Preview: Jared Kaufer
The 2012 London Olympics have come and gone, and the Ghanaian contingency has absolutely nothing to show upon their arrival back in Accra. Going into the 2012 Olympics, the nine Ghanaian athletes who qualified weren’t given much of an opportunity to come home with a medal in hand. Each Ghanaian athlete was placed in their respective sporting events with bigger, stronger, and more athletic athletes. A true miracle had to occur in London for even one of the nine athletes to hear Ghana’s national anthem on the podium. Unfortunately, there were no miracles to be had for the Ghanaian athletes who were given the rare and unique opportunity to represent their country while all eyes watched.
With a population inching towards 26 million people, there is no reason why Ghana shouldn’t have many more than just nine athletes competing at a world-class level in a wide array of Olympic sports.
Ghanaian Olympic 200m veteran Vida Anim placing 8th out of 9 competitors in her heat? Not acceptable.
Puerto Rican Jantony Ortiz Marcano making child’s play out of Ghanaian boxer Sulemanu Tetteh in the first round of competition? Can no longer be tolerated.
Host country Great Britain, with a population just 3 times the size of Ghana came away with 65, medals, including 29 gold, while Ghana came home with zero, zilch. What makes it even more upsetting is that there was not even a moment during these Olympics where the thought of coming home with even one medal had crossed anyone’s mind. Yes, we had nine athletes competing, but each one’s ability and performance was depressingly subpar.
But, there is hope. Ghanaian citizens who want to show to the world that we can produce top-notch athletes potentially don’t have to wait much longer.
It wasn’t too long ago that Great Britain was the laughing stock of Olympic supporters, as they came home with just ONE medal, when legendary Olympic rower Sir Steven Redgrave won gold in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. A mere 16 years later, Great Britain has added 28 more gold medals throughout a vast array of Olympic sporting events, such as handball and long jump, which their athletes didn’t even qualify for 16 years prior in Atlanta.
There was no coincidence in the drastic spike in Olympic success that Great Britain achieved and Ghana needs to want to emulate Great Britain’s path to success to obtain Olympic glory.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, money was a major factor in Great Britain’s miracle turn around. In 1995, a year prior to the Atlanta Olympics, Great Britain government officials realized that they didn’t have the caliber of athletes to compete against other top nations such as USA and Russia, so they implemented the National Lottery funding program. The program was an initiative that diverted a portion of the proceeds from the state-run lottery game in areas such as sports, arts and entertainment. Since the program was conceived 17 years ago, it has pumped $6 billion in sports, from grass-roots level to elite-athlete funding.
Britain officials knew that they wouldn’t see the positive impact of the initiative in time for the Atlanta games a year later, as it would take time to cultivate the young talent throughout the country.
Fast forward 12 years to the Beijing Olympics, Great Britain finished third in overall Olympic medal count. The numbers speak for themselves.
Just like Ghana is capable of doing, the Brits did their research on how to target radical Olympic improvement. Britain put extra lottery resources upon Olympic events that met two criteria: Sports that didn’t have a well-established and lucrative professional structure within the country (which is every sport in Ghana besides soccer), but could yield a high number of potential medals. Events such as cycling and archery have the possibility to produce numerous medals and it is something that Ghana should look at focusing in on.
Lauren Messman, a colleague of mine, recently told me that she interviewed 100 Ghanaian’s on the street asking them if they had watched any of the Olympics. She found out that roughly 92% of Ghanaian’s hadn’t even watched a minute of the Olympics for various reasons. On the other hand, a recent poll showed that 71% of Americans watched at least 6 consecutive minutes of the Olympics. What do all these statistics mean? It means that Ghanaian’s as a whole aren’t interested and invested in the Olympics at all, which to me shows that they are either embarrassed of the Ghanaian athletic showing at the Olympics, or they just don’t have the national pride of other countries.
The overall negative attitude about the Olympics will change if Ghanaian’s see that the government is fully invested in doing all they can to bring a winning atmosphere to Ghana, with top-tier athletes competing in a wide array of Olympic sports.
Government officials don’t necessarily need to adopt Britain’s Olympic model of success, but who’s to say they can’t? Ghana has a lottery system just like Britain has, why can’t they funnel some of the money they receive from the lotto system into funding for state of the art sports complexes.
The government needs to open sports complexes in cities such as Accra, Kumasi, and Tamale where grassroots and Olympic development occurs. Olympic sports such as archery, badminton, fencing, and ping pong must be offered to cultivate talent among Ghanaian youth while also having training available for Olympic hopefuls.
Ghana is very capable of doing this, and if they invest the time and funding in it just like Britain did 16 years ago, then who’s to say Ghana can’t come home with 20 medals in the 2028 Olympic games.