Ghanaian water polo grows as sport seeks more diversity

BACK to the very beginning, just when the idea of ​​water polo in Ghana became a reality, Asante Prince pulled out a few balls and caps in front of a handful of curious children.

He decided to attempt a scrum, but he had no nets. So they put a football bench on either side of the pool.

It was “enthusiastic confusion”, he said. And the caps – which have protective shells that cover a player’s ears – well, they were particularly fun.

“Someone said, ‘Oh, water bra, thank you very much,’ a water bra,” a prince said with a laugh.

It was one of the first meetings of the Awutu Winton Water Polo Club, a fledgling league in a tough part of the world for the Olympics’ oldest team sport – and a true passion project for the energetic Prince.

Growing up in Coronado, Calif., he was often the only black face in the pool or his classes. He went in search of a water polo that was more like him and found it in the waters of his father’s homeland.

“He’s like my baby, and it’s cute because, you know, he’s crying and he’s growing, but he needs your full attention, 24/7,” the man said. 31 years old. “Every time I talk about it, it’s great, because it’s something I wish I had seen when I was a kid.”

In Ghana, dangerous tides off the country’s coast have caused countless drownings over the years. This has led to deep water apprehension in a country where low- and middle-income families already have limited access to swimming pools.

When Prince first started swimming in African communities, he saw looks of fear and panic on faces because “they all have stories of someone going out and not coming back”, said he declared.

The Awutu Winton Club has seven teams representing three regions of Ghana. The players range in age from seven to 25, and the league has a group of around 20 women.

It had 85 athletes and 10 coaches when it opened its new season last month in Ghana’s capital, Accra.

Prince said most of his Ghanaian players had some knowledge of swimming when they joined the program but not in deep water where the sport is practiced.

“It was very difficult to walk on water and handle the water polo ball when I started playing,” said 20-year-old Ishmael Adjei. “But over time I could see that I was improving personally.”

Adjei’s club is part of San Diego-based Black Star Polo, an organization founded by Prince that also works to create aquatic opportunities for African and African-American communities in the United States.

“When I started playing, [my family] I thought it was just a waste of time,” Adjei said, “because you have to help them with household chores and you take time out to go practice… but over time they start to s ‘to interest.

Any significant growth in Africa would be a welcome development for a sport that has struggled with a lack of diversity for decades, much like aquatic sports in general.

Even in places where water polo is most popular – like California and parts of southern Europe – there are very few players of color.

Egypt and South Africa are the only African countries to have played men’s water polo at the Olympics. South Africa became the first women’s team from the continent to qualify for the Games by finishing 10th in Tokyo 2021.

World Aquatics said it does not have player participation figures broken down by ethnicity.

“I think it’s vital for the growth of our sport to break out of the normality of the last century, traditional water polo nations,” said former United States player Genai Kerr, who sits on the board of directors of the Alliance for Diversity in Water. Polo.

The second of three brothers, Prince took up swimming and water polo after his family befriended the family of five-time US Olympian Jesse Smith.

Prince played college water polo at California Lutheran University and earned his degree in psychology. He competed professionally in Brazil and trained in Europe.

He often felt he stood out as a black man.

“I’m just used to everyone being able to see me and stand out,” he said, “and I’m the one everyone notices first, in every class, on every team.”

It was different in Ghana, the hometown of his father, Dr. Kofi Sefa-Boakye. Prince’s mother, Elizabeth, is originally from Los Angeles and she met Kofi when they were students at the University of Southern California.

Prince started going to Ghana with his father after graduating from high school.

He often brought balls and caps on trips to visit family. In 2018, he contacted the country’s swimming federation, and she hosted an event at Awutu Winton High School – one of the only schools in the country with a swimming pool – where she donated and promoted the program.

“What he’s doing is great because it’s so hard to start from scratch,” Smith said.

A relatively small geographic footprint can put a sport in danger of losing its place in the Olympics, according to Victoria Jackson, sports historian and assistant professor of clinical history at Arizona State University.

But, Jackson said, decisions about which sports to include are hard to predict and reflect politics, relationships and subjectivity.

Jackson said an all-black water polo team at the Olympics could have a profound effect on the sport.

“I mean, it’s that quote, isn’t it?” “You can’t be what you can’t see,” she said. “It immediately broadens the horizon.”

This is why Prince’s efforts in Ghana have attracted attention in some important corners of the sport.

“It’s something everyone can see, hey look, it’s happening,” said three-time US Olympian Wolf Wigo. “It’s not just a black person in a pool with 12 white teammates, or two. It’s a whole pool full of black athletes, all playing water polo, having great experience.

Prince – whose full name is Prince Kofi Asante Sefa-Boakye – is working hard to keep the project afloat, making the most of his sports connections and a GoFundMe page. But the way Prince sees it, he’s already won.

He helps promote water security in Ghana and his native Southern California, a major issue for black communities. He helped teach swimming lessons to Somali refugee children at a YMCA in San Diego last year.

He also dreams of Ghana participating in the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. The most plausible route would be through the African continental qualifying tournament, but the next step is likely for some Ghanaian players to join American college programs.

Los Angeles looks like a long plan, but Prince has a plan — and he’s come a long way already.

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