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Why are we suffocating sports development in Ghana?

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Elvis Afriyie Ankrah - Youth and Sports Minister
Elvis Afriyie Ankrah – Youth and Sports Minister

Let’s face it; sports development in Ghana is a total failure!!! Why? Simple, Ghana does not have a coherent national policy for sports development and funding.

Ghana Sports has endured a dismal year but for a few exciting moments such as when the Black Stars qualified for the 2014 Fifa World Cup.

A cursory look at the horizon reveals a very worrying tale cast across all major sporting disciplines including even football, with the Ghana Premier League still without a major sponsor.

I have followed several sports discussions lately with a keen ear for solutions to the many problems that confront our sporting disciplines. Oh boy!! There have been a lot of them lately.

The discussions usually border on lack of infrastructure, lack of funding, corruption, lack of motivation, inefficient administrators and what have you. The only thing we have in abundance are lots of underdeveloped talented sports men and women.

From journalists to ex-sportsmen/women, administrators to sports fans, everybody seems to have their own ideas about what ought to be done to ameliorate the situation.

At a Ghana Olympic Committee (GOC) seminar organised for Sports Administrators in November 2013, I came to full grips with some of the problems facing the National Sports Authority, the body in charge of sports administration in the country.

I was shocked to the marrow at some of the revelations that came up during the Q&A session with several contributions from some of the Secretaries-General of the major sporting disciplines.

Simply put, not a penny was received from the NSA during the entire 2013 season, meaning the Association’s had to fend from themselves like orphans. Keep in mind that Ghana’s constitution obligates Government to be responsible for sports development in the country.

Interestingly, the lack of financial support from the government of Ghana in 2013 also seems to have been replicated on the private sector side. In many instances, various national sporting Associations were turned down by their sponsors due to the same rather peculiar national economic situation this year.

The dramatic irony, which would be comedic if it weren’t so serious is that even as the Ministry of Youth Sports and NSA officials abruptly cut off funding in 2013, they were asking associations to go find money from private sponsors for sports development. I thought government is the mandated entity responsible for sports development. Talk about moral authority!

At the November 2013 seminar for the lead sports administrators in the country, Dr. Henry Puffa, who was himself the Board Chairman of the NSA from 2000 to 2008, minced no words in questioning the competence of the Secretaries-General since, in his opinion, they were supposed to always have a plan B for the funding from government.

Dr. Puffa’s comment may be true but, he is a little off the mark. An abrupt halt to government sports funding without prior notification at the beginning of the year is almost impossible to overcome in the same year.

Ghana’s funding model for sports development has traditionally be overwhelmingly skewed to the government direction; government provides majority of funding. Indeed, most of the national sporting associations rely totally on funds from NSA.

Therefore, for 2013, any plan B under the current model of funding would surely have been inadequate. It would have been impossible for associations to have meaningful plan B’s for their 2013 season. They could not have planned for what they did not know was coming i.e., total funding cut.

Secretary Generals (SG) are supposed to be the heartbeat of Federations. Infact, SG’s and Federation Presidents are the only two individuals formally recognised by respective International Sports Federations. Together with their duly elected executive boards, they plan and execute the agenda of the Association.

Such personalities are therefore supposed to be highly skilled and dynamic individuals with the requisite experience, including management. Although the task of raising funds for activities of an association do not necessarily fall directly on the SG and President, their ability to do so is a highly desirable quality.

Yet, there are cases in the past where fresh graduates from the nation’s universities have been appointed to the position of Secretary-General. Inexperienced SGs often face steep learning curves to the detriment of their respective associations.

By virtue of landing on executive boards through the courtesy of NSA, SGs often get caught between NSA and their respective associations leading to the perfect storm for associations assigned green SGs.

Inexperienced SG’s invariably end up struggling to serve 2 masters who don’t often see eye to eye on funding levels and duties of SG’s

Indeed, the NSA is bedeviled with lots of other problems and there is an urgent need for restructuring. I recall that President John Mahama upon assuming office asked all present boards to hold onto their position until new boards were inaugurated. The stark truth though is that a new board is yet to appointed to date at the NSA.

This leaves the running of the NSA in the hands of Madam Alice Attipoe, the Acting Director General.
Although many have openly questioned the competence of Madam Attipoe since she took over from Worlanyo Agra in 2012, I would argue that as an acting head, there is not much she can do.

We are yet to see any positive changes at the NSA despite the damning Maputo Probe Committee report which indicted some top officials of her outfit. It is still business as usual!!

The problem of Ghana Sports goes beyond the NSA’s Acting Director General and the NSA Board.

What about the role of the Ministry of Youth and Sports when there is no policy framework guiding their work?

After over 50 years of nationhood, Ghana still has no proper policy document on sports development. Despite amendments to the SMC 54 decree to allow for democratic elections of officers of Sports Associations, successive governments have stalled on working on a new Sports Bill and passing it into law.

While many countries have started new programmes aimed at getting their athletes on the podiums at upcoming major international competitions, Ghana’s sports leaders are still talking about winning medals without first having a plan in place.

Many top sports nations who underperformed at the 2012 Olympic Games in London have revised their tactical plans coupled with the necessary levels of funding provided by the Government for upcoming winter (2014) and summer (2016) Games.

For instance Canada has invested nearly $1 billion (£612 billion/€730 billion in the Canadian high-performance sports system, making the Government the nation’s largest single contributor to sport development leading up to Sochi (2014) and Rio 2016 Games.

The closest we have come to preparing our team for the next Olympic Games in Rio 2016, was the award, by the Ghana Olympic Committee, of Olympic Solidarity scholarships to four young sportsmen and women.

They are made up of two swimmers, Kwaku Addo and Ophelia Swayne, weightlifter Juliana Arko and Abram Ayitey, a badminton player.

Taking the harder but proven route, the Ghana Athletics Association (GAA) has also secured academic/sports scholarships for 15 bright youngsters (11 this year) to study in Universities in the USA and is still seeking prospective sponsors to help further develop its local student-athlete academic initiative.

It is noteworthy that the former Minister of Youth and Sports Hon. Kofi Humado and his then-deputy Dr. Omane Boamh facilitated the process that led to the successful entry of three national junior athletes–John Ampomah, Doreen Agyei and Atsu Nyamadi–to Neosho County College in 2012.

In their very first year there, Ampomah, who is a javelin thrower, went on to win the US National Junior College Athletics Association Championship, while Nyamadi also broke the national decathlon record in placing third in the same championship.

The trio present the best example of what Ghana as a nation can do if the relevant stakeholders look out for the welfare of sportsmen/women in the absence of a meaningful national strategy for sports development.

In the absence of a national policy on sports development that addresses our perpetual funding problems, the Ghana Olympic Committee’s recently released document on a proposed funding model for funding sports in Ghana should seriously be considered; at least for discussion purposes.

The document proposes two main sources of revenue for Ghana sports: lottery funding and a marginal VAT on alcohol, tobacco, and soft drink products.

It is proposed that these funds, instead of being paid into the Consolidated Fund, would—as we understand is the case for the SSNIT vehicle—go into a special purpose vehicle dedicated to sport development and infrastructure building.

Like the GETFUND, it would have an accountable, oversight body to administer it, with members coming from among stakeholders, such as the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the National Sports Authority, the Ghana Olympic Committee, etc.

According to the GOC, the terms of reference of the oversight board should clarify precisely what the fund’s Objects are, and how to access it.

The document already exists therefore the logical question that comes to mind is: whose responsibility is it to push the agenda, and why has almost an entire year passed without it receiving any consideration or national discussion?

Let’s hope that our leaders start to care more about sustainable sports development than nationalistic speeches about medals.

By Erasmus Kwaw
Source: Liquid Sports Ghana

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