African viewpoint: West Africa's sporting blues

Satoshi Shimizu of Japan (L) celebrates victory over Isaac Dogboe of Ghana during their Men's Bantam Weight (56kg) bout on Day 1 of the London 2012 Olympic Games West African athletes did not come away with medals from London 2012

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Ghana's Elizabeth Ohene reflects on West Africa's poor performance at London 2012.

I gave up all hope of playing any sports with any seriousness when at the age of 14 my teenage body burst out in the most unexpected places.

The changes in my body spelt the end of any attempt at running, jumping or throwing. My biggest exertions in sports therefore come from watching.

I must confess that I spent most of the past three weeks in front of the television watching the Olympic Games.

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Kirani James

Grenada, with a population the size of a crowd at a Lagos bus stop, won a gold medal”

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The crowds at the various venues sometimes made me wish I were there to absorb some of the atmosphere but the television images were compelling.

The athletics bit of the Games was always going to be the most thrilling part for me but I found myself getting all tense watching the fencing.

I was grateful for the instant lessons being given by the commentators and they helped to better understand what was going on.

The truth of the matter is that you do not need to understand the rules to enjoy most games, and before very long I was cheering the curling and the kayaking with the same vigour as I would cheer the steeplechase runners.

Humming anthems

I did not have much hope in the performance of Team Ghana and they did not disappoint, thus it was easy to settle down and simply enjoy the games without any tensions about Ghanaian competitors.

Kenya's gold medalist David Lekuta Rudisha (C) wins the men's 800 final at London 2012 David Rudisha became the first man to break a record at London 2012

I expected Kenya to do better but then I do not think that for sheer elegance and poetry in motion anything can challenge the majesty of David Rudisha running the 800m.

That race got my prize for breathtaking beauty.

As for the gymnasts I do not quite understand how the human body can be contorted in such impossible ways; and my body aches simply looking at them.

I was willing the Brits on to win. I thought it was only fair that having put together such a spectacular show, they deserved to win many medals.

After a while I found myself humming the American national anthem to myself in the bath. It had to happen as they kept winning gold medal after gold medal.

I wish I could find out why the South Koreans do so well at archery and shooting.

I cheered them on but I did not like their national anthem.

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If as it seems the sprinting genes originate from West Africa, then I found myself wondering how come the present inhabitants of the region are showing no signs of the talent”

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It is easy to love the Jamaicans even if you realise that they are putting you to shame.

How can such a little island nation have such talent and who else entertained the whole world as much as Usain Bolt?

Grenada, with a population the size of a crowd at a Lagos bus stop, won a gold medal and their man in the decathlon charmed me with his performance.

And there was Trinidad and Tobago out-throwing the whole world and winning a gold medal.

If as it seems the sprinting genes originate from West Africa, then I found myself wondering how come the present inhabitants of the region are showing no signs of the talent.

It is disconcerting that the entire region of West Africa could be shut out so comprehensively at a world event.

Ivory Coast made it to one final but did not get any medals of any colouring. Nigeria got zilch. Ghana got a grand total of zero.

Nobody has since said anything about it here.

Maybe that is an indication of where we place ourselves these days.

It is a pity though because our national anthem is simply the best - and the world missed out on hearing it.

If you would like to comment on Elizabeth Ohene's column, please do so below.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    West African countries, especially Nigeria, are currently going through a serious phase of economic development and entrepreneurship. Sports apart from football, is not at the moment, on the agenda of average Nigerians. Music, Movies, IT, eduication, fashion and in fact, any available trade, that would quickly bring them out of poverty are the order of the day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Re 7: The reason people on this forum are very quiet on the issue you mention, is really very simple. On this issue, almost all comments are removed by the BBC moderator. It is seemingly forbidden to discuss your point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Let’s says each Gold Medal is about $20 Million. But how did the Jamaicans do so well in the 100m, 200m and 4 X 100 metres. Giving them at least 3 Gold Medals, are they very rich? I assume that the Government has an important role here. In Jamaica field and athletes seems to be their national sport, with competitions held at every level.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Administrators have forgotten how past African glories were achieved. It isn't surprising training facilities like Nigeria's Afuze, Edo State & National Stadium in Lagos are decrepit. Unfortunately, Africa is not in a position to learn from the London Olympics fiasco. Serious countries - next Olympics - are already preparing, but Africa has other problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Nearly $20 million in direct funding for each Gold Medal.
    Many of the medals from sports which are very expensive to train for years before getting to the level of international athlete. No surprise many British Medal winners went to expensive private schools with fees like $50,000 a year just to be there.

    How many medals would you like your country to buy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Africans need to begin co-operating with each other, economies of scale will mean that they will spend less, each part of the continent having their athletes train in other's infrastructure and under other's supervision, and success can be achieved without spending the mind-boggling figures you were talked about.

    What worries me the most is that the authorities paid for this seem not to care

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Because there is no interest in any other sport, other than kicking a football around.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    As for Ghana, we didn't do any planning. The state promised lucrative rewards for medals when everybody including elementary school pupils knew Ghana will not win any medal.

    Without conscious investments, planning, treating sports like a business and a way of providing employment, we should expect this abysmal performance to continue.

    Also we treat football as if it is the only sport please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    What i found surprising was also the number of East Africans representing non-African countries. Why is everybody seemingly silent on this subject. If nothing is done, long distant running might not bring any medal in the future to Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda and we will end up asking this same question of East Africa in future Olympics.

    My race though was Dibaba's victory. Tactical greatness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    GB won more gold medals than the combined Commonwealth. Two days after the Games ended Liz Nicholl, CEO, UK Sport, on BBC's Newsnight said that her organisation had spent a total of £310m on elite athletes for the Games, across 47 sports, And, going forward, intended to spend £100m a year supporting elite athletes! Mind-boggling figures for any African country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    How many West Africns sing their nationl anthem with pride is the question?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The Africa as a whole as not done well in the London 2012 Olympics. Apart from South Africa which has already the facilities and the infrastructure available. In areas which are mountainous and long distance running is regarded as a national sport, they failed be bring in their expected target. It all due to a combination of corruption, mismanagement and ill planning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    The rest of the world have caught up in the events West African athletes are good at - sprinting, boxing etc. East Africans will continue to win medals due to their natural build and the high altitude that favours long distance runners. How long before this too is challenged by the rest of the world?

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    Comment number 2.

    A big wallet helps, and that is not to demean the athletes, its a full time job at that level and needs a support crew and equipment and travel. I thought it was a wonderful event although I doubt the cost of hosting it makes sense

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    They were beaten by superior athletes - end of story. It happens.


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