes to African soil for the first time in 2010 in South Africa.
The Ghanaian Times Tuesday, March 6, 2007 Page: 47