I urge Ghana to take lessons from the UK's decision, many years ago, to make itself the 'to-go' destination for major sporting events. It is a decision which will feed our colonial masters for many years to come.
They came here and ruled us for centuries. Fifty-three years ago, we decided we wanted to be a free nation. Despite the freedom, we continue to borrow ideas, good and bad, from the British. This continual borrowing irks hardcore pro-African people but if I may say so, here's something you will agree that we should learn from the Brits.
With the recent news of England's successful Rugby World Cup (RWC) bid, it would appear that another part of what is fast becoming known as 'The Golden Decade of UK Sport' has fallen into place. The thought of an Olympic Games and RWC, all in the UK, may be enough to excite most sports fans there, but for many the big one is still the 2018 Football World Cup bid which they are working on.
Regardless of whether England are successful in their bid for the World Cup or not, what has successfully been achieved is fuelling a nation's passion for sport and the situation of the UK as, in their words, 'the definitive home of international sport for the next decade.'
The next 10 years will not only provide British sports fans with an incredible range of world class sporting events but will also herald unprecedented investment into all areas of the sporting spectrum. The legacy that these events will leave behind (and in particular the Olympics) will benefit generations for years to come.
The hope and expectation is that the increased investment in sports facilities will continue to reap rewards for decades to come in increased participation at a youth and grassroots level.
And, for Ghana, the lessons we can learn cannot come early enough.
The increased sporting profile that the UK has received on the back of the successful 2012 Olympic bid has not only encouraged youth participation in sport but has also acted as a catalyst for further sporting growth. I'm glad to say that in Ghana's case, this is very achievable.
In 2001, Ghana's government of the day undertook a registration exercise of about 950,000 unemployed youth to get a good understanding of the nature and scope of the unemployment situation to be able to deal with it very effectively. Nine years down the line, the dream is taking root in the form of the Ghana Youth Job Corps Programme or, as it is more popularly known, the National Youth Employment Programme.
More than eleven percent of Ghana's youth are unemployed. This is where I continue to say that we must stop looking at sport as 'the insignificant other.' Many countries, like the UK example I use now, are doing it and if we really wish to improve on our ranking as the 130th country with the worst employment record in the world, then sport is the answer, or one of them.
It is true that as of three years ago, about 107,550 youth had been employed under the NYEP, yet you'd agree with me that this is just a drop in the desert of joblessness.
As a catalyst for sporting growth, these employed youth in the sporting sector would drive the administrative, marketing, logistical and field needs of Ghana's sporting engines. Heaven knows that once this is done, it will not be long in the future before we start producing a whole new generation of sporting legends like Mike Ahey (athletics), Roy 'Black Flash' Ankrah (boxing) and Amusa Gbadamosi (soccer).
Let's not look too far into the future. In a month's time, many of the nation's Senior High Schools and tertiary institutions would be on vacation which would likely last until, at least, August. During that time, the FIFA World Cup would be in the offing and even though we are not hosting the showpiece, many companies are already lining up events to profit from the euphoria that would be generated. As we speak there are many (potentially paying) volunteering jobs for these youth who may otherwise be engaged in idle stuff.
Then again, we can harness the numerous talents that have been identified through the Skill Training programs that the government undertakes and veer them in the direction of sport. Despite the perception to the contrary, sport is now a financially diverse industry, as I've sought to prove in my pieces till date. Why not give it a try.
Time to benefit from our legacy
Britain's hosting of these major sporting spectacles means huge amounts of badly needed cash would flow in this post-recessionary period. In fact, the positive economic outlook in sport for the next ten years or so by the UK's financial institutions are widely seen as a reason the country may respond more favorably to the credit crunch than was previously thought.
The successful Olympics bid paved the way for subsequent successful 2015 RWC bid and a 2018 football World Cup bid. What Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games and his team have achieved is fuelling a nation's passion for sport and situating British sport as an example for rest of the world to aspire to. And that includes Ghana.
The UK's ex-sports minister, Richard Caborn is currently part of England's bid to stage the 2018 football World Cup, and with him a nation's hopes of completing the golden decade of sport. Caborn will undoubtedly point to England's success at hosting similar scale events in the past and plans to hold similar events in the future as an indicator of their ability to host a successful Football World Cup.
Sound familiar? Ghana can also point to its ability to host big tournaments. At the time Ghana was bidding to host the CAN 2008 African Nations Cup and the Africa Cup for Nations Ghana 2009 hockey tournament, many did not understand the meaning of legacy; this is the time to reap where we have sown. This is the time to push our agenda to do greater things and in turn, bring more money into the system. A good many people say that Ghana has run out of ideas for internal income generation. Ladies and gentlemen, sport is now a lucrative but untouched virgin forest waiting to be exploited. It does not take much in brainpower, yet the rewards are bountiful.
How did the UK do it?
When the UK is not spending money on fighting wars, combating swine flu and clawing its way out of the misery that is the recession, both the British exchequer and the Lottery are spending considerable sums on sporting facilities.
Since 2001, the exchequer and the national lottery have invested over £1 billion into building or upgrading over 4,000 sports facilities across Britain. The economic benefit will trickle down to football clubs, boxing gyms, tennis courts, hockey fields and so on across England as they generate revenue from hosting sporting events. Quite impressive right?
British Sport is on the up and that's because they have positioned themselves as a true sporting nation with a huge opportunity to take advantage of the range of sporting events being showcased across the country in the next 10 years. Just some of the great, and very diverse, sporting events due to take place between now and 2020 in the UK include:
2010: Ryder Cup, Celtic Manor, 2012: Champions League Final
2012: Olympic and Paralympic Games, London
2013: Rugby League World Cup
2014: Ryder Cup, Gleneagles and Commonwealth Games, Glasgow
2015: Rugby World Cup
2018: Football World Cup - TBC
2019: Cricket World Cup
An investment into the future
For one generation in the UK, they appear to have all three elements of sporting success in alignment, international promise, amateur and grassroots initiatives in motion and they are hosts for many major sporting events.
My refrain is still the same: let Ghana win gold medals galore, let's have Ghana as the center for money-spinning sporting events which do not cost too much to host but reap much in rewards and let's relive the our old sporting glory once again. Heaven knows we need more reason to feel a sense of identity and national pride.
Long live sport and public spending on it!
By Gary Al-Smith
Accra-based freelance journalist
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