Perils of a one-sport Nation: Ghana's overreliance on football
How can we move beyond this football-centricity to create a multi-sports environment that will benefit Ghanaians with their different inclinations and talents?

Perils of a one-sport Nation: Ghana's overreliance on football

Jamaica defeated New Zealand 52-45 to win the bronze medal. Unfortunately, you did not know this; worse, you probably were not even aware of the event, which took place on our African continent.

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Were you aware of cycling’s premier event, the Tour de France or the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament, which is the most famous of the lawn tennis grand slam events?

All these sporting events took place recently, but the Ghana media kept us in the dark about them.

On the other hand, if one reads the back pages, follows Ghana sports online, flips through TV and radio channels or walks down the streets of Ghana, it is undeniable that football dominates the nation's sporting landscape.

The "Beautiful Game" breeds passion and unity like no other, and our passion has elbowed out all other games and sports. We have become a single-sport nation, and it is essential to recognise the potential risks posed by overreliance on a single sport.

Ghana's singular focus on football hampers the development of other sports and limits the nation's social, physical and economic growth.

Indeed, even our identification with football is severely limited to a few Ghanaian football teams, the national football team -the Black Stars- and the English Premier League.

There is almost no mention of the ongoing Women’s Football World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, which is gathering huge attendance and massive television audiences.

There is no denying Ghana's impressive football heritage, with its numerous international accolades such as reaching the quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup and winning the African Cup of Nations four times. However, in recent years, this football passion has become a costly exclusivity about which we need a national conversation.

Ghanaians have always loved football since the game was introduced to our shores in the latter part of the 19th century. It quickly grew into the most popular sport by the mid-20th century when, through government support and patronage by wealthy and powerful lovers of the sport, it became synonymous with Ghanaian excellence in international circles. However, it was not the only sport that excited our people, or at which they excelled.

If anything, football excellence acted as a magnet for other sports, and Ghana became famous for several sporting disciplines such as boxing, track and field, hockey, table tennis and many more.

 Our athletes attracted worldwide attention by winning medals in all those sports. For example, Ghana has competed at sixteen Commonwealth Games, beginning in 1954 and missing only the 1986 Games in Edinburgh. Ghana has won 57 medals at the Commonwealth Games, including fifteen gold, with all but one of their medals coming in athletics and boxing.

At the last Commonwealth Games, Ghana won five medals. Without looking them up, can you name the medallists and their disciplines? It would be a shocking but pleasant surprise if even one per cent of readers could answer that question.

To be brutally honest, I doubt that many sportswriters can answer that question, too. That is where the problem begins. Most of our sportswriters must be designated more correctly as football writers, which is not to demean their work but to be more accurate in describing what they do.

Sports programmes and pad pages in the media are overwhelmingly devoted to football because that is the singular focus of those who write, produce or present those programmes.

This extreme football-centric policy is relatively recent. In the immediate post-independence era, we had sporting heroes across a broad sweep of disciplines. From track and field, we had Mike Ahey, Christiana Boateng, Rose Hart, Alice Anum (the original Baby Jet) and many more.

From cycling, we had Adjavon; from boxing, we had Roy Ankrah, Floyd Robertson, D. K. Poison, etc.; from table tennis, we had the Akuetteh and Okine brothers. These are among many sporting heroes who won national, continental and global awards for Ghana.

Must we be worried that our country has become a one-sport nation? Absolutely. This football exclusivity comes at a cost.

 Neglecting other sports pursuits prevents Ghanaian youth from exploring various sports, limiting their potential and perpetuating the nation's dependence on football.

Every human being can do some kind of athletic performance even at the lowest level. However, the skills that our children are encouraged to develop are those related to football. Those who don’t like football lose out completely.

One of the major concerns is the impact on Ghanaians' overall physical health and well-being. Prolonged emphasis on football restricts access to other athletic disciplines, depriving individuals of opportunities to explore their talents and passions.

Diversifying the sporting landscape would help promote a healthier and more balanced lifestyle while fostering a greater sense of innovation and skill development across multiple disciplines.

Moreover, excessive focus on a single sport perpetuates socioeconomic inequality within the nation. While football undoubtedly provides a platform for some young Ghanaians to elevate themselves from challenging economic circumstances, this opportunity remains limited.

So far, the only sporting disciplines that have provided a good life for a few Ghanaians are boxing and football. By broadening sporting opportunities, more individuals from different backgrounds could excel in a variety of fields, leading to a more inclusive society and a more diverse economy.

Ghana's present football-centric approach also hampers the ability to harness the potential of the nation's youth. Providing a range of sporting outlets would not only enhance physical fitness but also encourage discipline, teamwork and leadership qualities.

These attributes are transferable to diverse careers, contributing to the nation's economic development and opening up new avenues for self-improvement and progress.

By focusing solely on football, Ghana disregards the potential economic benefits of a diversified sporting environment. Sporting events bring tourism, create job opportunities and stimulate the development of related industries such as sports science, coaching and infrastructure.

By fostering multiple sports, Ghana's economy could undergo significant growth, showcasing the country's sporting prowess on a global scale and attracting international investment.

Additionally, a broader range of sports could aid in promoting national unity and cultural diversity. Ghana boasts a rich tapestry of diverse ethnic groups that contribute to the country's unique identity.

By embracing a wide range of sports, this cultural diversity could be harnessed, with each community bringing a distinct set of talents, skills and traditional knowledge to the country's sporting arenas, fostering mutual respect, inclusivity and cohesion among Ghanaians.

So, while football undoubtedly holds a special place in Ghana's heart, depending solely on this sport comes with its own set of drawbacks. The nation must recognise the importance of diversifying its sporting landscape to enhance physical health, socioeconomic development, youth empowerment and national unity. By embracing multiple sports, Ghana can unlock its true potential, remaining a force to be reckoned with on the global sporting stage while fostering a well-rounded nation for future generations.

How can we move beyond this football-centricity to create a multi-sports environment that will benefit Ghanaians with their different inclinations and talents? One could suggest many solutions but we must start with training our sportswriters to become versatile in their appreciation and reporting of different sports disciplines.

The Sports Writers Association of Ghana –SWAG– should consider this seriously. Otherwise, its name may have to change to the Football Writers Association of Ghana – FWAG. Not a nice acronym.

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