I watch Rio and I dream

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
Perhaps a little foresight could have seen janet Amponsah pick a medal for Ghana
Perhaps a little foresight could have seen janet Amponsah pick a medal for Ghana

Like most of the rest of the world, I have been spending a lot of time watching the Olympic Games on television.  I am an omnivorous lover and follower of sports. I make up for not being good at sports by watching, reading and arguing about it. The only sport that used to leave me cold was golf; but that was until the arrival of Tiger Woods on the scene and he cured me of my antipathy and I became a fan of golf. 

When the Olympic Games are on, I could and do sit for hours watching judo, archery, air rifle competition, rowing, water polo, gymnastics, synchronised swimming and other such sports that I am not familiar with and then spend even longer hours watching the more familiar sports of tennis, boxing and track and field events. 

I have been known to sit up late into the night to watch events even during the winter Olympics, when there was no chance of me daydreaming into seeing a Ghanaian going for gold on the ice skating ring. I just like these big sporting events. No, let me put it correctly; I like watching sports, period.

Alarming reports 

Ghana News Headlines

For latest news in Ghana, visit Graphic Online news headlines page Ghana news page

In the period leading to the start of the Games, I expected the international media to write about the unpreparedness of Rio de Janerio, the host city, and they did not disappoint. 

Those who can think that far back might recall all the alarming reports and articles leading to the Athens Games in 2004. And who can forget the FIFA World Cup held in South Africa in 2010? The British press, in particular, did their best to assure everybody the venues were not going to be completed, and if they were, the crime levels were such that it would be dangerous to walk the streets and if you were prepared to brave all that, you had to ask yourself if it was proper for the South African government to use all that money hosting the World Cup when there were so many desperately poor people in the country. 

In the end, and in spite of all the alarming stories, both Athens and South Africa delivered very widely acclaimed successful games. I understand that apparently, the economists are still debating if those 2004 games contributed to the financial meltdown of Greece a few years later. But that is another story. 

When India hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2010, the reporting of the lead up to the start of the Games was quite similar in tone: chaotic preparations, uninhabitable accommodation for the athletes. Why was a country with so many poor people putting up such facilities? And yet again, Delhi did India proud. I still think their opening ceremony can only be challenged by the CAN 2008 opening ceremony at the Ohene Djan Stadium here in Accra. 

The stories about Rio have followed the same pattern; they were not going to finish the preparations, crime levels were so dangerously high, the anger in the slums, the drug-related violence that continues, the enduring gulf between the rich and the poor, then there was the Brazilian mosquito and Zika, which made all the frightfully rich golfers decide to stay away. 

But the games did start on time, Rio staged a magnificent opening ceremony, and we are watching top-class competition against the backdrop of the most magnificent scenery any city can produce. Now Rio is being blamed for not having resolved every one of its social problems in time for the Games. 

I am not allowing any of that to interfere with my enjoyment of the games. I remain in awe of the Kenyans and Ethiopians and I cheer them on in every race. When Wayde van Niekerk, the South African, ran that magical race on Sunday to set a new World record for the 400 metres, I felt so close to him, you would think his mother came from Abutia. 

Then I wake up from my daydreams and wonder why Ghana has disappeared so completely from the sporting field. Our athletes used to at least make it to the semi-finals of the sprints and the jumps in the field events. 

The Kenyans have a lot of talent for middle and long distance running and so do the Ethiopians and they have the medals and honours to show for it; but they would be the first to tell you about the importance of sporting infrastructure and training facilities and good coaches; all of which cost money.

Financial constraints

Then I read that the Ghana team of 11 track and field athletes, two swimmers, one weightlifter, one judoka and one boxer almost got stranded for want of money to get them to Rio. Dr Papa Kwesi Nduom is reported to have made a donation of $32,000 to the team and told the media he had prepaid hotel bills for the athletes and officials. A private medical facility in Accra, Nyaho Medical Centre, also chipped in with a comprehensive medical evaluation to the team and this evaluation, we are told, cost GH¢20,000. 

The GNPC then announced they were sponsoring Ghana’s Olympics effort with an amount of $125,000.

We might not be in the same league as the UK but it is recounting how they are doing. Last Sunday, the British surprised themselves by overtaking China on the medal table and reaching number two, bettered only by the almighty USA. A few facts and figures about the Team GB might be useful and interesting. 

The UK Guardian newspaper reports that on average, each medal at the Rio Olympics has cost £5.5m. The paper reports that in addition to the funding given to each sport’s governing body, some elite stars – described by UK Sport as “podium-level athletes” – also qualify for individual funding to help with living costs.

Medallists at the Olympic Games, senior world championships and Paralympic gold medallists can receive up to £28,000 a year in athlete performance awards funded by the national lottery.

Sportsmen and women who finish in the top eight in the Olympics can receive up to £21,500 a year. Future stars, those expected to win medals on the world or Olympic stage within four years, can get up to £15,000 a year.

And if you require proof that success breeds more success, this is what is happening in the UK as a result of the one gold and four silver medals they have won so far in the pool in Rio: The Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) of the UK has reported that there has been a huge jump in the number of people searching online for their nearest leisure pool during the first few days of the Games. Eighty thousand people had used its “poolfinder” app between 5 and 11 August – almost double the rate for the same period in July – and the ASA was getting dozens of phone inquiries too. 

I am sure there are young Ghanaians watching the games in Rio who are inspired to want to run and jump and throw and swim and even row. Some of them probably see themselves as the next Usain Bolt. Some of them are probably not depressed by the sight of the Ghanaian athletes dropping off at the first hurdle in their events in Rio and they are telling themselves they will get Ghana on the podium at the next Olympics in Tokyo.

We have had a national lottery here in Ghana for far longer than the UK has had one. How come they can generate so much money from their lottery to revolutionise sports in their country and we still cannot guarantee a gym in our schools?