Sports Features of Wednesday, 27 August 2014
Source: Prof. Andrew Owusu
Ghana Athletics: GAA Continues To Defy Its Critics While Blazing a New Path
"Martha Bissah the Ghanaian has given us a glimpse of A GLORIOUS future...without any shadow of a doubt... that was WORLD CLASS...if someone can tidy up that technique, she will be a force to be reckon with when she becomes a senior." These were the words of the commentator in Nanjing, China, after Martha Bissah won Ghana’s first ever Olympic Medal at any level in any sport on August 23rd, 2014.
However, let’s backtrack to exactly a month ago during the 2014 Commonwealth Games when Martha was getting ready for the biggest stage in her young career.
If you had tuned into radio stations or read print media in Ghana during the just ended Commonwealth Games, you would have been fully convinced that athletics in Ghana had reached a critical point of failure.
Divine intervention was needed to rescue arguably the number 2 (or maybe 3) sport in Ghana. For days on end, negative stories miraculously appeared on obscure websites only to be picked up by reputable media outlets in Ghana with no objective analysis. On July 31st 2014, the Daily Graphic run the headline: “Commonwealth Games: No joy for Ghana in athletics”. In the Graphic story, an athlete reaching the finals of the Commonwealth games was characterized as a disappointment. Imagine that, making the final of a major international competition being characterized as a “disappointment”. Never mind that the athlete labeled a disappointment was one of the 2 youngest competitors in the event.
On social media, some critics lambasted the current GAA president with comments such as “Dr. Francis Duodu is a disgrace to Ghana athletics. I tot as a former athlete he will do better but wat do we see...failure. Under his tutelage or reign two of our best athletes has denounced their citizenship. Our athletes are failing "potoo" on ongoing commonwealth games.” The vile with which GAA critics pushed the failure storyline was breathtaking.
Soon, even major broadcast outlets had fallen for the failure line with very little objective analysis. Little did they seem to care that the competition was still ongoing and that the negative coverage could have an adverse effect on the athletes who were yet to compete. One well-known sports host kept trying to convince an athlete who had agreed to speak to them on the phone that she had not been given enough kits to wear; contrary to the facts and the words of the athlete. The host went on to label the athlete as a failure for not meeting an arbitrary performance target the he the host had set for the athlete. This young athlete placed 5th in the SEMI-FINAL of the prestigious 100m race!
It was painful watching the psychological abuse these athletes were subjected to. Privately, some journalists conceded that there was a concerted plan by unnamed individuals to wrest power from the existing officers.
Talk about cutting one’s nose off to spite their face; Ghanaians seeking a place in sports administration were willing to undermine athletes, and thereby Ghana, simply to achieve their personal selfish goals.
One would have thought they, our athletes, belonged to the opposing team. Never mind that these young men and women were the best Ghana had to offer and were on the same team we all claim to care about: Team Ghana.
It is my firm belief that the role of the media is to help readers, listeners and watchers make sense of questions and issues grounded in reality; something most hard working sports journalists in Ghana do on a daily basis. So why this massive campaign to label Ghana Athletics Association (GAA) a failure? The answer is simple.
Unfortunately for Ghana Athletics, its current President, Prof Francis Dodoo, also doubles as the President of Ghana Olympic Committee (GOC). The GOC presidency is a highly political position fraught with power struggles both internally and externally. Unfortunately, for Dodoo, he also served as a member on the notorious Maputo committee that exposed considerable shenanigans and corruption in the operations of the National Sports Authority. For the entrenched powers that be in sports, Dodoo must be made to pay, even if it costs Ghana and her athletes.
Prof. Dodoo has a healthy majority of supporters within the GOC, but he also has a formidable list of internal and external detractors who would like nothing but to see him fail. To his detractors, anything Dodoo is involved in is fair game to go after. The smell of smoke is equivalent to a full blown forest fire. Objective analysis is the last thing they are interested and in confidence, some openly admit they don’t like him because he rubs them the wrong way. Ask what specifically he has done without cause, and they can’t pinpoint anything other than “personal” grudges.
I bring GOC up in this piece because it is important for readers to keep in mind the related sports politicking that influenced how GAA and by extension Ghanaian Athletes, were treated in the last week of July and first few days of August 2014.
According to the critics, Ghana Athletics is dead. The current GAA executive under Prof. Dodoo is the worst ever. Athletes are failing “poto poto”. Athletes are arbitrarily selected onto the national team. There are no competitions in Ghana. No local coaches were taken on the trip. There is no future for Ghana Athletics. Prof. Dodoo must go.
The true mark of progress in sports development is the ability to help new talent successfully transition from the early stages of development to higher levels in a fair, caring and supportive environment. This is a reality often ignored by GAA critics.
Objective and easily verifiable information clearly indicates that Ghana failed to successfully transition talented juniors from 2003-2009. Once again FACTS cannot be ignore. Aziz zakari, Ignisious Gaisah, Vida Anim and Margaret Simpson all emerged before 2003.
Previous (2003-2009) GAA executive boards failed to successfully transition a single talented athlete from the local junior ranks to the international junior level and eventually to the senior international level.
So what are the facts concerning some of the accomplishments of the current (2010-2014) GAA executive board?
• 5 National Records in 2014 (seniors and juniors); more national records in the past 2 years than in the 8 years prior.
• More athletes ranked in the top 20 in Africa this year  than in any of the preceding 15 years.
• Second-most medals ever at an African Championships by the youngest team (average age) ever presented by Ghana; 11 medalists came home from the African Championships that occurred quietly one week after the Commonwealth Games ended, with medals in 6 events, and there were FOUR 4th place finishes to boot.
• 15 athletes have received scholarships to continue their education and training in the United States in the last two years; more athletes on scholarship in 2 years than in the previous 20 years combined at an estimated worth of over $800,000 in 4 years.
• Total of 20 juniors qualified for the World Junior Championships in 2012 and 2014; prior to 2012, we had never qualified more than one per gender per year.
• Local athletes performing at levels not seen in the past 15 years (Martha Bissah [our first-ever Olympic Gold medalist at the Youth Olympics; Solomon Afful at 20.85 secs ELECTRONIC, the fastest ever 200m race by a home-based Ghanaian; John O’Brien 46.91 secs, 400m; Vivian Mills 53.04 secs, 400m; thirteen 400m men running at 47.99 secs or faster; thirteen 200m women at 24 seconds and below, and the list goes on].
• Open and transparent selection process. Gone are the days when coaches and administrators would huddle in dark rooms picking favorite athletes and others from whom they could get “favors”. Since 2010, at the start of each year, GAA publishes a publicly available “Selection Policy and Qualifications Standards” document which ensures that for individual events, ONLY athletes can select themselves onto a national team by meeting qualification standards.
• National Championships at the following levels; Youth (Cowbell-sponsored), Juniors (Tsakos-sponsored), Senior (multiple sponsors).
• A domestic athletics circuit, which combined with an Open tour produced EIGHT competitions for Ghana-based athletes in 2014.
• Competitions not just in Accra and Kumasi, but also in Wa, Tamale, Takoradi, Koforidua, with plans to extend to Bolgatanga, Ho, and other places in 2015.
• First ever, international permit (CAA/IAAF) competition in Ghana
• Two successful world-class Grand Prix competitions, which brought athletes from at least a dozen different countries, including Jamaica, USA, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, France, etc.
• Establishment of a grassroots Kid’s Athletics (IAAF/Nestle) program
o Over 500 Kid Athletics coaches will be trained by 2016
o Over 200,000 school children will be reached by 2016
• Purchase of over $100,000 of electronic timing equipment giving Ghana the ability to host international championships events.
• Most ever number of athletes qualified to represent Africa at the Youth Olympics and the IAAF Continental Cup (Formerly World Cup in Athletics)
I leave readers to judge for themselves whether athletics in Ghana is dying, or whether we are rather in the midst of a quite revival, where a new generation of athletes is coming off age to replace the ones who have moved on, and return Ghana to her glory days.
Martha Bissah gave us a whiff of that last week in faraway China. Should GAA continue developing the next generation of athletes with the promise they have shown, or do we want to return to the past with all its shenanigans?
Do we keep listening to critics so simple minded that they cannot distinguish between the talent and hard work put in by an athlete and her respective coach(es) FROM the hard work put in on the administrative and management end to ensure an athlete gets the necessary resources and right opportunities to maximize potential?
On a related but separate note, a remarkable feat that is rarely seen in Ghana sports took place off the field in the last few weeks; something most in the media completely missed. Remarkably, despite going to Morocco for 11 days without allowances and despite going to Nanjing without a bonus structure, this new generation of Ghanaian athletes (athletics) went and competed without a single whimper about allowances or bonuses.
Yes, they do deserve their allowances and more, given their successes at the African Championships, but it is refreshing to see such dedication to Ghana, after the antics of the old generation of athletes and today’s Black Stars. Indeed, a weightlifter at the very same Youth Olympics that Martha Bissah won gold in, is threatening suicide over allowances; hard to imagine she was in the right frame of mind to compete.
Perhaps, in building their development program, Prof Dodoo and his GAA team have socialized their young athletes so well that they trust Ghana, and run first for Ghana before themselves. This concept may sound strange to some, but sports psychology supports production of better performances when athletes believe in competing for a bigger cause. Again, readers should not get me wrong. These athletes deserved to be paid if the Black Stars got paid.
The latest tactic now is to trivialize all the developmental preconditions that have been put in place; to assume that the success from Morocco and from Nanjing (Youth Olympics) had nothing to do with the developmental work that the GAA has done over the last four years.
The presumption we are supposed to have then is that this happened organically; in other words, without the GAA’s developmental interventions of the last four years, the athletes would still have emerged and competed as well as they have this year. Anything to discredit the work that has been done.
In other words, even if the previous GAAs were in place, these successes would still have been chalked. This begs the question, then, why the 10 years prior to 2009 did not produce the same quality athletes in Ghana that this year has.
Why must the truth be obscured so that certain individuals who want to be GAA chair can do so? Why don’t they at least admit the truth and then propose what they can do to even further advance our growth?
Finally, consider this headline that flashed across my screen on the morning of August 23rd, 2014, and tell me whether Ghana Athletics is dead: “BREAKING NEWS -- GOLD FOR GHANA: Martha Bissah Win's Youth Olympics 800m Final with a Massive Personal Best of 2:04.90 and a New National Junior Record!!!” Keep in mind that Martha’s medal is the first ever Olympic Gold medal for Ghana at any level, in any sport.
To see the video of “Martha’s Golden Run” visit http://youtu.be/82R05qjTyPo
Need I say more?