Fifty-five African countries, including Ghana, are expected to converge in Accra August next year for the 13th African Games – which the nation is hosting for the first time since 1965 when Congo Brazzaville opened up to the entire continent.
There have been weighty concerns as to Ghana’s state of preparedness to stage the quadrennial continental multi-sport festival. Can Ghana meet the timelines set by the African Union Commission? How are our athletes being prepared for the Games? Executive Chairman (EC) of the Accra 2023 Games Local Organising Committee (LOC), Dr Kweku Ofosu-Asare, provides answers to a myriad of issues in this exclusive interview with Times Sports (TS) John Vigah. Below are excerpts…
TS: Ghanaians appear worried about the nation’s readiness to host the African Games next year. How prepared are we?
EC: First, I’m highly optimistic Ghana will stage one of the finest Games ever. Indeed, going by the timelines given to us by the African Union Commission, we at the LOC are working our fingers to the bone to make sure we meet those schedules and be able to host the Games.
As we speak, we are looking at it from the hard and soft aspects. In this sense, hard can be defined as the infrastructure base; how to get the needed facilities for the Games. As you may be aware, we have dashed in for the hybrid model, leveraging on existing facilities at the University of Ghana, Legon, and building new ones at Borteyman.
We are working in tandem with the African Union Commission – owners of the Games. They have their sporting department as the African Union Sports Council (AUSC), based in Yaoundé, Cameroon, who has put in place a Technical Committee for the African Games (TCAG) – and we are working extremely hard with them.
On our part at the LOC, we would also have to work with all stakeholders to ensure that we meet the deadlines and organise one of the charmingly fine Games ever. Strictly, it is much of the responsibility of government to provide funding to ensure we have the needed facilities.
Admittedly, so far, government has been very supportive as regards providing funds to ensure we complete projects on hand ahead of schedule. At present, we have three contractors (Consar Limited, Mawums Limited and Contracta Construction Ghana Limited) working on site who are also determined to make their mark. Indeed, His Excellency the President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has done tremendously well and has demonstrated his unalloyed commitment to guarantee we host one of the best Games ever.
TS: So, are you assuring Ghanaians that the nation will be ready for the Games, come August next year?
EC: It’s a Himalayan task, no shred of doubt about it. The Covid pandemic has really been a bad ally as it slowed down pace of work drastically. However, I’m very positive we’re going to make it. Ideally, we should have the facilities ready six months ahead of schedule to enable us do some test-run. It is the reason we are entreating the contractors to put their best foot forward and make it happen. I believe, if nothing at all, we should have all facilities ready at least three months ahead of the Games.
TS: What venues have you earmarked for the respective disciplines?
EC: So, even though the Borteyman Olympic-size stadium complex has been halted due to time constraints, construction of facilities for some of the events are still ongoing. The venue will serve as the aquatic centre, 1,000-seater multi-purpose hall for basketball, table tennis and wrestling; five tennis courts complexes, including 1,000 seater centre court with a 20-capacity VVIP viewing seats. There is also a 500-seater temporary dome for handball, judo, karate, taekwondo, wrestling and 1,000-seater multi-purpose hall of badminton, boxing, volleyball, weightlifting and para-sports.
We shall also have the University of Ghana Stadium at Legon, which at the moment is undergoing renovation with the fixing of mondo and titan tracks, host athletics – as well as football and rugby – with the Achimota Oval making do with cricket and squash. The Theodosia Okoh Hockey Stadium pitch too will handle the field hockey games.
TS: The Games were expected to be held across three cities, and then suddenly, it was reduced to a one-city host. What went into that decision?
EC: Yes, the cities of Kumasi, Cape Coast and Accra were billed to host the Games. Indeed, last year, the LOC and the technical team from the AUSC and Federation Heads toured all the aforementioned cities to inspect facilities. We also met the Vice-Chancellor of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and had a meeting with him. Everything seemed to be going well, but upon a second thought, the AUSC directed that the Games should be held in Accra – suggesting a similar model at the Tokyo Games. In fact, we had gone ahead to interview people to serve as representatives at the various cities until the AUSC directed otherwise.
TS: Where is the Games Village going to be located?
EC: The University of Ghana will serve as the main Games Village hosting more than 4,000 of the expected number of athletes. We shall be using the hostels at the university as well as the Vikings and Diasporan Halls among others. We have had a tour of the facilities there and they are of the required international standard. Once they are refurbished, we would be ready to go. The only challenge now is the calendar of the students. The strike by lecturers may have delayed the project a bit, but very soon, contractors would be at work as we are working hand-in-hand with the university authorities.
TS: What challenges have the LOC really faced in its preparation to hosting the Games?
EC: Initially, funding was a real challenge for which reason preparations tarried a bit; however, that’s no more a major headache. What really militated strongly against our progress was time. Time is of essence. Of course, we also had COVID-19 doing a lot of damage to our plans as it slowed us down considerably. So, let me re-emphasise that time is still our number enemy; but we are going to battle it out fiercely to ensure we make it.
TS: The President has tasked the LOC – not only to stage a memorable Accra 2023 event, but also put up a credible performance at the Games. Are the athletes being prepared adequately to deliver the medals?
EC: Great. We are aware of the enormity of task ahead of us and have not taken our eyes off the ball a bit. Not long after we were inaugurated, we held a marathon meeting with all federation heads and asked them to come out with a blue-print to build a formidable Team Ghana. More importantly, we are going to use local competitions to select athletes. The various federations have lined up a number of local trials – and we are also looking at organising National Games in September, this year, to put the athletes in fine fettle. We are monitoring the performances of all our foreign athletes and would give them the needed support in areas they fall short.
We are also looking for funds to send our athletes outside the country for further training. Indeed, we are looking to exploit an opportunity to fly our boxing team to Cuba to sharpen their rough edges – and get them ready for the Games. Cuban boxers are the most successful in the history of amateur boxing.
As a matter of fact, we intend to focus on disciplines that we have competitive advantage in. Weightlifting, athletics and boxing, among others, come in handy. Our strong drive and determination to haul home decent number of medals would also see us bring down technical people outside of the country to train our athletes. Locally, we have our own expert in sports medicine – Dr Emmanuel Owusu-Ansah and the legendary former world boxing champion Azumah Nelson to mention but a few, to help build the physique and shape the character of the athletes.
TS: You have a huge task ahead
EC: Yes, we do and we can only appeal to you the media and to Ghanaians in general to throw your weight behind this momentous event which Ghana is hosting for the first time in its history. The Games is for all of us and we all owe it a duty and responsibility to make it grand and memorable.
BY JOHN VIGAH