Comb through the long list of award winners of the 41st Sports Writers Association of Ghana (SWAG) Awards and you will be surprised not to find any recognition to basketball. The game has undergone a massive revolution over the years from one which was skewed to a minute portion of Ghana’s population to one that is widely regarded as the second most popular sport in the country.
Call it coincidence if you want but Sports Minister Nii Lantei Vanderpuye’s first assignment as the new Minister happened to be the official launch of the Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges (UPAC) Basketball Championship. At the event he stated his presence is a strong indication “attention would be given to all sports”. Unfortunately Honourable Vanderpuye, the umbrella group isn’t paying heed to your call.
Behind celebrated veteran Journalist Kwabena Yeboah, the 41st Awards Night was primed to be different since “The Writer” as his moniker goes, has brought positive changes to the institution. Unfortunately, nothing changed on the night.
For starters, how is it possible a prestigious award that ought to encompass all sport writers input and sport all disciplines respectively, ends up side stepping these. For instance, looking through the infamous list, one can only get exasperated when a category is created to award table tennis players who excelled in the year under review but none for basketball.
Recognition by SWAG is long overdue considering how the sport has grown over the years. Looking at nominees for Most Promising Star for 2015, there were no basketball players named as usual. Eventually and unsurprisingly, the award went to a footballer which turned out to be former Asokwa Deportivo striker Joel Fameyeh. How an athlete who plies his trade in one of the poorest European countries-Belarus- measure up to a guy who is on the verge of making it into the NBA, beats my mind.
In Ben Bentil, Ghana is on the verge of having its first ever player in the world’s best basketball league-the NBA. The nation does have a son of the land in the NBA in Nazr Mohammed who has played in the league for 17 years and currently with Oklahoma City Thunder. However, Bentil’s case is unique since he was born and raised in Sekondi before leaving for the US aged 15. Cutting a long but beautiful story short, Bentil moved from just another player on Providence University’s team to being named the Most Improved Player and top scorer in the Big East Conference respectively.
Now before you unconsciously drop your lower lip and the envisaged “AHHH” sound pops out of it, you should know the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division I is a highly competitive competition which has hundreds of Universities or Colleges with several players from different continents. To beat the odds on that level and be ranked as one of just 60 prospects who will be selected into the NBA on June 23, isn’t something to scuff at. For the record, Bentil is projected to be picked by the NBA’s two most accomplished sides in Los Angeles Lakers or Boston Celtics per nbadraft.net and Bleacher Report.com; now that’s a promising talent.
SWAG needs to see basketball as it is; a sport that has come to stay.
In 2011, Male and Female Winners of Sprite Ball Basketball Championship Mfantsipim and Sacred Heart were awarded for the exceptional showing in the competition. Plus, the category has been part of the awards for a very long time and one recipient, Salifatu Musa, nicknamed “Basket Queen” for her impeccable hoops touch, was adjudged Female Basketball Player of the Year at the 1978 SWAG Awards.
On the Tamale leg of the UPAC preliminary stage, the Basket Queen was at hand to advise young players and inevitably dropped the following words “Basketball in Ghana now is off the road and I don’t blame the players, I blame the central government”. She blamed the Central government then but seeing what happened on the 37th anniversary of the June 4 Revolution night, there is a high possibility she switches her attention to the Kwabena Yeboah-led entity.
Many events undergo transformations as the years roll by as such, the Olympic Games includes and take out disciplines on the back off several reasons mainly economic ones. SWAG over the years has failed to honor basketball to an extent; which is understandable knowing how hard financing sports related activities in the country can be tedious.
However, that does not exonerate the body from excluding the one sport which is on the rise in a time where just about every other discipline is in decline. Just as the Olympic Board added Golf to the Rio Games for the first time since 1904, SWAG should do same with basketball in the future.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah