Consider the following two news headlines from the weekend of July 24-25; the first is from Nigeria where Ghanaian athletes competed in a continental event on July 24. The second headline is from Accra where a competition for children and a 100m-only for adults was held at El Wak Stadium. From Nigeria media: “Ghanaian athletes shine at 2015 Warri Relays”. From Accra: “Rawlings deplores falling standard of Ghana Athletics”.
Ironically, the former President’s diagnosis of the sport came less than 24 hours after 3 young Ghanaian university students and a policeman, not yet professionals, shattered a 23-year old national record in the 4X400m. The old record was set when former President Rawlings was at the helm of government.
Significantly, the Ghanaian athletes who participated in the Warri Grand Prix in Nigeria won as many as 12 individual and relay medals.
While there is no doubt that the former President has a passion and genuine affection for the sport, it seems he has been misled as to the true state of athletics in and beyond Ghana.
Let’s get the negative facts out of the way. There is consensus in Ghana that pubic funding through the National Sports Authority (NSA) for all non-football sports i.e., lesser sports, has all but dried up. This is a problem that both Ghana Athletics Association (GAA) and its critics acknowledge, but are not responsible for. It is also true that the last Global medal in athletics was won in 2006. However, the health of an entire sport can’t be judged on one or two medals at the global level over two decades nor can it be judged on the backs of a few top athletes.
Yet, one can legitimately ask how the current state of athletics, as a whole, compares to earlier eras. There is no need for complicated analysis; simple and easily verifiable facts should suffice.
Despite the lack of public funds, GAA has managed to secure GHC 1,800,000 of independently verifiable funding (direct and in-direct) into athletics development. In just 3 short years, GAA has helped over 20 athletes secure athletic/academic scholarships worth over $800,000; more athletes on scholarship than in the previous 15 years combined.
In 2015, for the first time in the history of Ghana Athletics, 12 female athletes have run the 100m in less than 12 secs in the same year; four of the 12 women have run under 11.60 secs [and these are electronic, not hand times].
Over 15 national records (indoor and outdoor events) have been broken in just the past 4 years; records in at least 6 events have been broken multiple times for a combined total of 42 breaks since 2010. Indeed, more records have been broken in the last 3 years than were broken in the preceding 10 years.
For men, new national records have been set the following events: Discus, Shot Putt [indoor and outdoor records], Javelin, Pole Vault [indoor and outdoor records], Decathlon, 110m Hurdles, 800m [indoor] and, 4X400m.
For women, new national records have been set or equaled in the following events: 55m, 60m (indoor), 200m (indoor), 3000m, Triple Jump (indoor and outdoor records), Discus (previous record held by Rose Hart for 39 years) and Hammer Throw.
The diversity of events within which new national records have been set reflect a systemic resurgence. The focus is no longer on just the sprints and horizontal jumps.
More Ghanaian athletes were ranked in the top 30 in their respective events in Africa in 2014 than in any of the preceding 15 years. For comparison, in 2009 only 6 female athletes were ranked in the top 30 in Africa in 5 individual events [includes the 4X100m]. In 2014, a total of 19 Ghanaian female athletes were ranked in the top 30 in Africa; a 216% increase from 2009 – 2014.
As recently as 2014, Ghana recorded its 2nd biggest medal haul ever at an African Senior Athletics Championships by the youngest team (average age) ever presented by Ghana. Twelve medalists came home from the 2014 African Athletics Championships with medals in 6 events (individual and relays). An additional four athletes finished 4th, just outside medal range.
The recent success is not limited to seniors but is being replicated at the younger age levels. Indeed, the recent rush of new national records are being led by the cohort of juniors who excelled at the 2012 World Junior Championships. To put the success at the junior level in perspective, a total of 20 athletes qualified for the World Junior Championships in 2012 and 2014.
Prior to 2012, Ghana never qualified more than 1 athlete per gender for the World Junior Championships. And then there was Martha Bissah’s scintillating run to win Ghana’s first-ever Olympic gold medal at any level, in any sport at the Youth Olympics in 2014.
On the local scene, home-based athletes are performing at levels not seen in the past 15 years (Martha Bissah’s Olympic gold run of 2.04 minutes in the 800m; Solomon Afful’s 20.85 secs ELECTRONIC time in 2014 [fastest ever 200m race by a home-based athlete]; George Effah’s 46.67 sec, 400m time; John O’Brien’s 46.91 secs, 400m; Vivian Mills’ 53.04 secs, 400m; thirteen 400m men running at 47.99 secs or faster [in 2014]; thirteen 200m women at 24 seconds and below, and the list goes on.
At the grassroots level, the on-going GAA Kids Athletics program sponsored by IAAF and Nestle should hit the following milestones by 2016: train over 500 Kids Athletics coaches by 2016 and reach over 200,000 school children. Never has anything of this magnitude been undertaken in the history of Ghana Athletics at the elementary school level.
On the contentious issue of team selection, gone are the days of arbitrary and impromptu selection processes; an issue that caused many a fight between athletes and officials in 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.
Today, national teams are selected using pre-specified policies and qualification standards. Coaches and administrators can no longer huddle in dark rooms picking favorite athletes and others from whom they could get “favors”. Standards for 2015’s
international competitions were released on January 1st. After that, athletes select themselves into the national team by meeting the qualifying standards.
Finally, Ghana for the first time in its history, held 2 successful world-class Grand Prix competitions in 2011 and 2012 bringing together athletes from at least a dozen different countries, including Jamaica, USA, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, France, etc.
The pieces of information presented above reflect facts. Therefore GAA is at a loss to understand why anyone would lead the ex-President to make the statement attributed to him.
It is demoralizing for an athlete performing at levels that no other Ghanaian has, to hear the former President consider their accomplishments as sign of “standards having fallen low”.
Historically best performances, especially across more events than ever before, do not reflect falling standards. These are athletes who are killing themselves for Ghana, sometimes competing at international competitions without receiving their per diem allowances, as was the case at the African Championship in Morocco last year.
If the former president has been misled into thinking standards are currently falling in Ghana athletics, then one has to wonder what the motive is. Why would anyone feed a prominent figure like Ex-President Rawlings information that helped him come to such an inaccurate description of the health of Athletics? Are there challenges? Yes, just like every single sport, even football.
The truth is that Ghana Athletics is alive and well, and we must celebrate the young men and women who don the red, gold and green; especially when some of their performances reflect the best ever by a Ghanaian.
Source: Erasmus Kwao
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