We note with regret the inaccuracies in a recent article by the Ghanaian Times’ John Vigah concerning the Ghana Athletics Association (GAA) and Martha Bissah. This rejoinder seeks to clarify issues misrepresented by Mr. Vigah and request for a retraction on specific false statements meant to discredit the integrity of the association.
Though not necessarily a point of contention, GAA would like to note that Martha Bissah’s success in 2014 was not out of the blue. She did not “explode from nowhere” as asserted by Mr. Vigah. Such characterization, in our opinion, seeks to diminish contributing factors to her success.
Martha’s success in 2014 was due to hard work on her part and a well-orchestrated plan by GAA in consultation with her personal coach and other national team coaches.
Two weeks before her triumph at the 2014 Youth Olympics, Martha Bissah run 2:06.32 minutes at the 2014 African Championships. That time in the 800m was only 1.4 seconds off her winning time at the Youth Olympics in China, so is it really true that she came from nowhere?
Interestingly, she was heavily criticized for coming last in her heats at the African Championships and Commonwealth Games by the same individuals who now call themselves advocates for Martha.
If anybody had bothered to ask, rather than set off with their own narrative, they would have found out that Martha was already on GAA’s radar as far back as late February, 2014, when her time in the Kumasi Superzonals 1500m race (not the 800m) caused the GAA president to contact her and her coach. Her impressive time in that 1500m race—a time of 4 minutes 37.0 seconds—was superior to her 800m time of 2 minutes 11.38 seconds that same weekend, and also superior to our leading distance runner of 2014, Lydia Ataa Afia Mato’s 4:37.8 time in the USA.
It is ironic that today, to be consistent with the false narrative, she is described as an 800m runner who was forced to run the 1500 meters. Was that also the case when she won the Superzonals 1500m race in February 2014?
Martha was on GAA’s radar that far back because her 1500m time was deemed good enough for monitoring. Indeed, her time in that race is what led to Prof Dodoo agitating that she be added late to the Botswana Africa Youth Games squad, even though Ghana had already submitted its entries and the official deadline had passed. Dodoo’s continued insistence paid off and Martha was permitted as a late entry for Botswana, where she subsequently qualified for the Youth Olympics.
By the time the Commonwealth Games squad was being named, Martha had not qualified for the Games by either the A or B standard (which were 2:00.4 and 2:05.6, respectively), but GAA exercised the small prerogative it had to select relay team reserves by naming Martha as a reserve for the 4x400m relay. That was the path she used to get to Glasgow and to the African Championships in Morocco. Clearly the GAA had noted her developmental potential, and determined that those two competitions would be good primers for the Youth Olympics. Martha was absolutely a beneficiary of GAA’s developmental policy and no amount of revisionism can change that fact.
Indeed, her only supporters beyond her coach and immediate circle at that time were the GAA who saw her potential and nurtured it. It was not a surprise, therefore, that when she captured the Olympic Gold, she had this to say:
‘’I am very happy I beat the Ethiopian in particular because she had beaten me at the African games to win the Gold medal so initially when I saw her by my side I panicked a little but I told myself that I will not allow her to beat me again this time because I didn’t want to be third again. “As I was going to the competition, Prof Francis Dodoo told me that I shouldn’t go to the inner lane and that I should stay outside of the leaders from the beginning so I don’t get boxed in lane one, as I was in the Commonwealth Games and African Championships. I followed that instruction. In fact, that thing helped me very well.
Ironically, too, even after she won the Youth Olympic gold medal, the critics who had chastised GAA for including her on the Commonwealth and African Championship teams, continued to trivialize even the gold medal, claiming that earlier generations of Ghanaian youth and junior teams had also always won medals. They obviously failed to accept how unique and distinctive the Youth Olympic gold was. Today, they have made a 360 degree about-face and lead her on to criticize the GAA. It is that line of reasoning that Mr. Vigah’s article serves to support.
Their original criticism was so intense, and it did not help that was last in both her heats at the Commonwealth Games and African Championships. What some failed to recognize was that this was precisely the seasoning that she needed, and that made her better prepared than her age-mates she met in Nanjing, including the Kenyan and Ethiopian who had beaten her in Botswana; none of those other 17-year olds had been given the developmental or seasoning opportunity that GAA gave to Martha.
Specific GAA critics trivialized even her gold medal victory until they realized that she could be a useful pawn to fight the GAA with. Instead of letting her submit to disciplinary codes and develop within the GAA’s system, they made her swelled her anticipation so much so that, two years later, she hasn’t run as fast as she did in 2014. But of course they could also blame the GAA for that, so they did.
One of the persons who criticized the performance of our young athletes was former GAA Chairman Mr George Lutterodt, who refused to take all this context into account and described the performances of our young athletes as abysmal. Today, he has taken it upon himself to send her off to the USA, perhaps to spite GAA. Unfortunately, inexperience about how things work in the US collegiate system has led to Martha being declared ineligible for a scholarship (and to compete) and could lead to her becoming illegal in the United States. We pray this does not happen because it would be a final dousing of one of Ghana’s very promising flames.
Martha and her family have made certain decisions concerning her future that GAA must respect, even as we disagree with them because of the negative effects we think they will have on her physical and psychological development. It has reached the point now, though, that a national federation cannot idly sit by for its reputation to be maliciously shredded on falsehoods.
In September 2014 the President of Ghana donated GHC 10,000 to Martha. At that point, Prof Dodoo gave Martha Bissah and her family the same advice GAA has given to many other athletes: he told the family to save money for an airline ticket, pocket money, and visa fees so that, should Martha get the anticipated scholarship to the US college, she would have the means to make the trip.
Mr. Vigah’s article states that Martha Bissah “won the legal right to keep the cash” His Excellency, the President gave her. In stating so, he frames a non-legal issue (i.e., Dodoo’s sound advice) as though it was a legal tussle. Why would GAA be interested in her money? GAA has helped over 20 athletes to go to college in the US over the last 4 years, and not one of them has had to give any money to GAA or any of its members.
Mr. Vigah’s follow-up commentary further states that Martha was subsequently “asked to run in the 1,500m instead of her favourite 800m” at the 2015 trials for the All-Africa Games; an insinuation of retaliation by GAA for her supposed reluctance to give money to GAA. For the record, GAA has not had a national trial since 2011, and there was certainly no national trial in 2015 for the All African Games. Martha Bissah had ample opportunities (at least 5) to qualify in the 800m for the All-African Games, but failed to.
GAA does not set its national competition schedule around individual athletes; schedules are set in January each year. A simple inquiry to GAA by Mr. Vigah would have revealed that Martha failed to qualify for the 2015 All African Games even though 5 competitions held in 2015 featured women’s 800m.
Granted, 2 of these were on non-tartan surfaces because of GAA’s policy of “spreading” athletics across the length and breadth of Ghana; it is worth noting that this is not different from what happened in 2016 and even 2014, when Martha had her spectacular season. In the past 3 years we have hosted some competitions, each year, in areas of Ghana without artificial running surfaces; 2015 competitions reflected the norm, not the exception.
We urge Mr Vigah to check the historical records between 2001 and 2009 on the number for competitions offered by previous GAA administrations per year. He will realize that in some years, no more than 1 national level competition was held in Ghana. To suggest that after 5 attempts at the 800m, GAA purposely set up Martha Bissah to fail because other competitions featured the 1500m instead of the 800m is disingenuous and disappointing, and particularly for a journalist of Mr. Vigah’s caliber and experience.
GAA demands a retraction from Mr. Vigah that national trials were held in 2015 and that Martha Bissah was “asked” to run 1500m. No Ghanaian athlete is forced to run any event. If Martha ran the 1500m in 2015 it was because she chose to. Ironically, she gladly accepted the award and title of being the top 1500m runner in Ghana in 2015, from her cumulated points in the various circuit competitions that year; some forced action indeed. Athletes are not mandated or required to run in GAA competitions in order to meet qualification standards onto national teams.
Indeed, in 2016 Beatrice Gyaman opted not to run a single one of the 200m races that women were offered in the circuit (the 100m women was not a circuit event this year, much like the 800m was not in 2015, given that the circuit events alternate from year to year). Yet, Beatrice still made the Olympic team. The apparent distortion of the narrative to suit the hypothesis about the relationship between Martha and the GAA is what leaves Mr. Vigah open to questions about what his motives and motivations are.
The request for a retraction is necessary because it prefaces the insinuation that GAA purposely prevented Martha from qualifying for the 2015 All-Africa Games.
Mr Vigah also indicates that Martha has never accused the GAA of demanding GHC 7000 from her. He fails in his journalistic responsibility there too, because there actually is video evidence of Martha Bissah making such a claim, and that was the basis upon which GAA suspended Martha Bissah from its activities, after she initially indicated that she had made no such claim, and also conceded that nobody had solicited money from her.
Why would such an experienced journalist like Mr. Vigah not verify his information? He would have found out that there actually is a video, which was played to Martha and her manager, Mickey Osei Berko, when she initially denied saying so at their meeting with GAA. Her accusation can be heard from the 8-minute mark of the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtuU9vMcEL8
This video evidence of Martha Bissah claiming GAA demanded GHC 7000 was shared with her and her guardian Mr. Osei Berko at a meeting in June 2016. He promised an apology from her, which never materialized, and that was why she was not allowed to compete in the Circuit Final in Cape Coast.
To reiterate, when first asked whether any GAA member had ever demanded money from her, Martha responded “no”. When asked if she had ever made such a claim, Martha responded “no”. When shown the video and asked why she said money had been demanded from her, she fell silent and refused to speak. Why Mr. Vigah refused to make the effort to find all this out is unclear. But, the truth always comes out.
Mr. Osei Berko, her guardian, then suggested that given the evidence Martha needed to apologize. He speculated that perhaps she had misinterpreted the advice given to her family; save money for an airline ticket and visa fee if a scholarship offer to US comes through. GAA agreed with her guardian that a simple letter of apology would be enough to resolve the matter (i.e., lift the suspension). But, she refused to apologize.
Mr. Osei Berko apparently even offered to draft the letter for Martha. She was supposed to sign and submit it three days after the meeting with GAA. On the third day after the meeting, Mr. Osei Berko informed GAA that Martha had refused to sign the letter and that she would be moving out of his house by the end of the week, because he and Martha had also fallen out.
Interestingly enough, Martha had now ditched her former guardian whose house she had lived in for about two years, and who had taken care of her for the entirety of that time. And she had ditched him for the very person, who previously described the collective performance of Martha and her cohort as abysmal.
Currently, it is our understanding that a purported scholarship secured by the former chairman George Lutterodt may have left her stranded in the US because she does not qualify for such a scholarship; GAA is still trying to ascertain the situation. In the meantime, GAA stands by ready to advise and assist as needed should Martha and her managers approach for help.
Normally, GAA does not wait for prompting to help athletes in justifiable need. But in this very lurid case of Martha Bissah, GAA has been burned too many times to move unconcerned about the potential quicksand around her. Time is of the essence, however, if indeed she cannot hold on to the scholarship. She risks violating her visa status, which would make her an illegal alien in the US, and further complicate an already complex situation. Her handlers need to move fast to save the young girl.
Finally, as a federation, we normally hesitate to publicly share details of disciplinary issues. However, the case of Martha Bissah is so fraught with lies and accusations meant to tarnish the image of GAA. We cannot stand by for individuals such as Mr. Vigah to continue to purposefully misrepresent basic facts while allegedly playing the sympathy card. It is behavior such as his that curries indiscipline among sportsmen and women.
Given all this, with all due respect to Mr. Vigah and others, outstanding performances in sports don’t happen in a vacuum. Success in sport is often a reflection of hard work by athletes, good coaching, and prudent tactical decisions by management so the athlete can perform at their best when it counts the most.
Source: Erasmus Kwaw
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