Sunday, May 31 2020 is the moment of truth in Ghana with the countdown so much on to know what lies next after more than two months of no social gatherings beyond 25. The ban was put in place to curb the spread of the corona virus that has ravaged the planet’s economies (big and small, poor and rich). The sports industries in countries all over the world contribute majorly to these economies albeit not all countries blessed with talent to excel in multiple disciplines. An example of the latter is Ghana which is a country that has consistently failed to harness top talents to the utmost level and manage its subsequent benefits.
For a football first country, the poor state of structures within the sport paints a clear picture of the dire situation other disciplines are in. Basketball certainly falls in this category as the lack of support from the very top is clear and prevent the sport’s stakeholders from contributing majorly to the improvement of Ghana’s economy. So with President Nana Akuffo-Addo widely expected to lift the ban on social gatherings at the end of this month, a peep into the crystal ball to see how basketball fares seems like a good thing to do.
Here we go; the 2020 Accra Basketball League (ABL) season continues and several league games are scheduled to be honoured. Since a vaccine has yet to be found and made readily available at a cheap price, social distancing and observing other preventive measures would still be enforced for protection. So it wouldn’t be surprising to walk to the Lebanon House Court in Tudu to find team benches split into two rows with seats spaced out and have spectators and league officials wear nose masks. It wouldn’t be out of place to find referees spray game balls during half times with “rubbing alcohol” and leave them out to dry to prevent transfer of droplets.
The return of competitive basketball is exciting but fans shouldn’t expect quality play right out of the gate since players haven’t had the opportunity to play competitively. You improve when you play against tougher competition and practicing at home with a few buddies or downright exclusively doesn’t cut it. Game speed is way different from practice or scrimmage speed. The length of the league’s suspension coupled with the reality of fielding people who don’t make a direct living from playing the sport is indeed a scary combination to raise any hope of witnessing compelling quality games right after the ban.
Another scenario likely to play out is an increase of games for teams of various leagues in the country. A handful of leagues including the Tema Community League and GSP League in Sunyani are likely to have shortened campaigns due to factors beyond their control. The GSP League has a strong contingent of players who double as students in Tertiary institutions with varied zip codes in Ghana.
The education calendar has been wrecked by the pandemic and students are likely to return to campuses in September. The league had just gone past the midway point in the season and would be under immense pressure to complete the 2019-2020 season while prepping for the upcoming campaign plus have those institutions compete in the UPAC. Expect teams to play on Saturday and Sunday unlike before where teams played once during the weekends.
For the Tema League, an increase in participating teams was a major reason that led to a longer than expected 2019 season that wrapped up on February 24, 2020. To make the campaign shorter and maintain interest particularly the regular season, ideas were floated around to add Saturday to the league’s Game day which was exclusively on Sunday. Teams would have stretches of breaks as the league wore on but that is likely not to happen in 2020 with teams expected to feature almost every week.
Ghana’s Presidential and Parliamentary elections in December will definitely shape the rest of the regular season fixture list and postseason schedule in the Accra League. The League has a strong presence of security service institutions that are integral to the election process.
In a country that has players especially male with team commitments in various competitions, the jumbled and compressed calendar poses a serious to fulfillment of these commitments by players. Before corona, a player in the ABL plays on Friday, trains on Saturday for the Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges (UPAC) Championship and plays in the Tema League during March. However, that player can’t repeat the routine this year as both leagues are likely to play games concurrently.
Players in tertiary institutions competing in the UPAC are sure to miss such games due to fatigue or training session clashes. The UPAC should have ended in April but the ban forced the competition to stop in mid March meaning the tournament will end in the midst of a flurry of games from other competitions. So don’t be surprised to see your favourite player miss a game or two along the way this season. Times have changed and basketball in Ghana will too before normalcy prevails in the long term.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter