Stop any random person on the street and ask the person who Asamoah Gyan is. Chances are that the person will tell you who he is and what he does without blinking an eye. Ask the next person who Martha Bissah is, and chances are you will be met with a shrug. The reason is simple. In Ghana, and the world over, football has no rival when it comes to popularity. In Ghana you are more likely to know about a football star who has won nothing for his country than an athlete who actually has won something for her country. And we are talking about athletics here, one of the more popular sports sports in Ghana aside football. Imagine the kind of reaction you get if you ask who Akwasi Frimpong is, then.
At the last count there were over 40 sports federations registered with the National Sports Authority. There is a school of thought that says most of them should not even be there because there is no interest in many of the sports. I think that once they exist, it is because they believe that there genuinely is an interest in their sports. Even if they cannot make it as popular as football or boxing, there is definitely a chance they can make inroads internationally (more on that later). But they need help.
Unfortunately, that help will not come from the government. They may not have support from corporate Ghana either.
At least, not yet. But they do have eachother. There should be a collaborative effort by the national federations of the various sports to indicate a willingness to develop the various sports in Ghana and organise events to that effect. For example, the various federations can come together and organise a national roadshow where they go round the country and teach the young ones about the existence of those sports and how they are played in order to generate interest in those sports. We may be pleasantly surprised at the natural talent we may unearth from such an exercise.
Seeing as countries in the West African sub-region may have or have had similar challenges to the ones we have, we can co-operate with these countries in learning how to overcome these challenges and share ideas in that regard. If, for instance, we team up with sports federations in Nigeria, for corporate partnerships that exist between Ghanaian companies and our sports federations, it opens our local enterprises up to exposure to a market as huge as Nigeria and others.
There are Ghanaians all over the world who in one way or the other are doing what they can to put Ghana on the map when it comes to sports. We have Ziggy Ansah who plays American Football for the Detroit Lions after having been drafted in from playing for the Brigham Young University. In 2016 the NBA we had Ben Bentil drafted by the Boston Celtics in the NBA but unfortunately was dropped and now plays his basketball in France. Very few people knew about his NBA stint. But there is one Ghanaian in particular who has done extremely well to put Ghana on the map in the most unusual of ways.
Akwasi Frimpong (remember him?) is a Ghanaian sprinter who has qualified to take part in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics next month to compete in the skeleton event. Skeleton! Remember what I said about making inroads internationally? Now he is the second Ghanaian, after Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong to participate in the Winter Olympiad. Having spent most of his childhood in the Netherlands and attending college in the United States, he is currently switching between Europe, Canada and the US training for the Olympics. Sadly, he was mainly only heralded in Holland and the US and initially received no support from Ghana. He single-handedly founded the Bobsled and Skeleton Federation – Ghana and worked tirelessly to not just compete at the Games in 2018, but actually wants to bring home a medal.
As part of the “revolution” to make Ghana sports take off in 2018, let’s make a more conscious effort to find our brothers and sisters doing big things for us and let’s celebrate them. We should be able to help project these unsung heroes. Financial support may not be guaranteed but bringing them into the limelight by telling our story, including what goes on beyond the Ghanaian shores should help in making kids want to be like Martha and Akwasi, too. It is time.
By Willem Alexander Coleman
The writer is the Director of Operations and Social Projects for Centa14 Sports and Entertainment