As the country celebrates Ghana’s 4x100m relay team’s qualification to the Tokyo Olympic Games, and credit duly awarded the athletes for their gallant performance, the Ghana Athletics Association, has remained largely anonymous in the conversation.
And while the officials that run this federation might be okay with flying under the radar and allowing the athletes to rightly take the shine, the extraordinary circumstances of this special relays, and I call it “special” because the coronavirus pandemic has complicated everything beyond measure.
The USA, Canada, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, some of the world’s biggest athletics nations, deemed traveling to Poland too complex and pulled out.
But amidst the chaos, with time running out and odds stacked up against them, the GAA pulled off the participation of both the men’s and women’s relay teams.
Former national athlete and Ghana’s record holder in the triple jump, Andrew Owusu, is the GAA’s foreign-based athletes’ coordinator and he took to facebook to narrate the challenges the GAA had to go through to get the team to Poland, which, has now earned the country a ticket to Tokyo.
Read Andrew Owusu’s post below:
Ring ring, ring ring…… “did we make, did we make it?” I asked as I answered the phone. *Yes, we did, yes, we did! The men’s 4X100m relay team qualified for BOTH the Tokyo Olympic Games and the 2022 World Championships!!!* Half a world away, I took a seat under a lamp post at a track meet to let it sink in. Despite working so hard with colleagues in the last three weeks to help get Ghana’s national 4X100m teams to the 2021 World Relays in Poland, I was too nervous to watch the meet and relying on a trusted friend to fill me in. This narrative is but a sliver of our crazy and unbelievable roller coaster ride but, more importantly, to thank the many individuals and entities who made this triumph possible.
Around 12pm CST on April 12, 2021, the first of seven invitation letters to Ghanaian athletes registered for the 2021 World Relays arrived in my email inbox from World Athletics (WA), via the Ghana Athletics Association (GAA). My task?…….as foreign-athletes’ coordinator on the GAA Executive Committee, the expectation was that I would facilitate or help the seven US-based athletes (3 male and 4 female) secure Schengen visas from the Polish Embassy; we had 16 days to do so. I went on my knees for about 30 seconds and asked the Lord for a miracle. Why? How would we manage to get seven different visa appointments for IN-PERSON interviews at the various Polish consulates in Washington DC, Houston, and Los Angeles, especially when none of these seven athletes lived in any of those cities? The average distance between their cities of residence and the consulates was a staggering 570 miles! However, three were within an hour’s drive from the DC consulate.
According to the Polish Embassy’s visa application portal, there were no available dates for interviews. Crap! How would we be able to pull this off with no funding yet from the government of Ghana? To add more drama, the lynchpin of the men’s 4X100m relay team needed to first renew his US visa in Ghana before applying for a visa to Poland. How the heck were we going to facilitate that since the earliest possible appointment to renew his US F-1 visa in Ghana was October 2021? One member of the women’s relay team was required to renew her Ghana passport before applying for a visa to Poland. Despite various entities helping to expedite her passport renewal, she eventually dropped out, citing visa acquisition costs, a need not to miss training and, focusing on individual event qualification. We found this to be strange as her coach had collaborated with us all along; that notwithstanding, the decision to compete or not is always the athletes’, but this was a tough pill to swallow as all the other athletes had to also make the same, if not greater, sacrifices.
During the first two days, over 30 phone calls were made to the mainline for the Polish Consulate in Washington DC! We either got a busy signal or no response when the phone rang. Benjamin Azamati got through eventually to the Houston consulate’s main line but was referred to the very website that said “no available dates for appointment”.
What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. What was obscured from most lay observers was the systemic obstacles related to the pandemic. COVID-19 had complicated the perennially difficult problem of securing 3rd country visas for Ghanaians who do not live in Ghana. For our athletes and officials in Ghana, the closest Polish embassy to Ghana was in Senegal, but any follower of the news knows of the difficult political situation in Senegal, not to mention how if you left Ghana to go for a visa in Senegal, one may have had to quarantine in Senegal because of the pandemic before you could even head to the Polish embassy there. The long and short of it was that our entire Ghana-based contingent (including athletes) was unable to go to Poland because of the inability to get the Polish visa. Keep in mind that the Nigerians, Senegalese, Ivorians, and all the other relay teams we defeated at the 2019 African Games were not able to show up: COVID-19 really complicated access to visas.
And so, I want to seize the opportunity to express my profound gratitude to the following individuals and entities for the critical support they gave us in the visa acquisition process for our athletes in the US: the Polish Consulates in Washington DC, Houston TX and Los Angeles CA; the US Embassy in Ghana; Madam Nancy Keteku; other individuals who prefer to go unnamed; GAA’s Executive Board; World Athletics; the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) for the World Relays; and Ms. Erin Hayes, Prof. Christian Nsiah, Coach Fletcher, and Coach Hicks. Massive, massive thanks to you all! Ghana and Ghana Athletics appreciate you all so much!
Finally, I extend our heartfelt thanks to the eight US-based athletes and one UK-based athlete (and their loved ones) who forsook the comfort of staying at home and jumped to accept the call of duty from Ghana. They tolerated the financial and other stresses this process exacted on them, without complaining. They soldiered through, to have the opportunity to go make Ghana proud. Yes, the nine athletes and two coaches made us all so proud. We salute their patriotism. I am humbled by the experience and so proud of these athletes who refused to give in to the naysayers, frustrations, distractions and, lack of resources!
Congratulations nce again for qualifying Ghana for the Tokyo Olympic Games and the 2022 World Championships in Eugene Oregon!!!