The Sports Writers’ Association of Ghana (SWAG) has noted with profound sadness the passing of former President Jerry John Rawlings on Thursday, November 12, after a short illness.
On behalf of the Council of Patrons, Executive Council and the entire membership of SWAG, the Association extends its deepest condolences to the bereaved family, the government, the people of Ghana and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) of which the former President was the Founder.
As Ghana’s longest serving Head of State, the SWAG and its members had many fruitful and memorable engagements with the former President at many state and public functions while he was in power.
As a man who loved sports, particularly boxing, President Rawlings ensured that the state created the enabling environment for sports, and for that matter sports journalism, to thrive and grow.
Even during the challenging years of the Rawlings-led PNDC regime where freedom of expression was not as entrenched as it is today, sports journalism had a field day during the so-called “culture of silence”, as sports newspapers were published without any hindrance.
To say that Ghana sports reached enviable heights during the 19-year reign of former President Rawlings is no exaggeration. In fact, a lot of landmark successes attained by Ghanaian sports stars and teams were achieved not just during his reign, but also because he took personal interest in the careers of these sports personalities and teams and ensured that the state provided the needed resources and support for them.
During the heady days of the PNDC regime, former President Rawlings ensured that sports became a rallying point for national cohesion and pride. Where necessary, he spared no personal or state support for our sports stars and teams to achieve continental or global success.
The success of Ghana’s Black Stars at the 1982 Africa Cup of Nations cannot be chronicled without pride of place for Rawlings, who months after leading the AFRC to power, overturned a decision by the deposed PNP administration headed by the late Dr. Hilla Limann and decided that the Black Stars be made to participate in the tournament. And it turned out to be the last African Cup won by the Black Stars to date.
While in power, the late President put the presidential plane and other resources at the disposal of Asante Kotoko which ensured the club won the 1983 Africa Clubs Championship for the second and last time.
Former President Rawlings donated the Baba Yara Cup to be competed for at the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa (SCSA) Zone III tourney in Accra in 1986 which the Black Stars won and later defended successfully in Liberia.
As a huge fan of boxing, it came as little surprise that the former President took particular interest in the career of boxing icon Azumah Nelson whose bid for the world title he made a national project and provided all the necessary resources to enable Azumah win the WBC featherweight title in 1984 and reigned for over a decade as a three-time world champion.
Similar personal interest in the careers of boxers Nana Yaw Konadu whom the former President provided accommodation at the Peduase Lodge, a vehicle and other support saw Konadu becoming a two-time world champion to open the doors for the likes of Ike Quartey and the late Alfred Kotey to follow suit.
The SWAG recalls how the Black Starlets brought pride to Ghanaians as world under-17 champions in 1991 and then opened the doors for another global dominance in 1995, with the Black Meteors winning bronze at the 1992 Olympics Games in Barcelona, becoming the first African side to win an Olympic football medal.
Towards the end of his long reign, Ghana hosted and won the African under-20 championship in 1999 and the following year co-hosted the 2000 AFCON.
Under his leadership, the Black Queens qualified and played at the 1999 Women’s World Cup, with the Golden Rackets qualifying to the WTA Euro-Africa Zone whilst the Mobil Athletics was high on the national sports calendar.
Perhaps he could not have been given a more fitting farewell than for Accra Hearts of Oak to win the 2000 African Champions League title in Accra less than three weeks before President Rawlings handed over after exhausting two terms in office.
This is a man who not only served his country selflessly and birthed our fourth Republican Constitution but also ensured Ghana had a pride of place in sports.
The SWAG believes Rawlings’ death is a huge loss to Ghana as he was not just an embodiment of patriotism and loyalty but also an inspiration to many sports stars.
Rawlings has paid his dues for Ghana and SWAG prays that the Lord grants his soul eternal rest.