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Sports tourism is a significant source of income for some countries.
Sports tourism is a significant source of income for some countries.

African Games Diary (3) - Praising the past for the future

The 13th African Games, held in Ghana, have ended. For most people, that is it. Gone. A distant and fast-fading memory.

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For a few intimately connected, it would linger on for much longer. Perhaps people in the last category would be some of our most distinguished but forgotten heroes of the land – Alice Anum, Oko Addy, Mike Ahey, Hannah Afriyie and Ohene Karikari, among others.

I was shocked when I saw Alice Annum presenting medals during a presentation ceremony. It was a moment of bemusement and even anger. About 60 years ago, she was the original Baby Jet, the first woman representing Ghana at the Olympic Games in 1964 in Tokyo.

 In 1972, she set her best time of 22.89 seconds in the 200 metres. She represented Ghana at three Olympics and several other competitions, including the Commonwealth and All-Africa Games.

How can such a national icon remain unknown and invisible all these years? We can ask the same question about Hannah Afriyie, who won two gold medals in the 100 and 200 metres sprints at the 1978 All-Africa Games and reached the quarter-finals at the 1972 Olympics.

What about the impressive Mike Ahey, Ohene Karikari and all the other greats who once graced international track and field meetings and brought so much glory to Ghana? In many ways, the real legacy of the 13th Africa Games is about the future of our sports and the heroes they will produce. In the 1960s and 70s, Ghana produced world-class athletes through a training programme initiated by the redoubtable Ohene Djan, the Director of Sports during the Nkrumah years.

The programme got a further boost during the Acheampong regime when the sports-mad military head of state appointed himself the Minister of Sports. His generalissimo was one Simpe Asante, a physical training instructor who became an astute sports administrator.

It is unsurprising that Ghana’s fortunes generally changed for the worse, apart from football, in the 1980s. Although the youthful rulers of the country were avid sports fans and wished for the best for the country, the political and economic situation was too unsettled for any long-term planning at the state level.

Football had its own life because our vibrant league was controlled by football people who operated independently of the state, and the Black Stars were the only true apostles of the national flag.

The result was the ruination of almost all other sports apart from football and professional boxing. The latter was carried on the strong shoulders of Professor Azuma Nelson and a few other world-beaters.

Most other sports quietly disappeared in Ghana but managed to raise teams of Ghanaians studying and training abroad for international competitions. The vibrant track and field “Inter-Cor” competition, which started life as the Inter-Colleges Sports Competition, dropped several notches until it finally went off the radar as a national event.

Hosting the 13th Games must rekindle our appetite and ambition for games apart from, or to be positive, in addition to football. We have heard much talk about the expected legacy of the Games, and these are real and palpable. 

Infrastructure development

The Games have provided Ghana with sports infrastructure we would otherwise not have. Hosting the African Games requires building or upgrading sports facilities, which can benefit the country long-term.

Ghana has seen massive improvements in its sports infrastructure, which would facilitate the development of local sports talent and encourage participation.
 

Tourism and economy

Sports tourism is a significant source of income for some countries. Most major sports disciplines have their own global circuits that are played yearly. They go to each venue with a large entourage of players—trainers, medics, scouts, financiers and spectators. Africa hardly features, except South Africa, which gets to host one or two of those competitions.

Our new facilities can form the foundation to build further to attract visitors from around the continent and beyond.

Promotion of sports

Hosting the Games could spark interest in sports promotion in the country. In the 1960s and 70s, security agencies had their competitions in volleyball, hockey and the like. There may be watered-down versions still going today, but these Games could be used to restart those sports events at the national level.

There is no reason why we cannot organise annual inter-regional games in a number of disciplines, especially the indoor games at the Borteyman Complex.

International Relations

The Games have enhanced Ghana’s international standing. As President Akufo-Addo acknowledged, many of us doubted the government’s ability to host the Games precisely because times are tough.

For Ghana to do so with aplomb is a feather in our cap, and we must congratulate the government for overcoming the odds. 

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Legacy in sports excellence

The theme of the President’s closing address was investments in the future of sports: “Let the success of these games catalyse to invest further in sports development and empower the youth to reach greater heights on the international stage.”

One way of investing in sports is to recognise the heroes who have contributed their lot to Ghana in the past. In this endeavour, we have failed rather woefully. When the marvellous Alice Annum was trotted out to give medals at the ceremony, I can bet my last pesewa that not many people in or outside the stadium had the foggiest idea who she was and what she had done.

I wonder if she has been publicly acknowledged since she was given an award in 2010, which was not national. The same goes for all her colleagues who were given a brief outing at the Games. They had their five minutes in the spotlight, and that was it. It should not be so.

We can inspire the next generation of sportswomen and men by praising past and present excellence. We are a forgetful nation, especially when it comes to good things.

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Even today, not many people can remember the names of the footballers who brought so much joy to Ghana in our first World Cup outing in 2006. And that is football.
How long would it take us to forget the names of those who got us the medals at the 13th Games?

So, here is an idea: We have many facilities at the sports venues, both new and old infrastructure. Let the authorities reward our retired athletes by naming these facilities after them.

This would be a significant way of honouring those who have contributed so much in the past and, equally importantly, acknowledging the importance of hosting the Games. While at it, let us give credit to the President, the government, and the various authorities involved for a good job done.

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