Ghana water polo grows as sport looks for more diversity


February 2, 2023 GMT

Again on the very starting, proper when the concept of water polo in Ghana began swimming into actuality, Asante Prince obtained out a few balls and caps in entrance of a handful of curious youngsters.

He determined to attempt a scrimmage, however he had no nets. In order that they put a soccer bench on both sides of the pool.

It was “enthusiastic confusion,” he mentioned. And the caps — which have protecting cups that go over a participant’s ears — effectively, they have been significantly amusing.

“Any individual mentioned, ‘Oh, water brassiere, thanks very a lot,’ a water bra,” a chuckling Prince mentioned.

That was one of many first conferences of the Awutu Winton Water Polo Membership, a budding league in a tricky a part of the world for the Olympics’ oldest group sport — and a real ardour mission for the energetic Prince.

Rising up in Coronado, California, he was typically the one Black face within the pool or his lessons. He went in the hunt for a water polo that appeared extra like him, and located it within the waters of his father’s homeland.

“That is like my child, and it’s cute as a result of, you realize, it cries and it’s rising up, however it wants your whole consideration, 24-7,” the 31-year-old Prince mentioned. “Each time I speak about it, it’s nice, as a result of it’s one thing that I’d have cherished to see as a child.”

In Ghana, harmful rip tides off the nation’s coast have induced numerous drownings over time. That’s led to trepidation about deep waters in a nation the place low- and middle-income households have already got restricted entry to swimming swimming pools.

When Prince first began swimming in African communities, he noticed appears of concern and panic on faces as a result of “all of them have tales of somebody going out and never coming again,” he mentioned.

The Awutu Winton membership has seven groups representing three areas of Ghana. Gamers vary in age from 7 to 25, and the league features a group of about 20 girls. It had 85 athletes and 10 coaches when it opened its new season final month in Ghana’s capital, Accra.

Prince mentioned most of his Ghana gamers had some information of swimming after they joined this system, however not in deep water, the place the game is performed.

“Treading water and the best way to deal with the water polo ball was very troublesome after I began enjoying,” mentioned Ishmael Adjei, 20. “However as time goes on, I might see I’m enhancing personally.”

Adjei’s membership is a part of San Diego-based Black Star Polo, a company based by Prince that additionally works on creating aquatic alternatives for African and African-American communities in the USA.

“After I began enjoying, (my household) thought it was only a waste of time,” Adjei mentioned, “since you had to assist them do the household chores and you’d take a timeout to go and have coaching … however as time goes on, they’re getting .”

Any important development in Africa can be a welcome improvement for a sport that has wrestled with a scarcity of range for many years, very like aquatics on the whole. Even within the locations the place water polo is hottest — similar to California, and components of southern Europe — there are only a few gamers of coloration.

Egypt and South Africa are the one African international locations which have performed males’s water polo on the Olympics. South Africa grew to become the first women’s team from the continent to make it to the Video games when it completed tenth in Tokyo in 2021. World Aquatics mentioned it doesn’t have participant participation figures damaged down by ethnicity.

“I believe it’s important for the expansion of our sport to interrupt out of the normalcy that it’s been the final century, of conventional water polo nations,” mentioned former U.S. participant Genai Kerr, who serves on the board of the Alliance for Range in Water Polo.

The second of three brothers, Prince obtained into swimming and water polo after his household grew to become good associates with the household of five-time U.S. Olympian Jesse Smith.

Prince performed school water polo at California Lutheran College and obtained his diploma in psychology. He competed professionally in Brazil and educated in Europe.

He typically felt he stood out as a Black man.

“Simply getting used to all people having the ability to see me and standing out,” he mentioned, “and I’m the one all people notices first, on each class, each group.”

It was totally different in Ghana, the birthplace of his father, Dr. Kofi Sefa-Boakye. Prince’s mom, Elizabeth, is from Los Angeles, and she or he met Kofi after they have been college students on the College of Southern California.

Prince began going to Ghana along with his father after he graduated from highschool. He typically introduced balls and caps on journeys to go to household. In 2018, he reached out to the nation’s swimming federation, and it held an occasion at Awutu Winton Senior Excessive College — one of many solely faculties within the nation with a pool — the place it made a donation and promoted this system.

“What he’s doing is superior, as a result of it’s so troublesome to begin one thing from scratch,” Smith mentioned.

A comparatively small geographic footprint can put a sport susceptible to shedding its place on the Olympics, based on Victoria Jackson, a sports activities historian and scientific assistant professor of historical past at Arizona State College. However, Jackson mentioned, choices about what sports activities to incorporate are exhausting to foretell and replicate politics, relationships and subjectivity.

Jackson mentioned an all-Black water polo group on the Olympics might have a profound impact on the game.

“I imply, it’s that quote, proper? ‘You possibly can’t be what you’ll be able to’t see,’” she mentioned. “It’s instantly horizon increasing.”

That’s why Prince’s effort in Ghana has attracted consideration in some outstanding corners of the game.

KAP7, an organization that sells swimsuits and different water polo gear, has shipped over targets and different tools. Kerr and five-time U.S. Olympian Tony Azevedo even have donated tools, and former USA Water Polo excessive efficiency director John Abdou did a Zoom coaching session for referees.

“That is one thing the place everybody can see, hey look, that is occurring,” mentioned Wolf Wigo, a three-time U.S. Olympian, one of many co-founders of KAP7 and the lads’s coach at UC Santa Barbara. “It’s not only one Black particular person in a pool with 12 white teammates, or two. It’s an entire pool stuffed with all Black athletes, all enjoying water polo, having a fantastic expertise.”

Prince — whose full title is Prince Kofi Asante Sefa-Boakye — hustles to maintain the mission afloat, profiting from his connections within the sport and a GoFundMe web page. However the way in which Prince sees it, he has already gained.

He’s serving to promote water security in Ghana and his native Southern California, a serious problem for Black communities. He helped teach swimming lessons to kids of Somali refugees at a San Diego YMCA final yr.

“I simply needed to play the sport,” he mentioned, “however now, I’m realizing that is an excellent larger and necessary mission than simply earlier than.”

He additionally desires of Ghana competing on the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. Probably the most believable route would run by the Africa continental qualification event, however the subsequent step is probably going a few of Ghana’s gamers becoming a member of American school applications. Prince additionally mentioned he plans to discipline an under-12 group at a water polo competition in Italy in June.

Los Angeles appears like a protracted shot, however Prince has a plan — and he already has traveled a good distance.

“My face is in entrance of a portrait, so I don’t see the complete image, so I’m capable of compose myself,” he mentioned. “However that may be actually bringing my two homelands collectively in LA, bringing Ghana to LA.”


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