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Ghana’s Olympic Debacle Calls For A Rethink

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Ghana's Olympics Team at London 2012 - Credit: Mefri Ghana

Ghana last won an Olympic medal in 1992 when its football team won bronze. Since then our results in football in the Olympics have not been impressive with the country missing the last two editions. The only other medals have been won in Boxing with the last in that field coming in 1972.

This year represents a new low, as Ghana’s participation in the London Olympics has been a disaster. One by one, we’ve seen our athletes drop out of their competitions either due to ill health, injury or a lack of first-rate ability. The results have quickly converted any misguided hopes for a positive showing into wishful thinking.

Our athletes simply have not been in the right condition to compete at a high level. While many Ghanaians recognize that it is impossible to be represented in a majority of the disciplines the Olympics put on, the least we have come to expect is to field track and field athletes who can compete at the highest level. Now, we can’t even expect to see a sprinter in the semi final or final of a sprint event nor can we see our relay team run against the best.

There is much blame to go around as we have carried our amateur organization at school level to elite athletics. Most troubling is that sports administrators entrusted with raising standards misuse their privileged positions. A recent report on Ghana’s participation in the Commonwealth Games in Maputo shows some of the rot.  While the report did not mince words as to who is responsible it is unlikely that anyone named in that report will be severely punished, a reflection of our society. Unless people start getting punished for careless mismanagement, expect similar results from Ghana’s athletes.

Jamaican sprinters led by Usain Bolt have become the darlings of World sprinting. I am envious of their success and wish for similar for Ghana. It is clear that their success is not built on empty rhetoric but on a combination of a vibrant sports culture at primary and secondary school level, infused with World class coaching tech. Essentially, they identify fast talent early on and then coach them up over a number of years. Usain Bolt may seemingly have come out of the blue but look at his performances at junior level and you can see his progress.

Embarrassment at the Atlanta games forced Great Britain to go through a self -evaluation. This resulted in using their national lottery system to fund sports development. So far this year, the British have won 20 Gold medals. It might be unrealistic to expect such a medal tally anytime soon since unlike in the UK, Ghana will likely not be spending 4bn pounds in sixteen years like Britain has done. Nevertheless, we can find creative ways to do more with less.

Unless we take a long hard look at ourselves, soon the next contingent of Ghanaians to the Olympics might dwindle to one weightlifter and countless officials. Practically, investments can be made into coaching, infrastructure development and better integrating our school system into a national sports development strategy. For example, training coaches for national teams is one thing, empowering them and creating a system where they are able to transfer their skills to physical education instructors and teachers with knowledge in sports is another. Building national stadiums to mainly host football matches at vast cost is one thing, it is quite another to ignore sports facilities in regional capitals.

It is clear more money needs to be spent on sports like boxing and also track and field disciplines but it has to be done deliberately in creative, intelligent ways.

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I'm a freelance journalist living and working in Accra. Among my passions are football and music.