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25.11.2005 Sports News

Catching them young

By Statesman
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THE slogan – “Catch them young” – has often been the guiding principle for management bodies of the various sporting disciplines as a way of unearthing talents to feed the national teams. Sporting nations all over the world are also guided by this catch-phrase.

And to reap the best results, budding sports talents are selected and groomed at very tender ages before they hit their teens in preparation for future local and international competitions.

Ghana, as a soccer-fiend nation, abounds in talents. Sadly, only few of them eventually attain stardom, whiles the rest just perish along the way. There is no doubt that even before Ghana qualified for the World Cup early last month, the junior teams – Under 17, 20 and 23 – had already hit the world mark in FIFA organised world junior tournaments.

The Black Starlets won gold at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 1991 and 1995 and silver in 1993 and 1997. The team had bronze in 1999. The Black Satellites (Under-20) won silver in 1993 and 2001 whilst the Black Meteors (Under-23) also grabbed bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

But the question is why the sudden decline in our performances at world junior tournaments since 2001? The answer is not far-fetched. Our successes at that level began to suffer when the world soccer controlling body became vigilant in ascertaining the ages of the players that participate in their youth competitions.

This year's FIFA U- 17 World Cup in Peru exposed the inefficiencies in our preparation towards world junior tournaments. Fact is the Starlets lost most of their top strikers after the training tour in Brazil for unexplained reasons. And this happened just before the team left for the Peru tournament.

This columnist believes that following our disastrous performance at the tournament, the time has now come for the soccer authorities to seriously take the bull by the horn so as to redeem our lost glory in the age specified competitions. We must do so though by first of all attacking the use of over-aged players in those competitions.

The soccer academies that have of late emerged all over the country are the only panacea to the problem.

The soccer academy phenomenon started with Ashanti Goldfields Football Club (now AshantiGold) in the 1990s. Several other academies have since sprung up, with the National Sports Council joining the fray with the CK Gyamfi Sports Academy at Winneba. The Feyenoord Academy, owned by the Feyenoord FC Holland, is another privately owned academy, as well as the Dansoman-based Liberty Professionals Club that has two of such academies in Ghana and Togo. The soccer academies are supposed to recruit students with their real ages, hone their skills and set them on the road to professional football. It was worthy of note therefore that the Minister of Education and Sports, Yaw Osafo-Maafo, hit the nail right on the head when he made a passionate appeal to The Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Ghana for sponsorship for the establishment of sports academies in the country.

The occasion was a press conference to announce the arrival of the FIFA World Cup trophy in Ghana at Alisa Hotel in Accra. The gold Cup will be displayed at the Accra International Conference Centre January 6 and 7, next year. The minister expressed the hope that the giant Coca-Cola Company, sponsors of the World Cup tournament for several years, would come over to Ghana and help unearth soccer talents to build the Black Stars, now that Ghana is making its debut appearance at the World Cup in Germany.

Hopefully, all the gurus of the TCCBCGL were at the ceremony to carry the message to their parent body. And as the Akan adage goes – Wope asem akakyere Onyankppon a, woka kyere mframa (to wit, if you want to send a message to God, you send it through the wind). For, how beautiful it would sound to have a sports academy named – “Coca-Cola Company Sponsored Sports Academy”.

The Minister's appeal must also be directed to other corporate bodies and philanthropists that have Ghana sports at heart, to prayerfully “Come over to Macedonia” and help resuscitate Ghana sports since the nation fragile economy can hardly handle everything in sports. Till next week, that's the way it is!