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How Ghana’s women beach volleyball team made it against all odds

Without financial support or assistance, Ghana’s women qualified for the Commonwealth Games for the first time.

Ghana Beach Volleyball
Otcherewaa and Katadat after qualifying for the Commonwealth Games [Courtesy Ghana Volleyball Association]

Ghana’s women’s beach volleyball team will make a debut at the Commonwealth Games against Canada on Saturday, but its journey to the event has been far from easy.

Just a few weeks before the team left for Birmingham, the aura at the training centre at the Laboma Beach Resort in Accra was devoid of enthusiasm, coupled with the uncertainty of what might ensue at the games and sparse support from the government.

For a team preparing for its first major event, the mood was one of despondency, mainly because its stipend by the government for the camp had yet to arrive.

This was not the first time the team had received a financial blow. As a result, motivation was low, with the scorching summer sun adding to the woes.

The “genuine love for the game” and determination to make it against all odds were the reasons behind their perseverance for three months without funds from the government, the team members told Al Jazeera.

Ranked 104th in the world, Ghana have been drawn in Pool A alongside Canada, gold medallists at the inaugural beach volleyball event at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Kenya and New Zealand.

The team had booked its place at the event after a hard-fought battle with the best from the continent.

Juliana Otcherewaa and Rashaka Katadat fought bravely to seal the team’s place at the event, getting the better of stiff opponents like Nigeria, Seychelles, Kenya and Mauritius.

“The qualification wasn’t easy but we did it with determination,” Otcherewaa said. “I told my partner that we’ve sacrificed a lot for this extent so we need to give it our all and do the best.”

Even being able to qualify for the Commonwealth Games surprised Katadat.

“We didn’t expect to win this [the qualifying tournament],” Katadat told Al Jazeera.

“These emotions were mainly because the preparations for the qualifiers were abysmal. There was no support, no sponsors, nothing. Not even transportation fare but we saw it from the perspective that we were doing it for ourselves so whether support came in or not, we proceeded.”

Otcherewaa began her volleyball journey in 2014 after senior high school in the eastern region of Ghana. Aged 15, she joined the La Pioneers Volleyball Club, an indoor volleyball team situated in Labadi, a coastal town in Accra, where she trained to gain experience.

Her transition to beach volleyball happened by chance.

In 2014, she went to the beach to train by herself and the national beach volleyball team happened to be training there too, sparking an interest in Otcherewaa.

She hung around the training, collecting balls for the team. Later, the team’s head coach Seidu Ajanako asked her if she wanted to take up beach volleyball, an offer she took up instantly.

“They showed me the basics of the game and the rest is history,” she said.

For Katadat, indoor volleyball was her first love after she developed an interest in the sport at school. Born in Ejura in the Ashanti Region, Katadat grew up wanting to be a lawyer. While she was active in volleyball as a high school student, her parents were not too supportive initially.

“Playing sports didn’t sit right with my parents. They always said I was a woman so playing sports shouldn’t be part of my plans and that people would talk,” Katadat told Al Jazeera.

But a sterling show against TI Amass Senior High School while representing Highlanders Volley Club made the opponents take notice and offer her a scholarship to play for their team.

It was then her parents eased up to her love for the sport.

“I started making my name in Kumasi as the best volleyball player in the region so it got to a time my father just stopped and allowed me to play.”

After high school, Katadat had to choose between a university sports scholarship or joining the army as an indoor volleyball player.

She was at a major crossroads that could determine the trajectory of her life.

“I eventually chose the army because the school will be there forever but the army won’t.”

Otcherewaa, meanwhile, was drafted by the Ghana Police Service and now represents the Police volleyball team in the Accra Volleyball League.

Financial woes persist

While the girls’ careers progressed smoothly on the court, lack of financial assistance remained a hindrance.

In January this year, Ghana Volleyball Association (GVA) submitted an official budget for the qualifying tournament to the National Sports Authority (NSA).

Ghana had been selected to host the tournament in March after it was postponed in December 2021 due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

GVA general secretary Alhassan Sumani told Al Jazeera that after no support came, the organisation decided to bear the cost of the tournament and funded the girls as well.

However, after winning the tournament and qualifying for the Commonwealth Games, the players thought their fate would take a turn for the better.

But things did not change at all, they said, adding that they cover the training costs with their salaries.

“Right now, I use the money I get as a police personnel [officer] for my training,” Otcherewaa said.

“We are used to this lack of support,” Katadata said. “Ghana is all about football and there are no sponsors for other sports. This is a big problem because a lot of people are giving up.”

The team manager of the national team, Bawa Iddrisu, echoed the concerns over the lack of financial assistance for the players.

“For a youth championship taking place in Benin last February, the money the sports ministry gave us was only enough to board a bus from Accra to the location,” he told Al Jazeera. “If it was up to us, we’ll take the team to every tournament, but the financial support isn’t there.”

Coach Moro Mumuni recalled an instance where the women’s team was neglected.

“The team played zonal qualifiers in Ghana and qualified for the continental finals in Morocco,” Mumuni said.

The continental cup was a qualifier for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“The sports ministry later told us they can only provide money for the men’s team.”

The Ghana Olympic Committee (GOC) had little to say about the issue.

Commonwealth Games’ Chef de Mission and member of the GOC, Fred Achie, told Al Jazeera that the other qualified national teams were also facing the issue of funding.

“The fact that money hasn’t been released for the athletes doesn’t mean they should stop training,” Achie said. “The GOC doesn’t handle funds from the ministry. We are simply facilitators of budgets for the athletes and even with that, the International Games Committee handles that as well.”

On the issue of funding, he stated that the government will work on it at the appropriate time but revealed no date for that.

But the PRO for the sports ministry, Kenneth Annan, said it was unfair to pin all the blame on the ministry.

“The ministry doesn’t depend just on the government for funding but the money just isn’t enough,” Annan said, adding that private corporate bodies also provide funds to help keep them afloat.

The ministry receives a quarterly stipend from the government but, according to Annan, it has not been released since the start of the year, leaving athletes fending for themselves.

“I am not speaking from a defeatist point of view but we cannot reap what we haven’t sown,” George Tetteh, GVA vice president, told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera