We note with regret the inaccuracies in a recent article by the Ghanaian Times’ John Vigah concerning the Ghana Athletics Association (GAA) and Martha Bissah. This rejoinder seeks to clarify issues misrepresented by Mr. Vigah and request for a retraction on specific false statements meant to discredit the integrity of the association.
Though not necessarily a point of contention, GAA would like to note that Martha Bissah’s success in 2014 was not out of the blue. She did not “explode from nowhere” as asserted by Mr. Vigah. Such characterisation, in our opinion, seeks to diminish contributing factors to her success.
Martha’s success in 2014 was due to hard work on her part and a well-orchestrated plan by GAA in consultation with her personal coach and other national team coaches.
Two weeks before her triumph at the 2014 Youth Olympics, Martha Bissah run 2:06.32 minutes at the 2014 African Championships. That time in the 800m was only 1.4 seconds off her winning time at the Youth Olympics in China, so is it really true that she came from nowhere?
Interestingly, she was heavily criticised for coming last in her heats at the African Championships and Commonwealth Games by the same individuals who now call themselves advocates for Martha.
If anybody had bothered to ask, rather than set off with their own narrative, they would have found out that Martha was already on GAA’s radar as far back as late February, 2014, when her time in the Kumasi Super Zonals 1500m race (not the 800m) caused the GAA president to contact her and her coach. Her impressive time in that 1500m race – a time of 4 minutes 37.0 seconds – was superior to her 800m time of 2 minutes 11.38 seconds that same weekend, and also superior to our leading distance runner of 2014, Lydia Ataa Afia Mato’s 4:37.8 time in the USA.
It is ironic that today, to be consistent with the false narrative, she is described as an 800m runner who was forced to run the 1500 meters. Was that also the case when she won the Superzonals 1500m race in February 2014?
Martha was on GAA’s radar that far back because her 1500m time was deemed good enough for monitoring. Indeed, her time in that race is what led to Prof. Dodoo agitating that she be added late to the Botswana Africa Youth Games squad, even though Ghana had already submitted its entries and the official deadline had passed. Dodoo’s continued insistence paid off and Martha was permitted as a late entry for Botswana, where she subsequently qualified for the Youth Olympics.
By the time the Commonwealth Games squad was being named, Martha had not qualified for the Games by either the A or B standard (which were 2:00.4 and 2:05.6, respectively), but GAA exercised the small prerogative it had to select relay team reserves by naming Martha as a reserve for the 4x400m relay. That was the path she used to get to Glasgow and to the African Championships in Morocco. Clearly the GAA had noted her developmental potential, and determined that those two competitions would be good primers for the Youth Olympics. Martha was absolutely a beneficiary of GAA’s developmental policy and no amount of revisionism can change that fact.
Indeed, her only supporters beyond her coach and immediate circle at that time were the GAA who saw her potential and nurtured it. It was not a surprise, therefore, that when she captured the Olympic Gold, she had this to say:
“I am very happy I beat the Ethiopian in particular because she had beaten me at the African games to win the Gold medal so initially when I saw her by my side I panicked a little but I told myself that I will not allow her to beat me again this time because I didn’t want to be third again. “As I was going to the competition, Prof. Francis Dodoo told me that I shouldn’t go to the inner lane and that I should stay outside of the leaders from the beginning so I don’t get boxed in lane one, as I was in the Commonwealth Games and African Championships. I followed that instruction. In fact, that thing helped me very well.
Ironically, too, even after she won the Youth Olympic gold medal, the critics who had chastised GAA for including her on the Commonwealth and African Championship teams, continued to trivialise even the gold medal, claiming that earlier generations of Ghanaian youth and junior teams had also always won medals. They obviously failed to accept how unique and distinctive the Youth Olympic gold was. Today, they have made a 360 degree about-face and lead her on to criticise the GAA. It is that line of reasoning that Mr. Vigah’s article serves to support.
Their original criticism was so intense, and it did not help in that she was last in both her heats at the Commonwealth Games and African Championships. What some failed to recognise was that this was precisely the seasoning that she needed, and that made her better prepared than her age-mates she met in Nanjing, including the Kenyan and Ethiopian who had beaten her in Botswana; none of those other 17-year olds had been given the developmental or seasoning opportunity that GAA gave to Martha.
Specific GAA critics trivialised even her gold medal victory until they realised that she could be a useful pawn to fight the GAA with. Instead of letting her submit to disciplinary codes and develop within the GAA’s system, they made her swell her anticipation so much so that, two years later, she hasn’t run as fast as she did in 2014. But of course they could also blame the GAA for that, so they did.
One of the persons who criticised the performance of our young athletes was former GAA Chairman Mr. George Lutterodt, who refused to take all this context into account and described the performances of our young athletes as abysmal. Today, he has taken it upon himself to send her off to the USA, perhaps to spite GAA. Unfortunately, inexperience about how things work in the US collegiate system has led to Martha being declared ineligible for a scholarship (and to compete) and could lead to her becoming illegal in the United States. We pray this does not happen because it would be a final dousing of one of Ghana’s very promising flames.
Martha and her family have made certain decisions concerning her future that GAA must respect, even as we disagree with them because of the negative effects we think they will have on her physical and psychological development. It has reached the point now, though, that a national federation cannot idly sit by for its reputation to be maliciously shredded on falsehoods.
In September 2014 the President of Ghana donated GHC 10,000 to Martha. At that point, Prof. Dodoo gave Martha Bissah and her family the same advice GAA has given to many other athletes: he told the family to save money for an airline ticket, pocket money, and visa fees so that, should Martha get the anticipated scholarship to the US college, she would have the means to make the trip.
The continuation of this rejoinder will be published in the Ghanaian Times tomorrow.