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Opinions Thu, 29 May 2014

Will Government Ever Look Beyond Black Stars?

Can Ghana routinely boast of at least ten inspirational world boxing champions at each point in time cast in the mould of Azumah Nelson? Can we have at least two world class Ghanaian tennis players in the top ten ATP rankings all the time? What will it take to establish ourselves as world class professional athletic champions? What about weight lifting, martial arts, table tennis, and swimming etc.?

It would appear that this democratic governance experience is fast assuming the status of first order good intentions with little or no concrete actions to make fundamental changes to the status quo. If not, why do I keep hearing over and over again from our leaders/experts what should be done while the status quo remains cast in solid concrete? Why are our leaders getting away with plodding the path of least resistance, the path of tinkering, the path of first order changes and displaying a total aversion to embarking upon something more fundamental?

You name the problem and our leaders reply with an answer – “totally mechanize agriculture”, but hoes and cutlasses reign supreme, “widen the tax net”, but government is too comfortable focusing on formal sector workers only. They are the soft targets. “Build affordable houses”, but the concrete jungles grow, not to mention that the houses are anything but affordable. “Grow the much disdained so called lesser known sports”, but never mind, a highly successful Black Stars will intoxicate us in World Cup euphoria – damn the lesser sports!

The path to and participation in the 2014 Brazil World Cup is a well written political script. The President is hosting the team to a state banquet to bid them goodbye. This will firmly tie government to their success. There will be a high profile farewell football match prior to departure. This will tie their mission and success to the public. The Stars will succeed at the World Cup, with success defined as a minimum quarter final berth. The country will be thrown into ecstasy. We will walk naked. We will drive crazy. We will drink and dance. We will forget our party colors, for a while. The government will remind us of the enabling environment it has created for this great achievement. In it all, we will forget that there were other plans beyond football and specifically, beyond the Black Stars. This has been the cycle since 1992 or for as long as I can remember.

Business will proceed as usual and the much despised lesser known sports will forever remain damned. Let us take the manifesto present presented by the ruling government in 2012 as a case in point. In Sports, the National Democratic Congress promised to support the Black Stars to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil. I suppose it has done this. It also promised a decent performance at the 2016 Olympic Games. This is yet to come. But the part that most makes my point is the promise to “ reserve 5% of admissions to Senior High Schools for talented sports and other creative students, to support the development of athletics and other lesser-known sports.” This the President repeated in his 2013 State of the Nation address. We are almost halfway into a four year tenure and we do not know that 5% of admissions to Senior High Schools has indeed been reserved for talented sportsmen and women or that something radically different is happening in secondary school sports.

How is this possible when so much talent abounds? Visit Achimota School’s inter houses athletic competition and you will not be in doubt. Look to Barima Professor Nelson and you will know such a thing as a Ghanaian world beater is possible. Remember the excitement of the Judgment Day bout between Bukom Banku and Ayittey Powers and you will appreciate the true potential that exists to transform the fortunes of not just individuals, but communities and nations. The poverty, the hardships, the struggle, the talent, the natural skill have all birthed a certain fire, a certain power, a certain dexterity, a certain speed, a certain hunger for success worth tapping into. This notwithstanding, our leaders seem to prefer the path of least resistance, the path of quick wins, the path of low hanging fruits, the path, not even of football as a whole, but of the Black Stars!

Because Ghana has such talented footballers, because we produce Abedi Peles at each street corner, government is too comfortable and secure in the knowledge that we will never remember the promise it made to develop the lesser known sports. This is because with minimal investments, the boys will surely qualify for the big tournaments, excel and in the process, cook our memories about the promises. So the status quo remains. In boxing, the best I have seen the Sports Minister do is to strike a photogenic pose with a boxer and later pledge government’s commitment to build a state of the art boxing dome at Bukom according to Allsports.com.gh. As it turns out however, the government of Ghana can apparently not find the land for this. Surprise, surprise …and the Minister for Sports has reportedly “empowered a former boxer, now turned coach, Napolean Tagoe, to go and look for land around Jamestown” Surprise, surprise!

In tennis, the Minister attended the McDan Open Tennis Tournament and is reported by graphic.com.gh saying “Ghana tennis must grow”. But how will it grow if you have not planted any seed let alone watered it? In swimming, the Minister visited the Tesano Dolphins swimming club prior to their departure to the 42 Annual Schwimmfest in Arnsberg, Germany. There, he is reported by myjoyonline.com as describing his visit as a demonstration of his commitment to be a “Minister for All Sports.” Further, he pledged his support, asked Ghanaians to watch swimming as “In the next few years, we will be able to do wonders at even the Olympic level”. How these wishes translate into a transformational agenda is not immediately obvious to me!

I urge all of us to hold the government fully accountable to its promises. That said, of course, I wish the Black Stars well at the Copa do Mundo!

Sodzi Sodzi-Tettey

www.sodzisodzi.com

Sodzi_tettey@hotmail.com

Columnist: Sodzi-Tettey, Sodzi