Sports Features of Thursday, 9 August 2012
Source: Theodore M. K. Viwotor
True to the feeling most Ghanaians had prior to the Olympic Games in London, the athletes sent to represent Ghana have not been able to win medals for Ghana and they would be returning to their country without any laurels.
While some of them failed to even participate on health grounds, others could not go beyond the first round of their various disciplines and the hopes of making Ghana proud in London have faded away like vapor.
Should we blame the athletes for failing the nation? Opinions may differ on this question but what caught the attention of many sports-loving Ghanaians in the week was the fury of a very prominent sports writer in the country, Kwabena Yeboah, at the authorities in charge of Ghana’s participation in the London 2012, for their last-minute attempt at creating the impression they were interested in the athletes winning medals at the games.
Kwabena Yeboah expressed disgust at the announcement of incentives for athletes, calling it ‘an insult’. He minced no words in demonstrating the immorality on the part of the authorities whose action appeared hypocritical and a move too late to save their image for doing little for the athletes.
His anger is understandable and justified due to the shame some of these lackluster performances bring upon the nation. Imagine the number of Ghanaians in London who cannot raise their flags high because there is nothing to show for that, especially when other nationals are showing off the achievement of their athletes in various disciplines.
Kwabena Yeboah’s argument was that, if such amounts of money, $20,000.00 (gold), $10,000.00 (silver) and $5,000.00 (bronze) for the athletes were available in their coffers, what prevented them from using it to rather prepare the athletes by sponsoring them to other international events prior to the games? Why were some of the athletes denied of the opportunity to be at some important events that could have prepared them adequately for the Olympics and brightened their medal chances, when fractions of the incentives could have settled those bills?
The action of those who proposed the incentives is reminiscent of a father who cannot or does buy textbooks for his ward. He even does not pay fees at times, leading to his ward being sacked from school and missing some lessons.
Then, when it is time for the final examinations, this same father calls his ward prior to the first paper and promises to give him a huge amount of money if he passes his exams with very good results. The surprise on the face of the ward need not be surprising to his father because the amount needed to fulfill that promise could have made the child ready long ago to bring home good results and that could have been a much more better incentive.
The Olympic Games are held quadrennially, so all nations are afforded the opportunity to adequately prepare to present athletes to compete.
The Olympic Committees’ jobs across the world are specifically to organize programmes and projects for prospective athletes desiring to participate in the games. The athletes are sent to international and local events to sharpen their skills and give them exposure to face any challenge ahead.
Is the situation the same here in Ghana? Some of our athletes would admit that, competing for Ghana is like carrying a load without reward and support. They toil on their own, look for programmes abroad but at the end are not able to attend because there is no funding for them. The various associations that fall under the Olympic Committee do not have the wherewithal to continually keep their athletes prepared. Therefore, we wait till it is another Olympic Games and we create the wrong impression that we are ready to ‘do something before we die’.
Watching the Olympic Games makes many a Ghanaian wonder if the nation truly appreciates the essence of the games. To some people it is a form of platform for nations to market themselves and improve on their image. To others, it is an opportunity for links to be created between individuals and corporate bodies for future projects. There are individuals who use it to make a name for themselves; the likes of Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt, Asafa Powel, Michael Phelps, among others, are now household names in the world due to their exploits at the Olympic Games.
This year’s games have also given unsung athletes the chance to make a mark in history. Ye Shiwen of China stunned the world with her swimming skills so much that some persons thought she was on drugs. The 16 year-old has now become a hero across the globe and many would now follow her exploits long after the Olympic Games.
When you watch the likes of Ye Shiwen, you wonder if Ghana would also be in a position one day to raise young athletes or Olympians of her caliber. At age 16 or younger she has been identified and groomed to become one of the world’s best swimmers. How far are Ghanaian talents being identified and groomed to do the same exploits? Is there any programme or project in place to continually identify, recruit and groom Olympic athletes for future competitions? The question is for anyone who has the answer.
Gone are the days when there were sporting events like the Inter-Colleges competition (Inter Co as they were called) that brought schools together for competitions in athletics, football and others and persons who excelled were identified, recruited and trained to compete for Ghana at international tournaments. It was a laudable idea that served as a talent hunt for the nation. These competitions are no more as vibrant as they were (that is if they still exist) so until a major tournament is organized, we are not able to identify talents for competitions.
The Ghana Olympic Committee (GOC) might have to liaise with the various educational institutions to revamp the competition to serve as a hub for getting talents for the next and subsequent Olympic Games. That way, a programme would then be in motion to continually build Team Ghana for the Olympic and other games.
Additionally, other disciplines like boxing could be planned at the amateur level to also prepare boxers specifically for the Olympic Games before they become professionals. In that case, a year or so before the Olympics, some prospective boxers could be quickly identified and registered for a special training regime aimed at winning medals.
When we look at nations like Kenya, Ethiopia, Morocco, Rwanda and the likes, we would realize that they have focused on the events and disciplines that suite their climatic conditions and always come out the best at any of such competitions. As a result, they are always assured of medals no matter the competition from other nations.
Ghana is a well known boxing nation but we seem to have lost that accolade because we are no more achieving the feat some of our predecessors did. Why not start now?
Winning medals at the Olympic Games is not an easy thing to do. It requires sacrifice, training, investment and commitment on the part of all stakeholders. If we want to be winning medals as such competitions, we need to begin to structure things and prepare well with a vision.
Talking about vision means starting our planning towards the next Olympics in Brazil 2016 now. We need to start looking at the number of medals we want to win and what we think we need to do to win them. When we settle on that, we can then proceed to the activities needed to fulfill it.
It is within our means to win medals and the earlier we started the better.