Let’s get the tartan tracks back!
• The Accra Sports Stadium without the tracks
In August 2002, former Youth and Sports Minister – Edward Osei Kwaku, promised to replace the tartan tracks at the Accra Sports Stadium with an ultra-modern one. Many celebrated the move.
The tracks were last relayed in 1978 when Ghana hosted the African Cup of Nations that year.
The former sports minister had said a German company was expected in the country by the end of that month (August 2002) to firm up talks with the sector ministry to replace the tracks.
Sadly, that was not to be. The Minister’s assurance evaporated into thin air – and five years later, instead of being fixed, the tracks were rather removed to make way for the expansion of the stadium’s seating capacity ahead of the hosting of the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament.
It was an unpopular decision as many Ghanaians bickered against it. But as it is always the case, the powers- that-be managed to bludgeon their way through. Mr Osei-Kwaku himself did not live (died in 2005) to work his dream out.
Today, twenty-one years on since that promise, the Accra stadium is still without tartan tracks, a pathetic state that has gravely affected the development of athletics in Ghana and ultimately the nation’s less-inspiring performances at major international games.
Truth is that our athletes have limited options to train and compete. The tracks at the El-Wak stadium, which athletes in Accra have depended on for some time now, is also in shambles.
On December 10, 2019, a former president of the Ghana Olympic Committee (GOC), B.T. Baba, asserted that removal of the tartan tracks from the Accra stadium was the beginning of the woes of athletics in the country. He cannot be far from right.
“The athletes that used to train at the Accra Sports Stadium do not train here again because there is no track at the stadium. The National Sports Authority’s idea of taking the track field from the stadium has really affected athletics because they don’t get a place to train,” he bewailed.
Decades back, one saw the likes of John and Leonard Myles Mills (Babylonia), Edwin Amugi, Michael Coffie (Akoo Yomo), Edwin Tagoe (Tee Gosh) blossom into revered house-hold names during the Inter Schools and Colleges (InterCo) athletics on the Accra tracks.
John Myles Mills would go ahead to represent Ghana at the 1988 Seoul Olympics in South Korea and the Barcelona 1992 Olympics, being the country’s flag-bearer on both occasions. His brother Leonard ran a personal best of 9.98 seconds for the event in 1998, becoming the first Ghanaian to break the 10-second barrier. His best of 6.45 seconds for the 60 metres is an African record. Leo twice represented his country at the Summer Olympics and also at the Commonwealth Games.
There were the likes of Grace Ofori, Doris Frema Wiredu, Veronica Bawuah, Martha Appiah, Emmanuel Tuffour and Albert Amonu – to name but a few, who made huge headlines in their heyday in the late 80s and 90s, especially.
Indeed, the InterCo was Ghana’s primary source of getting the best of athletes to represent the country in international competitions – and the removal of the tracks had hindered the success of the nation in athletics – and ultimately the cause of the country not amassing medals at major international events.
Are we saying we do not know that absence of the tracks is having a debilitating impact on the development of athletics in the country? For how long can we continue to play the ostrich?
During his recent visit to the country, former 100m world record holder, Asafa Powell, expressed disappointment in the lack of investment in athletics infrastructure in Ghana. He said Ghana had excellent sprinters in the past, and he was disappointed to see the absence of professional tracks.
“I’m very, very, very disappointed, honestly, coming here and not seeing real professional tracks is very disappointing because what if I wanted to go for a workout while being here? So I think that is where Ghana needs to improve,” Powell stormed.
It is a big shame for us to sit aloof all these years only to have the Jamaican sprinter come to tell us how bad it is for not having the tartan tracks fixed.
You expect the leadership of the present Ghana Athletics Association (GAA) to decant some pressure on government with regard to athletics infrastructure, but they do not seem bothered by the rot.
Had the plethora of calls to have the tracks replaced been heeded to, it was obviously going to minimise the headache we are going through at the moment as regards infrastructure with the impending Accra 2023 Games, next year.
The truth is that we have never been serious as a nation. We pretend to be a nation doing sports when we know the attention has been football, football and football. We give little or no attention to the other sport disciplines, yet we expect them to bring us haul of medals. How do we reap where we had not sown?
Our leaders have paid lip services to lots of things they knew they would not carry out. They know they are playing to the gallery, yet care less.
What kind of country is this? Let us be serious for once – and do the right thing.
By John Vigah