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Track & Field News of Friday, 17 July 2009

Source: Daily Graphic

US, Haven For Ghanaian Athletes

Ghana and the United States of America have a long sporting relationship which dates back to the past four decades or so when some notable Ghanaian soccer stars of yesteryears left the shores of this country to seek for greener pastures.

Prominent among the stars who joined the exodus bandwagon at the peak of their careers and only returned home years later as retired footballers include the 1978 African Footballer of the Year, ‘Golden Boy’ Abdul Razak whose famous transfer move from Kumasi Asante Kotoko to Cosmos Club remain fresh in the minds of most Ghanaians to date, Sam Ayi Acquah, Wilberforce Mfum, Agyeman Gyau, Anue Cofie, Sam Acquah, Willie Evans, Frank Odoi (VC 10), Robert Hammond and the late Mama Acquah, just to mention a few.

Like most Ghanaians, most of these great players who made Ghana soccer tick in their days soon abandoned their dreams of playing top flight football in the US and found the economy to be vibrant enough to capitalise on to pursue their respective dream professions in order to make ends meet.

The trend has remained unchanged to date with as many other Ghanaian sportsmen and women, alongside others who have nothing to do with sports, finding the US to be a safe haven within which to build their future.

Like soccer, athletics has equally benefited tremendously through the various scholarship schemes rolled out by some US universities to outstanding Ghanaian track and field athletes over the years.

Such bilateral ties propped up the rise of former top Ghanaian athletes like Hannah Afriyie, Alice Anum, John Myles-Mills, and his brother, Leonard, later on, Emmanuel Tuffour (Koora), Eric Akogyiram, Timothy Hesse, Solomon Amegatcher, Nelson Boateng, Salaam Gariba, Mercy Addy, Tanko Braimah, Francis Dodoo, Andrew Owusu and others who represented the nation in some major meets in the past.

Significantly, Ghana continues to reap from the largesse of the same assistance from the US with present day national athletes like Aziz Zakari, Seth Amoo, Monica Twum, among others, being the obvious beneficiaries.

The story is no different when it comes to tennis as Ghanaian internationals like Odartey Annan, Frank Ofori, Isaac Donkor, Ken Dowuona, Nortey Dowuona, Kojo Atiso, Henry Adjei-Darko, Salifu Mohammed and others have had their careers boosted by the kind of exposure they had from the US over the years.

Back to soccer, the sensational manner in which the then Ghanaian teenage prodigy, Freddy Adu, announced his presence in the US at the turn of the century still lingers on in the minds of followers of the game globally.

Having featured for the US junior teams from 2003 to date, the 20-year-old Adu was expecting the next obvious thing to happen, only to be denied the chance to parade in American colours after turning his back on the land of his birth.

And quite recently, former Ghanaian international, Samuel Osei Kuffour, was reported to be considering playing in the Major League Soccer (MLS) before hanging his boots.

However, Ghana-US relations transcend individual romance as some Ghanaian national teams like the Black Queens, Black Stars and Black Meteors readily come to mind for their escapades with the US at one time or the other.

For the present generation, the refreshing news which readily comes to mind is the Black Stars’ 2-1 victory over the US in their last Group E match at the Germany 2006 World Cup. Significant as that feat was, it propelled Ghana to a historic second round berth, while putting paid to the Americans’ hopes of advancing to the one-sixteenth stage.

It is equally interesting to note that the man who mastermined that victory was US-based Ghanaian coach, Robert Sackey, who scouted on the Yankees prior to the World Cup.

Before then, the Meteors had had a spell in the US during the Atlanta 96 Olympic Games, with their medal hopes being shattered at the quarter-final stage.

But the Queens were the first to enjoy the US breeze following their first two World Cup appearances in 1999 and 2003.

All that and many others which cannot be captured here for want of space can only be described as signs of greater things to come as far as Ghana-US bilateral relations are concerned.