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January 26, 2005

Deaflympics Scandal

From: GhanaWeb - Accra,Ghana - Jan 26, 2005

...Ghana Deaf Team Stranded in Australia The true story

On 15th January, Ghanaweb reported the stranding of the Ghana National Deaf Soccer Team Black Wonders in Melbourne Australia. The Black Wonders participated in the international Deaflympics hosted by Australia.

The Group became stranded because of its inability to pay for its hotel bills, which amounted to nearly $A27, 000. Investigations have established that the groups plight was not the result of any direct negligence on the part of the Government of Ghana. This unfortunate situation arose through failure of leadership at Ghanas Disabled Sports Association (GDSA).

Rather than seeking funding support for the Groups participation in the Deaflympics from the Government, including sponsorships from reputable companies, the GDSA, apparently motivated by greed, sought sponsorship for the event from a visa racketeer. Under the arrangement with the GDSA, the visa racketeer(s) expected to obtain up to 160 visas from the Australian authorities, including the Black Wonders and their officials, which numbered 24. The proceeds from the sale of up to 136 visas was expected to generate substantial income, which would have enabled the racketeer(s) to fully fund the groups participation in the Deaflympics including paying for hotel costs, airfares and per diem.

The arrangement with the racketeer(s) fell apart when the Australian Government approved only 24 visas. The Clarion Suites Gateway Hotel, where the Black Wonders stayed, has confirmed that the initial reservation was for 160 rooms. However, this was reduced to 24 a few days prior to the start of the Deaflympics. The reason given to the Hotel for cancelling the booking for the other rooms was visa problems.

The application for 160 visas was not successful because the Australian authorities are now aware of the racket, having previously become a victim to the racketeers during the last visit to Australia by Azuma Nelson for an international boxing tournament. Under the pretence that several of the large Ghanaian contingent who came with Azuma Nelson were supporters, the racketeers successfully obtained and sold several visas to Ghanaians looking for an opportunity to travel and live abroad. After the boxing tournament, several of them absconded, which created a major diplomatic incident.

The saga with the Black Wonders was very unfortunate, because it created a very stressful situation for the players and their officials, many of whom were first time travellers overseas. The groups plight was ameliorated considerably by the Hotels Manager, who under extreme pressure from his management to expel the contingent, resisted and showed unparallel compassion towards the Black Wonders and their officials.

The timely intervention and absolute co-operation from Mr Joe Aggrey, Ghanas Deputy Minister for Sports, contributed to the successful resolution of the matter. Mr. Aggreys leadership in this matter was exemplary. His sympathetic approach to the plight of the Black Wonders lead to the speedy transfer of funds from Ghanna to settle the hotel bills. In addition, he has ensured that all entitlements due to individual members of the contingent have been fully paid.

The role played by the Bank of Ghana in this saga leaves a lot to be desired. In the age of electronic banking, it is unbelievable that the institution with prudential oversight responsibilities for the banking industry in Ghana could not transfer $A27, 000 from Ghana to Australia electronically. According to the Ghana Sports Council authorities, the Bank of Ghana insisted that it would take up to one week to transfer the funds to the contingent in Australia. If this is true, it is a very serious indictment on the country, in particular its ability to attract international investors. How can Ghana benefit from overseas investment when the national bank cannot even undertake simple electronic funds transfer, which is now almost routine everywhere in the world? In contrast, a private sector bank, Prudential Bank Limited, was able to transfer the funds without problems, and the Hotel was able to confirm that the funds had indeed been transferred into its account, all under 24 hours.

The Government of Ghana should seek an explanation from the Governor of the Bank of Ghana for this failure in leadership, which has damaged the countrys reputation.

The failure of the Department of Foreign Affairs to inform the Embassy in Japan, which has diplomatic and consular responsibilities for Australia, about the groups travel needs investigation by the Government. It is understood that, except for travel by Ministers, the Ministry does not routinely inform Ghanaian missions overseas about other official visits. If this is true, it is a very dangerous practice. How can Ghana provide adequate consular services to government officials overseas, either in a situation like the incident in Melbourne or in the event of a natural disaster such as the recent tsunami in South East Asia, if the missions are not aware of their presence in the countries where they represent Ghanas interest?

The whole unfortunate saga has now been settled satisfactorily, thanks to the efforts of several individuals in Ghana and Australia. It is important that the Government of Ghana and all its agencies learn from this debacle. As a country, we can only progress if we learn from our mistakes. Learning from our mistakes also involves holding accountable people in leadership positions who fail to deliver the expected outcomes in the public interest.

No doubt, the visa racketeers have already started planning how they might benefit from the forthcoming Commonwealth Games in early 2006 in Australia. It is important that the Sports Council and the Government of Ghana ensure that they are aware of the bona fides of all sponsors, and what they are offering. It will be completely unacceptable if the Ghanaian community in Melbourne is once again put under considerable pressure from a repeat of this saga during the Commonwealth Games.

© 2005 GhanaWeb