ACCRA, Ghana — A country is officially soccer crazed when its gold mines reduce production during World Cup matches to preserve electricity so that people can watch their team on television without interruption.
That happened in 2006, when Ghana competed in its first World Cup, boosting national pride with victories over the Czech Republic and the United States.
Now Ghana’s new president says it’s time for soccer to share the spotlight. President John Atta Mills is pledging to spark interest in more sports, including track and field, basketball and field hockey, in hopes of making Ghana — already one of Africa's most promising democracies — a well-rounded sports nation.
At Ghana’s official field hockey pitch in downtown Accra, national team captain Ebenezer Frimpong said school children deserve more opportunities.
“There are so many young ones who want to play other sports but due to publicity they have all shifted to football,” Frimpong said. “They need to promote the other sports better.”
The plan involves overhauling sports programming in schools, while also promoting sports such as track and field at the collegiate level.
“Our goal is to move away from the over-concentration on soccer and to some extent boxing,” Mills said in his recent state of the nation address.
Paying for the initiative will require creativity, especially as Ghana and other developing states feel the effects of the global financial crisis. The Mills administration will set aside funds in its new budget, but officials also want to raise revenue by selling advertisements at the four new stadiums built for the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament held last summer.
Henry Fynn, coach of the men’s national field hockey team and spokesman for the Greater Accra Hockey Association, said corporate sponsors are vital for lesser-known sports.
“Everybody wants to play football because it’s cheaper,” Fynn said. “When you have one ball, 30 people can play. But in hockey, you need to have the equipment before you can play.”
A field hockey stick costs about $75, and that’s in addition to specialized padding for shins, elbows and chest, as well as a helmet. Without help, it’s impossible for people living in poverty to afford such luxuries.
Ghana is hosting the African Hockey Cup of Nations this summer and the government has pledged to support the tournament. Construction crews are busy building new stands at the national hockey pitch, and the turf is to be replaced this spring.