04.06.2001 Sports News

Setting the Agenda for Joe Aggrey

By Public Agenda
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If the definition of a professional icon includes being a symbol of strength and principles, then the newly appointed Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports, Joe Aggrey, is a prime candidate for such a classification.

Writing weekly in his favourite "The Joe Aggrey Column" in The Mirror, Big Joe, as he is popular called by his peers, provided sporting audience with an alternative to the sycophantic image that cluttered the state-owned media during the past two decades.

With a career that's spanned almost three decades, this award-winning journalist has paved the way for many of today's media practitioners to appreciate their own worth as professionals whose value should not be dictated by political tin-gods.

Big Joe's influence on sports writing is evident in the number of confrontations he's had with the former Minister of Youth and Sports, E. T. Mensah, as a result of Joe's insistence on ensuring that the right things are done in that sector.

But despite his numerous sports writings that have attracted political wrath, active politics was never his first calling. Or at least that's the message he sent round when he was first nominated by the President for his present position.

Not surprisingly, however, Big Joe's nomination and subsequent confirmation as Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports did not raise any eyebrows among the sporting community. If there was any surprise at all, it was because observers expected him to have taken up the substantive position of a full Minister, considering his rich experience in sporting issues.

Given the interest that people have in sports in particular in this country, the delay in appointing a substantive Minister to take over that portfolio since the dismissal of Mallam Issa has naturally generated a lot of anxiety.

And given further the depth of Big Joe's knowledge and experience in Ghana sports, wouldn't it have been just appropriate to elevate him to that position?

Even in the Deputy Ministerial position, Big Joe's appointment is seen as a great signal that the nation is breaking from the past where sports in Ghana was totally dominated by one man and his style of administration.

Big Joe needs not be reminded of his own campaign against the suffocating atmosphere in our country's recent past when, for eight years, Ghana sports was placed under the thump of one man under which everybody was expected to play ball.

Under the previous administration, Ghana sports was so much compartmentalised, that people's view on the development of sports in the country was classified under "them" and "us" or "for" and "against". Under such an atmosphere, one was expected to play ball or be treated as an enemy.

So suffocating was the situation that ordinary suggestions and criticisms from well-meaning people were given political coloration.

Ghana has come a long way since January 7 when the massive vote for positive change was given a seal of authority for the new government to do things differently.

In one of his masterpiece writings, Big Joe himself set the agenda for the next person to take over the Ministry of Sports. He wrote: "The suffocating atmosphere in which sports has been administered for the past eight years or so must in the spirit of the times, give way to an era of give and take and preparedness to listen to all shades of opinion, even if sometimes a few might sound silly or unpalatable."

How ironic. Probably, if at the time of writing that piece Big Joe had known that he would be the one occupying the hot seat, he might have saved the admonishing for himself.

Most often we have people who are very good at delivering heavy punches, yet these people have very weak chins to receive counter punches. Some personalities, noted to be strong advocates of free speech have, on assumption of high office, demonstrated their intolerance of other views.

Big Joe would need to take a lesson from his own philosophy that the atmosphere in which people complain bitterly in their bedrooms but pretend to be happy with the status quo in public is neither helpful nor healthy. "It breeds sycophancy and a host of yes-men and women who are afraid or scared stiff to speak up, even when things are seriously going wrong", wrote Big Joe in one of his articles.

If I ever had the opportunity to meet Joe Aggrey as a Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports, I will ask him what he will be doing about the PNDC Law that regulates sports in Ghana. As a sportswriter, Big Joe said "one of the first tasks of an incoming Minister must be to repeal the PNDC Law regulating sports in the country and which allows the Minister to put his hands in every sporting pie."

His philosophy was that the Minister must encourage sporting associations, like the GFA, to move as fast as possible towards autonomy, instead of the retrogressive step of placing it under the National Sports Council.

Above all, Big Joe has argued that the Minister should, as a matter of urgency, help the GFA to bring its regulations in line with FIFA status. According to him, the current situation in which the Minister appoints the chairman, for instance, is anomalous and anachronistic. "No time must be wasted to get this off the statute books", has been his swan song.

Quite radical views from someone outside the clutches of political office. Sometimes it is easier to identify problems from afar. On the other hand, the realities of having your hands on the button brings to the fore the problems associated with implementing policies that seem to be ideal.

But it is still important to see to it that those ideas are carried through. Football administration in particular needs to be regularised in Ghana to halt the slide that has plagued the game in the country. That calls for taking a second look at the laws and practices governing the game here.

There does not appear to be the leadership, the will or the funding to address fundamental problems confronting sports development in this country. And this include infrastructure.

Way back in 1998, E. T. Mensah promised this nation that the Ministry of Youth and Sports has initiated a programme to renovate, expand and refurbish some of the stadiums and playing fields. This new policy, according to E. T., makes provision for an ultra-modern stadiums for all the regional capitals and other league centres, as well as community playing fields throughout the nation.

The high-sounding promise also made provision for an Olympic-size stadium complex fully equipped to host all international sporting competitions. Three years on, these projects are yet to go beyond the drawing board.

That is why Big Joe and his boss will not be given any option but to compel them to provide the necessary infrastructure as a first step towards resuscitating sports in Ghana.

Implementing those ideas, however, is another issue all together. As a Deputy Minister, Joe Aggrey is only mandated by law to assist the incumbent Minister in policy formulation. Any incumbent Minister with a totally different philosophy, therefore, can conveniently render Aggrey impotent by throwing those lofty ideas overboard.

In the meantime, while the President is still out shopping for a suitable candidate to take up the substantive Ministerial position, Big Joe can call the shots and start initiating some of his own ideas.

And while we are still waiting for such a Minister to take his seat, we might conveniently direct our views to Big Joe. As he has said repeatedly, Ghana sports needs to be liberated from the suffocating grip of Ministerial interference, even when it is euphemistically called tactical intervention.

The gospel according to Joe Aggrey reads "If we have been promised positive change, I believe we deserve to see this in sports administration as well. And any such change must come from the very top and made manifest in the behaviour and attitudes of the Minister in particular."

Let's hear a chorus of Amen.

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