Playing sports in the courts. * The sad case of neglected federations

Author: Kwame Larweh
Mawuko Afadzinu-president of the Ghana Table Tennis Association-Also in court on election issues

The past 15 years have witnessed so much turbulence in the administration of Ghana sports which has led to retardation in the growth and development of sports.

Yes, it was a period that Ghana qualified for her maiden FIFA World Cup in 2006. She, also, participated and performed creditably well in the next tournament held in 2010 in South Africa. However, Ghana’s Black Stars suffered a humiliating exit in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The Black Stars also came close to winning their first Africa Cup of Nations in three decades after losing to Egypt in the final of the 2010 AFCON held in Angola, followed later by a painful penalty shootout loss to Cote d’Ivoire in the 2015 AFCON in Equatorial Guinea.
It is worthy to note also that other sporting disciplines have not fared any better. We have merely participated in major international competitions with very few medals or laurels to show for it.
Needless to say, countless reasons and excuses abound for such poor show at major competitions. But at the heart of Ghana’s poor showing in sports is inadequate and sustained investment in sports coupled with lack of modern infrastructure, poor planning and preparation towards competitions, human capital challenges -- inadequate top class trainers and managers, and a general national apathy towards sports.
Suffice it to say, the state has neglected sports with officials charged with the development of sports caring more about what they stand to benefit individually, in spite of the sorry state of the disciplines they superintend. Over the years, many personalities who get involved in sports, including those at high echelons of society, have exploited their privileged positions in sports to engage in visa racketeering or other travel malpractices, or seizing every available opportunity to travel on foreign trips for their own personal gains.
Now to the real issue why I am writing this piece. Over the last few years, some sporting federations have resorted to the law courts to settle internal disputes relating to elections, particularily in respect of the eligibility of candidates or legal issues arising from lack of accountability and suspicion over the abuse of office and/or a lack of accountability by federation heads.
These recourse to the law courts and the disregard for the three powerful authorities –  the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MoYs), the National Sports Authority (NSA) and the Ghana Olympic Committee (GOC), to help settle these disputes, not only sends worrying signals but also reflect the sorry state of sports management in the country.
Presently, the athletics, table tennis, cycling and taekwando federations are in court with some aggrieved members of these federations seeking redress. And in many instances, these cases of power struggles have halted elective congresses and retarded the progress of these federations.
There is also the fear that the volleyball federation may follow the same path after its elective congress last month was postponed due to a fracas over the eligibility of some voters and constitutional interpretations. But we cannot continue playing sports in the courts.
Ironically, it is those sporting disciplines classified in the country as the “lesser known sports’‘ that find themselves engaged in avoidable battles in court.
Aside from football, and to a lesser extent boxing, most governments have paid lip service to the remaining 40-and-over sporting disciplines. On the evidence of this, going to the courts may be the last resort for the parties in the disputes to get justice. Nonetheless, it brings to the fore the root cause for the underdevelopment of these disciplines which poses a threat to their development in the future, if  remedies are not found to end these court cases plaguing Ghana sports, particularly those arising out of election disputes or the processes leading up to the election of new leadership for the various federations.
It is noteworthy that both the plaintiffs and the defendants are neither in court to challenge the state over its neglect of these disciplines, nor are they in court to force the country to take good care of these sporting disciplines.
These sporting bodies, which are already in the intensive care unit and have been neglected by the state, rather find themselves battling in courts. And as orphaned as they are in the country, these so-called “lesser known sports” have to spend needless time in courts instead of concentrating their efforts to develop the sports.
Athletics used to outshine football in Ghana about four decades ago with greats such as Alice Anum, Mike Ahey, Emmanuel Tuffour, Aziz Zakari and Margaret Simpson putting the country high on the international sporting map. Recently, up-and-coming youngster, Hor Halutie, has shown that athletics still has great potential in Ghana.
Until a little over a decade ago, Ghana could boast an athletics oval at the Accra Sports Stadium, Kumasi Sports Stadium and El Wak Sports Stadium. However, the sport lost its pride of place when the tracks at the Accra Stadium were removed following its reconstruction for the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations.
But just like other sporting disciplines, the fervour for athletics in the country waned, tartan tracks became an eyesore and a good number of our athletes, including former world indoor long jump champion, Ignatius Gaisah, defected to countries who take their athletics more seriously.
Today those battling for the soul of athletics in the courts must ask themselves what they want to do with a sport which has become so deprived, totally neglected over the years, with no facilities or coaches, and nowhere to run?
While growing up, table tennis was played in every community. One could just find a board, a bat and a ball to play. It was everywhere. Today, the sport is struggling to become a national pastime it once was.
For taekwando, it has been over four years of struggle for power, with the federation boss accused of exceeding his powers.
The cycling federation is also in court over a similar challenge where the incumbent president is being challenged for allegedly exceeding his term of office.
The running theme in all these court cases is the zeal, bravado and the unflinching gusto of those in leadership positions to hold on to power, and the zeal and appetite of those challenging for leadership positions, to battle on even when their sporting disciplines are not developing or making any headway.
The question one may ask is why such an interest in the top positions of these least financed sporting disciplines? What is there to gain and why are the incumbents whose terms have expired will still want to circumvent the rules to contest by using the back door?
The average Ghanaian has come to appreciate that in many cases, these struggles for power are more about self aggrandisement and for selfish interest rather than a strong desire to restructure, revitalise and revive these dying disciplines.
Sadly, the bodies charged with supervising the disciplines in the country have been of a great disservice to this country. The NSA under its former leadership of Robert Sarfo Mensah could have solved these pertinent issues as all the sporting associations/federations in the country have their umbilical chords tied to the NSA in one way or the other.The General Secretary of all these associations/federations are appointed by the NSA.
The Sports Act, passed by Parliament few years ago, made autonomous these associations/federations thereby making their leadership independent of the NSA.
That autonomy notwithstanding, the NSA still appoints the General Secretaries for the associations/federations. These associations/ federations also seek funding through budgetary allocations by the state to fund their activities.
The GOC must complement the efforts of the NSA as most of these associations/federations are Olympic sporting disciplines and fall under the purview of the GOC.
The ministry, as a parent body, must also work to settle this disputes which are spiralling out of control into the courts.
That said it is not too late to set up an adjudicatory committee at the ministry, NSA and GOC to settle disputes.
Ghana sports has suffered for far too long and urgently need to be saved from this pain.
Ghana sports deserves better.