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Sports Features Fri, 31 May 2013

Our Athletes Are Selling Dog Chains On The Streets

Nana Antwi, Our Athletes Are Selling Dog Chains On The Streets

I read with interest an interview Nana Antwi Bosiako, the Nkosuohene of Begoro in the Eastern Region, granted Graphic Sports about the dying sports of athletics in Ghana (reported on Ghanaweb of Wednesday, May 29th, 2013). Nana is said to have advocated for the construction of a national stadium with facilities for athletics and to give priority to technical development as a way to revive athletics in Ghana. He also blamed “the lack of commitment on the part of the nation in the promotion and development of the game” among other things as the reason for the waning interest in the sport. As a renown athlete and a coach (as well as Nana), not many people will disagree with him and I am not going to be an exception. With all due respect, however, I just want to point out that a national athletic stadium will be meaningful if we do the basic things first.

Athletics in Ghana developed through the second cycle school system. Before the advent of senior secondary/high schools, we had the five-year Form Five plus two years Six Form system. What the system did was to keep the youth in school throughout the teenage years and into the early twenties. This is the age for sports. I remember, when I was admitted to Apam Secondary School, I was 13 years old. Some of my mates in form one had completed form four of elementary school and were sixteen and seventeen years old. We had students in increasing age from form one to Upper Six.

What made this good for athletics development was that we had a program in school that required us to do athletic training at least once a week. We woke up early and run for two hours on Sunday mornings. This was compulsory to all classes. That meant that for the six years we spent there, we were running all the time. We also had a vibrant and highly competitive inter-houses and inter-schools competitions. The inter-schools, were organized from the zonal to regional and national levels. And there was the national student athletic team call Academicals that competed in National Regional Sports Festivals. When I got to Apam, the headmaster seized every occasion to let us know that Apam Secondary School won the National competition in 1967, in spite of the fact that that was decades before we got there. Right from form one orientation, we were made to know that Winneba Secondary School was our greatest competitor and enemy in sports and we took our meetings with them seriously.

This practice was not unique to Apam Secondary School but a program for all second cycle institutions. St. Augustine verses Aggrey Memorial verses Adisadel; AMASS verses Prempeh etc. Any former student of any secondary school still remembers not only the names of their competitors but numerous stories about incidences that happened in inter-school competitions. We enjoyed the competitive atmosphere and we trained hard for it. This is what developed Ghana athletics. It was not by any act of any government or parliament.

What do we have now? Three years in senior high after only two years middle school. Graduates of this system are not fully developed athletes with interest in pursuing that profession. Meanwhile, eighty to ninety percent of all students will not enter the Universities. So many schools in the regional have not been able to gain admission for one single student of theirs in any university in Ghana, athletes or not. This vast majority of dropout are even too immature to go into full time employment as clerks in both the civil service and the private sector. What serious employer will hire a fifteen/sixteen year old with ordinary passes but without any skills, including computer use? The former Sixthformers were employed as executive officers straight from school. So this mass of SSS/SHS graduates are roaming the streets selling dog chains and frustrated with their fate. They are too old to depend on Mama and Dada but too young to work. They have no capital of their own and have no access to any. How are we going to get these young former student athletes to be interested in the sport? What kind of investment can we put at their disposal to make them interested in athletics? Athletics is a boring sports and young Ghanaians are not going to compete around the house running against each other. And where will they run? Come to the national stadium built for athletics? That is not how football developed. Football is fun and the young can play it anywhere. We play soccer inside the house compound, on the road (gutter – gutter) and spaces between houses. In other words, the field for playing and developing football is not the one the government built. The kids created it in the neighbourhood. This is why athletics is dying. Our educational system has killed it. This is an unfortunate by-product of our educational reform. This is exactly what happened to the National Football team, the Black Stars, in the nineties. In the time past, players will graduate from the colt football into second division teams and into the premier league. I saw some of our great players playing in the league in Ghana for a long time before they ever went outside to play professional football. Then the junior world cup competitions came. The world saw the Black Starlets playing good and sweet football at the under 17 world cup and all the countries fell in love with them. Then the professional football agents came rushing down with money and plucked the still developing young footballers away. In the professional leagues in Europe, they were too young, too fragile and too inexperience to make headways. They became training horses who only warmed the reserve benches. But they got the money European football has and there was no incentives to come back, thus depriving Ghana of so many of her talents. Soccer has survived because of the popularity of the game amongst the youth, the ease of playing it without expensive infrastructure and the vibrant local football league.

This is the same phenomenon that has restricted boxing to certain localities. Infrastructure of boxing in Kumasi will not produce boxers from Oda old town. Sports starts and develop in the second cycle schools because of the structure and system of authority there. The university student population is too small in Ghana, with too independent students. Not forgetting the fact that most admissions go to the children of the privilege classes. Rich and over pampered kids don’t run in the residential areas. Others run for them. So if we are serious to develop athletics in Ghana, we must start from the elementary and secondary schools.

Secondary, the government must form some form of brigade to employ good athletes identified in the first and second cycle institutions who don’t make it to the Universities. The brigade can be formed from the national service scheme. The athletes should be assigned special duties that will enable them to develop their profession. If a separate brigade is not possible, they should be absorbed into the security services under a special branch where their skills will be developed and harness for the country. Those who excel must be given the chance to have university education sponsored by the government as an insuring for injuries and wear and tear that may affect their future prospects.

Athletics in Ghana can be developed only if we start from the grass root with the stakeholders involved. We can do this if the government will show interest in those who run. And those who run are in the schools in the countryside. A special stadium with athletics facilities will become meaningful only when we have people with the desire and skills to use it. We can have such people if we identify them, develop them and give them incentives to encourage them. They are there if we look.

And we can look if we have a well developed action plan and serious ministries of Education, Youth and Sports that know what they are about.

Kwame Yeboah

gyeboah@harding.edu

Source: Yeboah, Kwame