Patriotism in sports
SPORTS all over the world is no more considered a pastime but big business. It also offers an individual or group of persons an opportunity to achieve honour and prominence within a relatively short period compared with other non-sporting disciplines.
This is for the mere reason that sports men and women, by their chosen professions, go through strenuous years within limited periods to reach the pinnacle of their careers. And when they do, they enjoy so much local and international publicity that such sports personalities receive red carpet treatment everywhere they go.
In Ghana, the nation can boast of such past sports heroes and heroines, like Roy Ankrah, C K Gyamfi, Azumah Nelson, Abedi Pele, Tony Yeboah, Christiana Boateng, Alice Anum, Hannah Afriyie, Mike Ahey, Eddie Blay and a host of others, some of whom are still knocking at the door of the nation's recently established Hall of Fame.
But whilst remembering some of these past sports men and women, others continue to strive hard to get their names written in the nation's sporting annals.
Two of such persons are Ignatius Gaisah, long jump silver medallist and Margaret Simpson, heptathlon bronze medallist both at the recent World Athletics Championships in Helsinki. In fact, their achievements are unequalled in the annals of Ghana's athletics. They really deserve the best honour any nation should shower on her heroes and heroines.
But like a poisonous spear threatening the heart of the nation, early this week, Sports Writers Association of Ghana's twice Sportsman of the Year award winner, Gaisah has threatened to “switch nationality.”
His complaint is that the “nation had neglected” him, despite his achievement and also that “the financial reward that comes with winning international events was woefully inadequate.”
Of course, like any Ghanaian who feels cheated or inadequately rewarded for “dying a little” for the nation, the long jump hero has every right to fight against any perceived injustices and demand what is due him, especially whilst soccer, the nation's most loved sport, gets the biggest chunk of the nation's sports budget.
For, just after the senior national soccer team, Black Stars, triumphed in their long journey to qualify for the World Cup, millions of cedis have started pouring into their coffers. Even Ghanaians living outside the country have contributed to the kitty.
Among the remunerations are $8,000 bonus to the players and $10,000 “handshake” for all persons who participated in the courageous battle to win honours for the nation. The team was also invited by President J A Kufuor to the Castle, Osu, where they were presented with two fat cows and several crates of soft drinks.
Ironically, Gaisah's complaint might have emanated from the heroes welcome the Stars received from the general public, and most especially the President. But a press release signed by Emmanuel Owusu-Ansah, Director for Sports Development of the Ministry of Education and Sports, has revealed that all bonuses and allowances due the two athletes who competed in the World Athletic Championship in Helsinki have been paid.
It said Gaisah was paid $3,500 for winning his silver medal, while Margaret Simpson received $2,500 for her bronze medal. Gaisah also has been reimbursed his $7,933 being the cost of his training expenses towards the Helsinki Championships.
The release also stated that in recognition of the historic achievements of the two athletes, the Ministry had also proposed the naming of National Monuments after them, in addition to their induction into the Hall of Fame and monetary rewards during the impending National Sports Awards ceremony. One can understand the complaints of the national long jump record holder and world championship silver medallist whose achievement is unequalled in Ghana's athletic history and who naturally should expect better remuneration from the State.
But should he go to the extreme of threatening the whole nation with a “switch of nationality”? This really is the “unkindest cut” ever unleashed by a Ghanaian on his own country.
Perhaps, the athlete might have been incensed by the euphoria that greeted the national soccer team after qualifying for Germany and made the outburst out of emotion. On the other hand, he might have felt shunned or ignored by the Ghanaian public after his laudable achievement.
These, of course, are mere assumptions by this columnist but whatever the issue, he must take a second look at such a threat, coming from a national hero.
Whilst not trying to impugn any motive into Gaisah's threat, he must be reminded that much as he has the right to take any decision concerning his career, he must note that he would not be the only athlete to change nationality if he goes ahead with his threat. Other Ghanaians have done that in the past. In fact, he won't be the first Ghanaian sportsman to switch nationality. After all, there are other sports men and women donning other nation's colours.
For some of us, we'll continue to help rebuild the nation because even in these days of economic hardships, we won't go nowhere because there is no place like home. Therefore, Gaisah must rescind his decision because Ghana needs athletes of his calibre to fly high the flag of Ghana. Till next week, that's the way it is!