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Ghana bagged 41 medals in armwrestling
Ghana bagged 41 medals in armwrestling

African Games Diary (2) - Finally … the games got attention

In the end, Ghana fell in love with the 13th African Games.

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Whether spectators would turn up in the early part of the games was touch-and-go.

The publicity did not reach most people, and most disciplines were too obscure for Ghanaians. Unfortunately, the earliest media reports highlighted the negatives, and that narrative dominated for a while.

However, the sheer quality of the performances and the Games as an event began to draw attention, and the Games finally came home.

Having acknowledged the participation of spectators in the second and third weeks of the Games, one has to admit that, as an event, it still failed to ignite passion in the country. The African Games, previously known as the All-Africa Games, take place once every four years.

Disruptions and a lack of adequate preparations have conspired to deprive the Games of their regularity, so the Games Ghana hosted this year should have occurred last year. The four-year cycle means the Games will unlikely return to Ghana until 2240. 

Given the rarity of the Games in any one country, Ghanaians should have seized it as a once-in-a-lifetime event like the Soul to Soul Concert of 1971 or even a total solar eclipse.

Unfortunately, the anecdotal evidence suggests that fewer than 20 per cent of Ghanaians were aware of the Games before they began. Even as they ended, only a few people knew the whole range of sports and events from Friday, March 8, 2024, to Saturday, March 23, 2024, in our own country.

The Games are usually awarded to cities instead of countries; this is why the Games were called Accra 2023. However, for the first time, these games took place in Cape Coast in addition to Accra.

In Accra, the Games were dispersed around different venues for different sports such as the Legon Stadium, the Borteyman Complex, the Oko Hockey Stadium, Bukom Boxing Arena, Achimota Cricket Oval and many more.

For all that, people living close to some of those venues were unaware that such a historic event was taking place in their neighbourhood. How many people in Anumle or Achimota Village knew that the world-class South African and Zimbabwe Test Cricket teams were nearby?

I am especially galled by the fact that cricket received so little attention before, during and after the tournament. Cricket matches were frequently reported in newspapers a few generations ago, although the media treated it as an elite sport.

The five Anglophone countries in West Africa are the only nations in the Commonwealth where cricket is not a popular sport. These games would be the perfect opportunity to open the sport to more Ghanaians. 

Although the Games were awarded to Accra, they were Ghana's Games, and as such, the authorities should have made better efforts to make Ghanaians feel like hosts of an event that is unlikely to return in most people's lifetime. These games should have been an opportunity for internal tourism in the form of enticing people from the other 15 regions to flock to Accra to be part of the fiesta.

That is probably asking for too much as there appeared to be no effort even to attract people from Kasoa and Sowutoum, or Aplaku, to cite examples of not-too-far-flung communities within Greater Accra that probably did not feel the Games’ impact.

Working with the transport unions to arrange transportation for people to attend games during the continental tournament would have been easy. Of course, the spectator pickup improved considerably in places such as Bukom, which already has a boxing tradition.

One reason the Games attracted so little patronage could be that Ghanaians are no longer passionate about their national teams in any sport. This could be a psychological transfer of the woes of the Black Stars onto all other sports.

Even those who had been aware of the Games did not expect much from our side. This was a sentiment heard many times in the early part of the Games. From the Ghanaian perspective, things changed when our representatives got our attention with some medals.

Ghana's position on the medals table underscores Ghana's success at the Games as our athletes excelled in various sports disciplines and earned 68 medals, including 19 gold, 29 silver, and 20 bronze.

The outstanding performance of Ghanaian athletes highlighted the nation's growing prominence in African sports. At the previous Games in Rabat, Morocco, Ghana returned in 15th place with 13 medals.

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For most Ghanaians, the icing on the cake was winning gold in both men's and women's football, but for yours truly, winning top positions in men's and women's high jump and the men's 200 metres against more fancied opposition did it for me. 

Ghana's previous best medal haul was 27 in 1973, and before we get carried away, let us remember that without the 41 medals in armwrestling, we would have fallen one short of that previous best.

Of course, all medals count, and Egypt's ridiculous haul of 100 gold came from sports that most Ghanaians are unfamiliar with. So, we take pride in our status as the armwrestling champions of Africa. There is an essential lesson there.

Before the Games, I was probably among the majority of our compatriots who were unaware of the sport, let alone its heroes and heroines in our midst. For most of us, arm-wrestling was a childhood game played either during "recreation" or when the teachers had turned their backs to write simultaneous equations on the blackboard.

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Never in a thousand years would one have foreseen that this would be an international sport in which Ghana would be champions. Indeed, not many Ghanaians may have seen a single arm-wrestling match, including our golden ones.

The sport's "lesser-known" status has been cemented by the fact that GTV has so far not shown replays of the sport, as it continues to do with football and boxing even after the Games ended last Saturday. How many people reading this article can name a single gold-winning arm wrestler? 

This is where the legacy of the 13th African Games must come in. Despite improving our medal tally, we did not record any Olympic qualifications during the Games. Our athletes must acquire various qualifications elsewhere to secure their places in Paris later this year. This is not for want of trying on the part of the athletes, some of whom train in other countries because of a lack of support and facilities at home.

Now, we have the facilities, but as commentators have said many times during tournaments, facilities alone cannot guarantee success. However, with facilities in place and a number to be completed to the highest standards, we have a baseline on which to hang some logical assumptions.

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The first is that more athletes can now train at home, and the second is that the nation would ensure these facilities are used. Let us give ourselves a moment to enjoy our success, but only a moment, because we have work to do, and for columnists and pundits, a lot to say. 
 
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