31st May is a big big deal to Ghana as the nation’s steps towards tackling the COVID 19 pandemic could veer off the road or could end up in the opposite. That is the day, a little over two month ban on social gatherings is likely to be lifted since a host of individuals from different sectors have called for it. The sports fraternity in the West African nation has been hit hard by the ban over this period of inactivity. Basketball has had its fair share of suffering since the sport is very popular among Ghana’s youth after football of course.
Despite its popularity and ancillary benefits, the sport receives little coverage by the country’s media and very little attention by folks in power who by the way are tasked to carry out this responsibility in the first place. Multiple competitions and leagues played at different locations in Ghana have been halted due to the ban but should the ban be lifted, the various campaigns could still be under scrutiny going forward due to the number of COVID 19 cases reported. At the time of writing, Ghana has over 7,000 cases of infections which ranks high on the list of affected nations on the continent.
Basketball powerhouse Angola recently cancelled the remainder of the 2019-2020 season over fears of the virus spreading further. The Central African nation had 60 cases of infection a few days ago but that number has gone up to 70 which falls in line with Angola’s Basketball Federation’s reasons to end the country’s biggest league competition. Unlike Ghana, basketball is king in Angola and it is common to find packed arenas for league fixtures involving continental giants like Petro de Luanda and InterClube de Luanda and is a major potential hot spot.
Back in Ghana, out of the bevy of leagues, the Accra Basketball League (ABL) is the most accomplished and has the longest run. The best in the country and outside Ghana-cue Ivorian international Romeo Enan- have played in the ABL at some point in their career. Judging from Basketballghana.com’s interview with reigning Most Valuable Player Award winner in the Men’s Division I, Suleman Abubakar, return to action couldn’t come any sooner. However, there are major risks attached to restarting the league even if it is played out in a shorter format than previous years.
Unlike the Western Basketball Association League that had a couple of rounds left to end the season before the Corona Virus struck, the ABL had just started the 2019-2020 season before the ban took effect. A handful of games across the Men’s and Women’s Divisions were played during that period which makes it easy for authorities to cancel the league. Since Accra has the most infections (over 5000), the best way to ensure all players, officials and fans are same is through testing. Until a vaccine is found, this is the best way to avoid the spread of the virus since individuals who test positive for the virus are isolated and treated.
On the other hand, this approach is expensive and several leagues in Africa won’t be able to afford it including Ghana. Unlike the NBA and other football leagues in a handful of European nations, testing is a financial challenge and playing without fans is workable but basketball is a contact sport that involves the use of hands which is a main point of passing on the virus. Fans and team members on the bench could practice social distancing at league venues, balls could be disinfected as many times as possible but could prove difficult to ensure safety. As such, testing is definitely needed to determine the status of players, coaches and game day officials.
Midway through its run, the GSP Basketball League in Sunyani could follow Angola to cancel the league and declare a winner-Young Boys Club. Another option is an earlier than usual postseason competition involving the four teams in the league considering the region is yet to report even cases of infections since news broke of the virus in Ghana. Should that happen, Young Boys, two time league champs Suncity Braves, Techiman Merchants and Catholic University College, Ghana (CUCG) Saints.
The Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges (UPAC) Championship’s completion is seemingly under threat without testing everyone involved in the competition. The immediate future is murky as the world scrambles around for a vaccine just as the prospects of returning to the sport and finding the best means to do so.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter