06.07.2002 Feature Article

Athletics under Siege: Owusu responds to threat from Chairman of GAAA

Athletics under Siege: Owusu responds to threat from Chairman of GAAA
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(open letter)
Dear Mr. Chairman, I hope that by the time you are done reading this letter, you and I may perhaps be closer to helping athletics in Ghana achieve its maximum potential, because this has for too long eluded us as a nation. I received the message you sent me via David Annang and Dr. Dodoo (who as chairman of our athletes association supports the position I have taken on this matter), and it surprises me that it took a PERSONAL message from me to a few of my close friends, lamenting the state of athletics, for you to protests about the situation of athletics in Ghana. To set the records straight, I wish to point out that my current situation is comfortable enough to render me apathetic toward the national aspiration and effort. However, my love of motherland would not allow me to rest when it comes to national pride and I have pledged myself to support Ghana Athletics to the extent that I am allowed to. But, let me bring readers of this open letter up to date on what had transpired prior to my personal email to which you have taken offense. I had just arrived from a competition in Finland where I had jumped a season best 16.80 meters in the triple jump. I was very delighted about the fact that of all the top triple jumpers from Commonwealth countries who had competed all over the world that weekend, I had the 3rd best performance. My joy was short lived when I was informed that the newly selected Commonwealth team did not include myself and a few other deserving athletes who were ranked higher than most of the individuals selected onto the team. As I sat down at my computer I had tears in my eyes, not from the fact that I had not been selected, but rather for the cruel and crippling blow dealt to the athletes of Ghana who have toiled all year to help reform athletics. All we were asking for was a fair shot at making the national team; that is, for the association you chair to make a selection based on MERIT!. Instead, this newly selected team even included athletes who had yet to compete in 2002, athletes who had already declared themselves unavailable for competition either by choice or by failing to compete in 2002. In disbelief and anger, I wrote a short PERSONAL message to a few of my friends and other athletics loving individuals stating that that I was tired of fighting the system and that they needed to pick up where I was about to leave off in this struggle for equity and accountability. In that personal email, I wrote that I “Will do all I can to keep you guys remain visible to the rest of the world but GAAA has proved that its beef with me is personal. I cannot sink to their depth of evil and corruptness". Guess what Mr. Chairman, they all asked me not to give up and pledged to fight even harder by my side. Your response to that quote Mr. Chairman was to ask Professor Dodoo to, counsel me to be very careful about the statements that I make, and also ask me to render a prompt apology to the Association. Mr. Chairman, with all due respect, what more evidence do I need, than the incomprehensible team that was selected? Do you not think, that it is corrupt and evil, from my point of view that, after working so hard with my fellow athletes to make sure that the best we have represent Ghana, I find out that FOR THE THIRD TIME IN SIX MONTHS, a team has been wrongly selected, such that it includes individuals who have not proven their merit to represent Ghana yet? Think about it Mr. Chairman, what will you do or say if you were in my shoes? When earlier in the year I wrote the article “Why athletics in Ghana must be overhauled” I pointed out many of the things that, from my point of view as an athlete, needed to change. The response I got from my fellow Ghanaians was overwhelming in support for change and direction in athletics, and I hoped that the GAAA will take up the challenge and steer us in a new direction. In fact, at that time, I was not even aware that the GAAA had a new Chairman, that is you. Surprisingly I was informed via a friend that the GAAA had issued a warning to me and other athletes, that it would not select anyone who chooses to openly criticize that GAAA even if that individual is the best athlete that Ghana has. As a response to that threat, I personally wrote to you informing you that my disagreements with the GAAA was not personal nor was it aimed at individuals. Rather, I pointed out that the problem was with the system within which the GAAA operated. How else could we be having the same basic problems despite numerous changes to GAAA personnel? I urged you to write back to confirm or refute the threat that you allegedly made against me. Mr. Chairman, you chose not to write back. Indeed, since you assumed the office of chairman of GAAA, you have not contacted most of us Ghanaian athletes outside the country, not even with a letter to indicate your appointment and to give us information about what your thinking was for this athletic year. You also asked that it be relayed to me that if I have any specific evidence to back my claim then it should be directed to specific individuals, with the facts to back the assertion. Mr. Chairman, is in not a fact that two individuals, the chief athletics coach and the secretary of the GAAA were implicated in the scandalous and fraudulent visa acquisition from the Dutch and Canadian embassies? Are they not members of the same GAAA that you are chairman of? Have you made any official statement about their behavior? Is it not true that at least one of them is, even today, slated to travel for the Commonwealth Games? Why then is your fury directed at me for referring to such behavior as fraudulent? They do evil, I lament about it, and I am the one you choose to want to sanction, while you permit them to travel and, not just represent, but also do so as leaders of the contingent? What morality are we the so-called “younger” members of Ghana’s contingent supposed to take from that message of your office’s apparent condoning of such fraudulent behavior? Please think about this analogy: a person – GAAA in this case – with lung cancer, is not treated as if the cancer exists in isolation, rather, that individual – the GAAA – is deemed sick until the cancer is removed. Mr. Chairman, is been nine months since you took over. During those nine months, did the GAAA write us, the athletes of Ghana, perhaps a letter or some form of formal communiqué, about the GAAA’s plans for the up coming Commonwealth Games? No, rather, just like the rest of the public, we found out pertinent issues relating to us via newspapers and other news outlets such as, etc. Even more basic and serious, is the fact that the GAAA never issued any formal criteria to the athletes by which athletes were to be selected for the Commonwealth Games. Tell me Mr. Chairman, as athletes, juggling between school, jobs and sports, would it not be very helpful to know what is will take to make a national team? Perhaps you now understand why in my moment of disbelief and anger, and in a PERSONAL MESSEGE to friends, I used the word “evil”. Ghana has not paid a pesewa to any foreign based athlete for preparation toward the Commonwealth Games. And so, I ask you this on behalf of my fellow athletes, who sacrificed their scarce time, money, energy and education, hoping to make the national team: “How are we to feel after all that sweat and blood, when others who did not bother not to compete or train have been chosen over us”? You stated that if my words which are now in the public domain get published they will cast a serious slur on the hard earned reputation of yourself and other Association members. Mr. Chairman, I mean you no harm nor do I wish to slander your name, but as I stated earlier, by extension, and also by the very fact that you are the leader of the Association, you as liable to criticism as the corrupt individuals who perpetrated that misdeed within your organization. That is the responsibility that comes with leadership ESPECIALLY when you have made no public statement about it. This is because as chairman, the “buck stops with you”. That corrupt action was under taken under the guise of the GAAA and the GAAA is the leading authority on athletics in Ghana. Therefore, how can you accuse me of slandering you and other officials? Perhaps the question I should ask you is this; “What have you and the other “good” members of the GAAA done to “clean house” and to ease the burden and mighty hurdles placed in front of my fellow athletes and I, even as we struggle to resurrect our sport? Because the last team that was selected was as demoralizing as we have ever seen. What am I to say when my association cannot select a team based on merit on at least three different occasions in the span of six months? Even after some of our names were included in the last couple of days, at least two athletes who have better performances than some of the still-selected individuals have been excluded. It would seem that the addition of some of our names was done in an attempt to pacify us, rather than by merit, which is what we wanted. One of my still-excluded colleagues remains out because he is allegedly undisciplined. Yet, the same officials who want to exclude him for indiscipline are resisting the athletes’ call to drop a fraudulent coach, and fighting to take this coach who has acted in a manner that certainly embarrasses the entire nation in diplomatic circles and should even invite legal query. For you to pick on me, for merely voicing my thoughts about what you and I know is correct and true, and to say I am wrong is to claim that all is well with athletics and you know, and I know, as does the public,, that all is not well with athletics in Ghana, and it hasn’t been for a while. As chairman, you had and still have such an opportunity to revamp things and make them run efficiently and on merit. You stand to gain all the credit for that. The athletes have vowed to ensure that this happens and we are desperately awaiting word from your association that you are also ready and willing to work to reform Ghana athletics and restore it to where it should be, rather than the sad corrupt place it HAS been. As for your threat that you will seek legal redress, please feel free to do as you please. If you think that you are better off seeking legal redress against me and my colleagues, rather than cleaning house in the association that you lead, then I can not stop you. But in my opinion, I should be the one looking for legal remedy against the GAAA. Last year, my rightfully earned position on the national team was denied even as the “visa for cash scandal” was going on. The excuse was that there was no money for tickets. On paper, I was the second highest ranked Ghanaian as of the 2001 World Championships in Athletics. Yet, I was left off the team. Like the pariotic fool I was, I accepted the “no money” excuse and stayed home only to find out that phantom athletes made the trip after paying a small fee. Would you not be upset if you were I? Note that, I even offered to pay my own way to Edmonton to represent my country, offering to settle the ticket cost with the GAAA at a later date. Nevertheless, I was left out Fast-forward to this year. Within all commonwealth countries, I was the third highest ranked Ghanaian athlete as of June 26th 2002, and yet, I was left off the national team AGAIN. I hope nobody will try to advance the theory that others were selected over me because the relay team had a better chance of getting a medal. That theory will be flawed for two reasons. 1) Based on current rankings, the following commonwealth countries are expected to perform higher than Ghana. a. Great Britain b. Canada c. South Africa d. Australia e. Nigeria f. Jamaica g. Trinidad and Tobago GAAA has further undermined the chances of the relay team by not selecting the best set of sprinters we have available this year.
2) But maybe lets suppose that this is not about Owusu. If I was omitted from the selection as a result of not having a good chance to medal as compared to the relay team, then why select athletes with far worse performances this year (and some have not even competed) over those who have run faster? It does not make sense to me. Is this not failure by design? Are we not setting up our selves to fail even before we get there? Mr. Chairman, we are in an era of technology and it is very easy to get information from around the world from which we can, in an unbiased way, extrapolate our true chances for success. Your point is well taken Mr. Chairman. But, I urge you to listen to your athletes. On three separate occasions this year, your association – by extension – has dealt us three very painful blows. Do not be mistaken that this sentiment is mine alone. Even as I write this, the foreign based members of the Ghana Athletes Association have announced a boycott of the Commonwealth Games if changes are not made.
Thankfully the Honorable Minister of Sports intervened earlier last week calling for a revamp of the athletics team and the athletes are hoping that he will move swiftly to deal with the current impasse.
As was conveyed to me in your message, I have not met you personally nor have I met other new members of the Association. But, all I know is that, even subsequent to the Chairman of our Ghana Athletes Association—Professor Dodoo—meeting with you and his expressing the concerns of the athletes, the GAAA’s response was to still go ahead and reselect a team that was not based on merit, AGAIN.
True, I do not know not you and neither do you know me. But if I may choose my words carefully, as you suggested, “action speaks louder than words”. I wrote to you about our problems and my concerns, but you chose not to reply. On three different occasion, we cried “foul” to team selections, but you heard us not. As athletes, we sent our ambassador, Dr. Francis Dodoo to pass on our anxiety and distress. You, again, by extension as the Chairman of the GAAA, chose to punish us and multiply our frustrations, fear and distress by allowing another team to be selected that was NOT based on merit.

In doing all these, are you perhaps suggesting that the GAAA is not the leading authority on athletics in Ghana, and that you do not have any say in the determination of which athletes get selected? If that is so, then it would be helpful if you announced such because the question that my fellow athletes and I are asking is “WHO CAN WE TURN TO AND WHO WILL LISTEN TO OUR PLEAS FOR HELP?” If on the other hand, you have the authority that we think comes with being chairman, then perhaps you need to rethink what has transpired in Ghana athletics this year.
I am sorry that we do not see “eye to eye” because I sincerely wish that we did. Perhaps one day, you may understand my position and frustrations. I don’t envy your position as Chairman because I realize that there are obstacles that you too must over come. But, I cannot condone the inaction or rather the demoralizing actions of the GAAA over the past six months. Worse still, your choice to chastise me for speaking up against wrongdoing, instead of tackling the wrongdoing yourself is baffling. The GAAA, is supposed to put the welfare of the athletes first. Because without the athletes, there will be no association. That is the truth. Our officials have always danced their way around this by pitching one athlete against the next. By dropping deserving athletes who protest and selecting non-deserving athletes who would then tow the line, the officials have perpetuated the colonial divide-and-rule syndrome, with the result that the country has not benefited fully from the luxury of the quality athletes that we have had. Even this year, by the time we get the truly qualified athletes to the Games, the psychological blows that the athletes would have received would have compromised their performance ability; I can’t believe you don’t understand how much psychological energy UNECCESSARILY goes into fighting to get selected against all odds. Then, when the country doesn’t see the results that are expected of us, the same officials who caused the poor results turn around and point fingers at the athletes. Please show us you are a new kind of leader. Our very survival as athletes is under siege.
I extend a hand of cooperation to you to work together to build our association and move our dear nation forward. In service of Ghana Sports and for the love of Country Ghana! Andrew Owusu.

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