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Sports Features of Monday, 31 July 2017

Source: Abagna Jose Nelson 

Upper East region: The hub of football poverty

3-time African Footballer of the year, Abedi Pele hails from the Upper East Region 3-time African Footballer of the year, Abedi Pele hails from the Upper East Region

The gods of Upper East Region won't glower over this capitulation. A manufactured failure breed no hatred, thus, Bolga All Stars kissing a bye to top flight football in their maiden Premier League campaign after a 4-0 defeat to Berekum Chelsea at their adopted home grounds - Utrecht Academy Park won't be the unifier of grief. 

Was it not obvious that the team was heading for the drop after the Club Licensing Board of the Ghana FA rejected the Bolgatanga Sports Stadium as their venue because it is not up to the standard required to host Top-flight matches? 

Aficionados of the club thronged to the stadium to throw their weight behind the team to pull through a turbulent season with a near perfect success, and losing the numbers was the denominator of All Stars' fate. 

The team lost their footing the very moment the decision was made. Bolgatanga Sports Stadium is the only available venue for Division One and MTN FA Cup matches in the UPPER EAST REGION, and when it failed to meet what is required, it was inevitable that moving out their comfort zone would cripple their dream. And it did. 

If you're wondering why the team Club Licensing Board did not pass the facility, these are the regulations: 

"Matches may be played on natural or artificial surfaces, according to the rules of the competition. The colour of artificial surfaces must be green. 

“And also they must be a changing (Dressing room for both teams and match officials), there must also be an inner perimeter.” 

The Bolgatanga sports stadium or any other football pitch in the Upper East Region cannot boast of any of these requirements, forcing the club to relocate to a nearby facility, and that of course, had to be either Tamale or Wa and they chose the former. 

Now, imagine this, a team is based in Bolga, plays home matches in Tamale, a three hours journey from home to adopted home. For league honoured 30 times within a season, simply put they will have to travel 30 times to honour matches. 

Promising Clubs like FC Tanga and Paga Japan Stars pulled out of the Division One League due to the absence of a standardized stadia to play their home matches. 

Tindomnlogo Soccer Stars and Bolga Sharp Arrows (a ladies team) also pulled out of the MTN FA Cup and Sanford Women FA Cup at some stage in the competition because they could not afford to play their matches outside Bolga though they were the home teams. 

Many second divisions clubs have also withdrawn from participating in this year's league. As one of the withdrawing clubs asked me: "Even if you are playing, where will you go from there and how will you survive if you qualify? " I looked him in the eye and said: "It shall be well one day." 

Even school sports is not left out as 2017 second cycle school games which took place at the Bawku Senior High School suffered a jolt as their athletics competition had to be suspended for a whole day due to the torrential rainfall. 

Growing up in Tindomnlogo, a suburb of Bolgatanga and haven followed football activities in this region as a football fan cum sports journalist for the past five years, I can tell anyone reading this piece that any team that finds itself in the region will struggle to make an impact in their various competitions. 

Let me take Bolga All Stars for example until the team pitched camp in Tamale permanently for it home matches, they travelled to Tamale a day before every home match. Transporting the team and management in and out after every home league match was a herculean task. The financial burden is mind boggling. 

And to make matters worse, football fans in Tamale hardly pay to watch Bolga All Stars. The club is not an indigenous one. Don't get me wrong, the football loving populace in Tamale love their football and will go the extra mile to watch RTU or Guan United, but All Stars is a plebeian.

Even at a rate of GHC 3.00 at the gates (the lowest in the Ghana Premier League), less than forty people come around, giving the club approximately GHC 100.00 per a match. Imagine paying GHC 300.00 for demarcation of the pitchand making GHC 200.00 less. Hell on earth. 

Mind you, throughout Bolga All Stars' campaign in the division one league, the club never had anything less than GHC 500.00 as gate proceeds at a rate of GHC 2.00 at the Bolgatanga Sports Stadium.

Approximately two hundred and fifty people were behind the team weekly. No wonder the club went unbeaten at home in 15 league matches, the only side to achieved such feat in Zone One. Am sure this tells you how significant the Bolgatanga Sports stadium played on Bolgatanga All Stars qualification into the Ghana Premier League. 

Let’s me recap the memories of the good time the Bolgatanga sports have had in recent times before the full implementation of the Club Licensing Rule. 

Just two years ago ,the Bolgatanga Sports stadium hosted Wiaga United and Kumasi Asante Kotoko in the round of 64 of the MTN FA Cup and in 2013 at the same venue and same stage of MTN FA Cup third tier side Paga Crocodile stars played host to Asante Kotokoandin 2011 Bolga All Stars became the only division two side to have reached the quarter finals stage of the MTN FA Cup and their reward was a home game against eventual Ghana Premier league champions Brekum Chelsea (Note all those years ,the CLB was not fully implemented in Ghana thus allowing teams from the region to use the "Sakora" pitch as it venue for high profile matches) but not anymore!

Even FA cup matches involving clubs from the region are now ordered to be played in Tamale as it happened this year! 

But who is to be blamed for the lack of sports infrastructure in the Upper East Region? Mind you, the Upper East Region is the only region without a grass pitch. 

I wept for upper East Sports when I paid a visit to Bolgatanga sports stadium this morning. 

Governments upon Governments have failed the region in terms of sports infrastructure development and it is about time the youth and all sports enthusiasts stand up to fight for what we deserve as a region. 

And again to think that this region has produced Africa three times best player Abedi Pele and his sons, and up till date do not have a good stadium to enable football fans from the region to watch their various teams play is sad! 

The unfortunate part of the whole situation is that people who are involved in the day to day running of football teams in this region are the ordinary and poor ones as the rich do not see the need to invest in football as it is the case in other regions where money bags are deeply involved in football and pump lots of money into clubs and academies. 

After the Chairman of the Regional Football Association, Mr. Salifu Zida mobilized some funds to get loamy soil to spread on the playing surface of the field, drained a mechanic borehole and tapped electricity into the stadium as part of the effort to give the stadium a facelift. But the lack of support from the powers that mean that nothing has been added to it and instead of little green grass rather green trees were growing on the field due to loamy soil spread on the field. 

The GFA, the national sports council and government, the bodies responsible for the growth and development of sports and are always quick to take credit for the successes chucked by Individuals and national sports teams, must come to the aid of a region of budding talents but no proper facility to nurture these. 

Even the two biggest teams in the country ( Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko) do not have their own stadia, how do you expect teams like Bolga All Stars, Wiaga United, FC Tanga etc who use open school parks and gets virtually nothing from the game to build a football pitch? 

I cannot but to agree with the CEO of Wiaga United,a second Division team based in Sadema, Evans Akangyelewon Atuick who in an interview with GBC Ura Radio Sports said “ It is sad but the hard truth is the future of football and other sports in our region is very bleak and if something is not done really fast the region will soon be erased from the football map.” 

And indeed something really has to be done about the lack of sports infrastructure in the Upper East region and it must be fast for us not to be whipped out of sports completely. 

I must say bravo to all the football administrators in the region whom despite all these challenges are still soaring on in developing and nurturing talents for the region and mother Ghana at large. 

Special mention must go out to Bolga All Stars, Tanga Sporting Club and Soe Soccer Masters the three clubs that are still vibrant in the Bolgatanga Municipality though the administrators get visually nothing from the teams to keep the clubs afloat.

IT’S SAD! All I can say is God save Upper East Region Sports. 

God Bless Upper East region, God Bless Motherland Ghana.