The 2012 Olympic Games: How are we faring?
8/6/2012 3:00:35 PM -
Bluntly Speaking with I. K. Gyasi
My article entitled THE GREEK SOCCER LESSON and published in The Chronicle of Monday, July 19, 2004, was on how Greece triumphed over Portugal in the finals of the UEFA 2004 soccer competition.
However, I also touched on the impending 2004 Olympic Games. I wrote, 'Ghana, which was once the strongest boxing nation in the Commonwealth, will not send a single boxer to the 2004 Olympics.
'As usual, we will send a team, some of them ill-prepared, some of them 'has-beens,' and some very inexperienced. Team officials, not to talk of the government delegation, will turn out to be disproportionately bigger than the contingent itself.
For both athletes and officials, it will largely be an opportunity to indulge in sight-seeing, and they will come back as 'also-rans'. Do not count out possible 'refugees' who will manage to slip away, passports or no passports. It has happened before, you know.
'Of course, we stay-at-homes will be told both athletes and sports officials have gained a great deal of experience, yet, come 2008, it will be the same story of 'taking part is more important than winning.' Tell that to the ancient Greeks.'
To be sure, Baron Pierre d'Coubertin, the Frenchman who revived the Olympic Games in 1896, thought so too. Of course, the ancient Greeks would have disagreed with him. Let me bore my readers to death by, once more, giving an account of how the ancient Greeks thought of the ancient Olympic Games. From EVERYMAN'S ENCYCLOPAEDIA, we learn that 'The Games were originally restricted to 'free-born' Greeks, slaves and aliens being barred, as were women.'
The account goes on, 'In the early days, what may be termed the 'amateur' spirit prevailed, but in time, professionalism crept in. Eventually, considerable money prizes were provided, and the Olympic champion was a national hero, receiving, not only unstinted adulation from his city, but also unlimited material benefits.'
In their book, THE OLYMPIC GAMES: THE FIRST THOUSAND YEARS, Professor M. I. Finlay and Dr. D. W. Picker, tell of the passion which gripped the Greeks as far as the Games were concerned.
In ancient Greece, the city-states as artistically powerful as Sparta had the highest reverence for the Games.
Indeed, when it was time for the Games, even city-states at war would suspend hostilities and grant safe-passage for sportsmen crossing enemy territory, so that the Games could be held.
According to the authors, there were plenty of honours for the winners. Statues were erected in their honour out of public funds at home, the Olympia, Delphi and other places.
Special honorary decrees were inscribed in stone or metal and displayed, sometimes for many years, in one public place or another. Again, honorary citizenship was offered to outstanding athletes from other city-states.
Material awards included pensions, subsidies and payments of the fines incurred by the athletes for breach of the rules of the Games.
There were elaborate home-coming celebrations, with processions being a regular feature.
Apart from cash and goods, winners were well rewarded in many other ways for, as the authors state, 'all athletes expected and accepted material rewards for victory, regardless of class or personal fortune.'
Stan Greenberg states in the book, THE GUINNESS BOOK OF OLYMPICS: FACTS AND FEATS (1984), 'Eventually, the importance of winning at Olympia, and the reflected glory it bestowed on the winner's birth-place, led to the cities hiring professionals and bribing judges.'
As Peter Jones writes in the August 30, 2003 issue of the British news magazine, THE SPECTATOR, 'Victorious athletes commissioned poets like Pinder to celebrate their achievements in song, and sculptors to put up statues of them for public display (that is why Olympia was full of them.)'
According to Jones, the Games were not held for fun, but were taken very seriously. He writes that while the victors advertised their victory, 'The losers kept quiet about the fact. Pinder describes them (the losers) as having no glad homecoming, but creeping along the back alleys, keeping well out of the way of their enemies.' Why?
Jones says, 'No Greek liked to be laughed at in public, and losers knew that was the fate that could await them.' Jones goes on, 'In fact, the ancient Olympic Committee took this into account by demanding that all contestants turn up at Olympia a month in advance to train.'
He states further, 'The result was that if a contestant, seeing what the competition was like, knew that he had no chance, he could find some excuses to abandon his entry.'
He writes further, 'Inscriptions survive announcing that so-and-so had won first prize AKONITI, 'without dust' - i.e. without actually competing: all his rivals had taken one look and slipped away.'
He writes finally, 'Hence no Greek said, 'it is' the taking part that counts', or 'Everyone is a winner'. Winning was the whole point of taking part: everyone, but the actual winner, was a loser. There were no prizes for second or third.'
Like the ancient Olympic Games, the modern Olympic Games are characterised by very keen competition. Unlike the ancient Olympic Games, which featured only free-born, male Greek sportsmen, the modern Olympic Games bring together thousands of men and women from all over the world.
Ghana has participated in the Games since 1952, when our athletes went to the Games held in Helsinki, Finland. What have we got to show for it in 60 years of our participation?
Ike Quartey Snr. won a silver medal in boxing at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Eddie Blay won bronze at the 1964 Games in Tokyo, and Prince Amartey also won bronze at the 1972 Games in Munich. The Black Meteors also won bronze at the Barcelona Games in 1992.
I strongly believe that Ghana abounds in sporting talent. What seems to be happening is that Games after Games we have dispatched inexperienced, ill-trained, ill-fed, half fit, over-the-hill, financially and materially under-resourced men and women, and yet we expect them to bring home all the gold medals on offer.
This Olympic year, nothing seems to have changed for the better. We all saw the disgraceful struggle for power between Mr. B. T. Baba and Professor Francis Dodoo, a struggle that was obviously characterised by personal ambition and overt politicisation. While the shameful struggle was going on, what was happening to the Ghana Olympic Committee? If we want gold, we should work for it. That is all.
PS: - I am deeply indebted to Mr. Frank Appeagyei, hotelier, veteran journalist, public relations expert and sports administrator, for information on our media history.