THERE could not have been better news this week than Government's offer of financial support for the Top Four Premier Clubs — Asante Kotoko, Hearts of Oak, King Faisal and Berekum Arsenals — in their 2006 Confederation of African Football continental campaign.
Government has decided to offer $250,000 each towards the clubs' participation in both the Champions League and the Confederations Cup next year. Indeed, this decision has long been awaited and would not only boost the morale of the campaigners but also strengthen their resolve to bring honour to the nation. The decision followed Wednesday's meeting between the Ministry of Education and Sports and representatives of the clubs in Accra, at which the clubs appealed to Government for financial support for the participation in the two CAF competitions.
Kotoko and Hearts would be participating in the CAF MTN Champions League whilst Faisal and Arsenal would be in the CAF Confederation Cup tournament. Undoubtedly, the Premier clubs that play in the continental championships go through sleepless nights raising money to fund their campaign and are in the end left in deep financial debt afterwards.
This year's continental campaigners, King Faisal, ended their campaign with a crevice in their account. Club owner, Alhaji Grusah, and his management had to squeeze water out of stone to fund their campaign throughout the Confederations Cup.
Hearts also suffered a similar fate especially during the 2000 Champions League campaign. Thankfully, they won the competition and thus received a handsome cash prize from CAF.
Just a couple of days ago, there were threats by one of the Top Four clubs to withdraw from the contest for lack of financial support. The decision to withdraw was nothing new given similar threats in the past by our clubs. But whilst welcoming Government's decision to off-load the financial burden from the shoulders of the clubs, it must be noted that if any clubs were to be blamed for the current situation, it would have been the two most glamorous clubs — Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko.
It all started during the PNDC era when the then Secretary for Sports, the late Ato Austin, under persistent pressure from the two clubs, decided to advise the Rawlings regime to take its “hands off” government funding for their African campaigns.
Government at the time was responsible for financing Ghanaian clubs' participation in continental competitions, a tradition that had been inherited from previous governments.
But immediately the then government washed its hands off the clubs, they began facing financial problems and were soon saddled with huge debts. This situation has since persisted and not even Kotoko and Hearts that have the largest fan bases, could escape the throes of financial ruin.
It's against this backdrop that the decision by Government to “go over to Macedonia” and help the Premier clubs should be applauded by all sports enthusiasts since the policy could in future be extended to other sports disciplines.
However, while commending Government for taking the bull by the horn to develop the nation's soccer through a club sponsorship package, the authorities must also look beyond soccer and help other disciplines like amateur boxing and athletics, whose standards have considerably deteriorated.
Within the next few months in March, next year, the Commonwealth Games would be staged in Melbourne, Australia. The obvious question to ask is whether the nation has prepared adequately towards the competition.
In athletics, Ghana is privileged to count on foreign-based star athletes in the personalities of world medal holders Ignatius Gaisah and Margaret Simpson and Aziz Zakari, Seth Amoo, Eric Nkansah, Vida Anim, Said Duah, Harry Adu-Mfum and local boy Idddrisu Adams.
Tomorrow at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium in Kumasi, over 60 athletes are expected to converge for trials under the Ghana Athletics Association programme. Hopefully, some of the foreign-based athletes, holidaying in the country, would participate in the trials and we pray that it would be a successful meet.
And what about the boxers, incidentally local-bred pugilists? These young boxers have been going through some training schedules in preparation for the Games.
Not quite long ago, the Ghana Amateur Boxing Association Chairman, Eddie Blay, former Olympics medalist, sent an SOS message to the authorities to enable the boxers undertake foreign trips to sharpen their reflexes. As a boxing coach, he was forced to take up the mantle of training his boys, a duty that should be undertaken by a full time local or foreign coach.
It shouldn't be forgotten that Ghana used to be a giant amateur boxing nation at the Commonwealth and Olympic Games in the 1960s and 1970s. But what caused the sharp deterioration is not far-fetched. Lack of modern infrastructure and the rush by the amateurs to drift into the paid ranks has been the cause of the decline.
And now that the Commonwealth Games is at hand, every effort must be made to get the boxers through international training sessions outside the country as early as possible before the D-day. The athletes also need more serious training on modern tartan tracks but not the dilapidated ones at the Baba Yara Stadium.
The nation has to prepare adequately for the Games since the weak economy can hardly support ill-prepared teams and officials who would be mere spectators and holiday makers in Australia. Till next week, that's the way it is!