Season 4, Ep.2:
“If managed properly, Sports can be the largest employer in Africa” – Football Expert
ACCRA, Ghana – Football Expert Nana Agyemang believes Ghana must start taking sports seriously. He believes a Sports Bill would empower all the different sporting institutions. That would in turn encourage corporate Ghana to provide sponsorship to ensure “there is proper infrastructure development.”
Speaking to E.K.Bensah Jr on the “Africa in Focus Show”, which commenced a series of Africa in Sports in Season 4, the UEFA-licensed coach, Nana Agyeman, explained how sports is “probably one of the largest employers on the African continent”. He says “Africa is over-laden with talent...and in Ghana, if we really knew how to manage sport, it would be the largest employer in this country.” He referred to the different sporting disciplines that exist: “we are even taking part in fencing and taken part in intercontinental competitions and received medals.” This includes swimming; tennis; basketball and even cricket. He says many of them are team-based, “so when you look at that and try to professionalise the various disciplines, once you are a professional, you get paid.” The discipline of sport involves a whole value-chain that includes a coach; a dietician; a nutritionist; a physiotherapist; a psychologist; and a cook. He says “it’s massive!”
We may not be able to compete with mining, but the sporting sector, in Nana Agyemang’s view, would outnumber civil servants by three to one. He believes the African is “more akin and in tune to sporting developments than we are in tune with anything else.” Agyeman is categorical that, the prowess and strength that the African possesses in all the different fields “is something that cannot be matched by the rest of the world.” He continues that, the only challenge “is our inability to... professionalise the whole sector and to ensure that the infrastructure required for our sporting professionals to practice in safe and secured places each and every day does not exist; the investment that is required for the professionals does not exist.” Because of that, he laments, “Where are we?”
What makes sport a unifier is the way in which we come together for the World Cup; the African Cup of Nations; the Confederations Cup. It unifies us because we come together to participate, knowing that the winners from there will go to the Club championships – as well as knowing that when we qualify for the World Cup, we meet the likes of Germany and the USA.
For Nana Agyemang, the 2006 World Cup was an example of what he has never seen before in his lifetime: the whole of Africa coming behind Ghana. He continues that, “we are so fragmented with our politics and our tribalism and the lines that were drawn between us by the Europeans when they colonized us in the Scramble for Africa...that it was wonderful to see the whole of Africa united” in seeing Ghana go forward.
He laments it’s a shame how we cannot transfer moments like this into the way our countries are governed and the way our economies are managed: “If we could, we would be trading among each other!” Perhaps, I have the ability to make cane juice, which could be coming from Zambia, and I am trading something else with Zambia, and making the continent self-sufficient.
Pressed to explain which region is worthy of emulation, Nana Agyemang points to North Africa. He says “they are dominated by desert, but have green grass growing all around the place. Their fields are green, watered very well. They have structures that mirror those in Europe.” They have academies, where children as young as five attend those academies. They have the structure to ensure that the capacity of the coaches they have there are developed, and constantly reinforced with new ideas and trends so they know what they are teaching.
Still on the efficiency of North Africa, he explains that if we ensured commensurate infrastructure, investment; capacity-building, the whole nation would rally behind them.
On the Olympics four years ago, Nana Agyemang recalls that there were just nine participants and around twenty-six officials – as compared to the US’s six hundred! Nana avers “that cannot engender unification back home because we are sitting here and we are embarrassed to say that we only have nine participants to one of the greatest shows on Earth.” He continues “and the reason for that is that we are not investing in the development of sports men and women...in the development of sports boys and girls. Where’s the unity in that? We remain fragmented,” he lamented.
As far as reconciling education and the pursuit of sports, Nana spoke to the priviledge of his experience of growing up in the UK, where he actually combined both the rigorous participation of sporting disciplines – which included cross-country running; rugby; swimming; tennis; table-tennis; volleyball; basketball – alongside his academic studies. Same can be said with the US where you excel in your sporting discipline and still come out with your degree.
Conversely in Ghana, because of lack of facilities and infrastructure, African countries tend to go for a scholarship, which ends up dis-incentivizing them from keeping their allegiance to their Mother country in favour of the country that offered the scholarship. That is also one of the key things that discourage unity in the sports in Africa.
In his take-home message, he explained that, “If we are really serious, we will turn the spotlight off the senior national team and share that light across the board with all our other sporting disciplines. We will have proper sporting budgets – every year the sporting budget gets slashed by a third...it’s now GHS22 million.” He continues that, “we need to have a meaningful budget that when spread across various sporting disciplines, will ensure we have proper infrastructural development, will ensure that we build the capacity of those who will nurture and edify all the young talent that we have, and produce real champions. And stop pretending that we want to produce champions, and produce champions!” We cannot do any of these without a Sports Bill, he insists.
The “Africa in Focus” Show is hosted by Emmanuel.K.Bensah Jr from 14h05 to 15h00 every Wednesday. You can download all podcasts from www.africainfocusradioshow.org . Follow the conversation on twitter on @africainfocus14 , using #africainfocus