The relationship between sports and war has always been strong. The Olympics, the greatest sporting fiesta on the planet, itself began in celebration of the most fearsome feat of endurance ever to follow a battle.
The Second Ecowas Games kicked off in Accra, Ghana, last Saturday, with organisers hoping that the games would not just prepare athletes for the London Olympics, but also do what sundry summits have failed to do: turn our youth against war.
Since the games began, speaker after speaker, have continued to emphasise the theme of the competition, “Promoting Peace and Unity among ECOWAS youth through Sports.”
The horrid civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Uganda, the lingering crisis in Cote d’Ivoire, Mali and other places gave the ECOWAS YOUTH AND SPORTS DEVELOPMENT CENTRE hope that if the minds of youths were engaged in healthy competition, competition without bloodshed, we might see less of the notorious child soldiers.
It is perhaps ironic that the ECOWAS games came to Ghana at a period when preparations for that country’s elections in December seemed to have set politicians on edge. Political parties, politicians, and tribal leaders have been sabre-rattling, making inflammatory statements that continue to heat up the polity. At least one senior politician now face charges of “Treason, Treason felony, Attempt to cause genocide and Terrorism.”
Kennedy Agyapong, a member of Ghana’s national parliament and a heavyweight in the opposition New Patriotic Front had told a radio programme that the Asante and Akan people will declare war on the Gas and Ewes if the latter try to sabotage the elections.
“Yes I declare war in this country today,” Agyapong said. “We will club any intruder who intends to forment trouble with a matchet and butcher them.”
Predictably, there have been furious reactions, and not a few allusion to the infamous Rwanda genocide by the Hutus. F. Y. Kpegah, a retired justice of the Supreme Court, warned that, “the Ewes are not cowards and would retaliate if attacked by any ethnic group in the country.”
Although the original programme aired two months ago, when the Vice President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, came to declare the games open, it was obvious that the government was still trying to douse the flames. Mr Mahama apologised for being late to the opening ceremony, citing the fact that he had to attend reconciliation meetings to end the troubles caused by the “unfortunate statements made by various politicians across the divide.”
He noted that sport is a great builder of unity and called on participants to use the opportunity to know one another and make friends. He especially enjoined them to channel the energy and exuberance of youth into sporting activities rather than wars.
He urged organisers to take the games to countries like Liberia and Sierra-Leone, so that our youth could see the horrendous consequences of civil war and be discouraged from ever taking part in such atrocities.
It was clear that the organisers were determined to make the Second ECOWAS games as successful as possible. At a breakfast meeting with journalists earlier, the Ghanaian sport minister assured everyone present that his nation has made all the preparations necessary to guarantee a successful hosting.
Eleven countries are participating in the event which covers athletics, handball, traditional wrestling, amateur boxing, and volleyball. Six subcommittees have worked two years since the first edition held in Nigeria to ensure that venues, accommodation, transportation, accreditation and security were ready for the games. Two centres were slated for the games: the Accra Sports stadium and the El Wak sports stadium.
But a boisterous noise tried to drown out the celebrations in El Wak where the opening ceremony took place. The supporters’ clubs and the ‘Azonto’ choreography performed with such exuberance that the VP took to the floor. And his efforts were rewarded minutes later when Ghana’s duo of Sampson Azumah and Atta-Gyamfi Bright won the Gold and Silver medals for the 1500m. Barnabas David of Nigeria took the Bronze in 4mins 3sec.
Nigeria had hosted and dominated the first Ecowas games two years ago and in the opening race for this year’s games, the 800m for women, seemed to promise more of the same when Nigeria’s Shimbmengey Agber dusted Agnes Abu and Rita Lounab. But the result of the 1500m decided on the opening day suggested that this might be Ghana’s year. Since then Nigeria and Ghana have been in a tight battle for Gold in other events.
Ghana’s Sports Minister Clement Kofi Humado said he hoped the games will also provide athletes with a platform for qualifying for the Olympics, but there has been a decidedly poor timing in the games so far. A sportsman himself, he tends to view things philosophically. If the games produce new records, all good, otherwise let them just get to know each other more so that youth in the region can become so well acquainted that it would be hard to convince them to take up arms against one another.
The ECOWAS Commissioner for Human Development and Gender Dr Adrienne Diop noted in her opening speech that the games are part of “a dynamic process that seeks to involve our young people in the building of the Economic Community of West African States and make them share the common ideals of integration.”
Dr Diop who was quite impressed with the organisation of the Games, said it was in line with ECOWAS Vision 2020 which requires, “the provision of an important opportunity for interaction among ECOWAS youths.”
The Games are therefore part of these overall efforts, and to enable member states develop future sports elites while strengthening their economic base in relation to sports.
With 1740 competing sportsmen and women gunning for 431 medals and 23 trophies, there is no doubt that Accra, with its legendary hospitality, provides the kind of ambience the ECOWAS Games needed to thrive.
So far the athletes have shown commendable discipline, and the camaraderie between them is infectious. The youth have taken to the fields and tracks with gusto and losers and winners have been seen to accept the results with a spirit of sportsmanship that is a credit to the ideals that underlie the theme of the game: “promoting peace and unity among ECOWAS youth through Sports.”