With all eyes riveted on our beloved Black Stars, Ghana's other major sport, Athletics, is slipping. Before anybody gets worked up, consider this; the Commonwealth Games is less than 2 months away, athletes do not know what the selection criteria are. Allegedly there is a list of selected athletes in circulation but, how does the national Federation justify selecting Athlete A over Athlete B when there is no selection criteria? For the sake of argument, one can justify selecting Aziz, Gaisah and Simpson given their performances from last year. But none of the other athletes has stellar performances from the past or current year. So by what standards were they selected?
In 2002 the Athletes Association rejected 2 different teams for the Commonwealth Games presented by the Athletics Federation on the grounds that selection onto the national team must be based on performance, and not arbitrary decisions. Some wondered if the senior athletes including myself were “holding the nation hostage”. It is baffling that current officials' do not seem to have learned from the mistakes predecessors. Every progressive Federation around the world selects its national team using criteria widely publicized a year in advance of competition. In 2003, under Professor Francis Dodoo, the former Chairman of the athletes association, we sent a draft of selection criteria to the athletics federation for consideration and adoption. The result was that in 2003 and 2004, the federation used some form of publicized selection criteria.
Spare me the mambo jumbo of not enough money, no tartan track to compete on, and the tired excuse that the “government has not released the money”. Ghana does not need money to come up with selection criteria. Neither does it need a tartan track to come up with criteria. It is not a secret that our training facilities need upgrading but money and tartan have little to do with selection criteria. Even with little or no money and grass to run on, there must be an impartial mechanism in place for selecting national teams. Kofi Mensah needs to know what it will take to earn a spot on the national team.
Case in point: Tanko Braimah, an athlete from Ghana, called the Athletics Federation to inquire about the selection process for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. He was told that a final team had already been selected, and the deadline for submission of entries had already passed. For the record, investigations of the athletes association has revealed the deadline for individual entries and relay teams is February 15th, 2006. Braimah was not selected by the federation yet he has run faster than at least 4 names on their list. In addition, based on his current (2006) performance, is the 2nd fastest Ghanaian sprinter behind Leonard Myles-Mills as of 28th January.
To make matters worse, it is has come to light that an athlete has been included on the team not by virtue of his performance but as a favor. The Athletics Federation needs to do what is right and not revert to this arbitrary and unfair method of national team selection. The expenses for the Commonwealth Games will be covered by the taxpayers of Ghana and it is only reasonable that the best of Ghana's athletes represent her. What I am calling for is 1) formulating selection criteria that is publicized many months in advanced to all athletes and 2) a mechanism for selecting the nation's best athletes based on performance.
The current National Federation should learn from the mistakes of its predecessors and not forget that in 2002 the athletes pledged to “police the process” thereby ensuring selection that is fair and open to all eligible athletes. Officials should to not lose sight of what is right and reasonable because it is often the injustice of wrongfully being excluded from teams that prevents many former athletes from contributing (recourses) towards development of the sport.
Andrew Owusu Chairman, Ghana Athletes Association