Ghana water polo grows as sport looks for more diversity | State and Regional
At the very beginning when the idea of water polo became a reality in Ghana, Asante Prince pulled out some balls and hats in front of a handful of curious kids.
He decided to try a scrimmage, but he had no nets. So they put a soccer bench on each side of the pool.
It was “enthusiastic confusion,” he said. And the caps – which have protective caps that go over a player’s ears – well, they were particularly amusing.
“Someone said, ‘Oh waterproof bra, thank you waterproof bra,’ said a chuckling prince.
It was one of the first meetings of the Awutu Winton Water Polo Club, a burgeoning league in a troubled part of the world for the Olympics’ oldest team sport – and a true passion project for the energetic prince.
Raised in Coronado, California, he was often the only black face in the pool or in his classes. He went in search of a beach ball more similar to himself and found it in the waters of his father’s homeland.
“This is like my baby and it’s cute because it’s crying and growing up, but it needs your full 24/7 attention,” said the 31-year-old prince. “Whenever I talk about it, it’s great because it’s something I would have loved to have seen as a kid.”
In Ghana, dangerous currents off the country’s coast have resulted in countless drownings over the years. That has raised concerns about deep water 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 scared and panicked faces because “they all have stories of someone going out and not coming back,” he said.
The Awutu Winton Club has seven teams representing three regions of Ghana. Players range in age from 7 to 25 and the league includes a group of around 20 women. It had 85 athletes and 10 coaches when it opened its new season in Ghana’s capital, Accra, last month.
Prince said most of his Ghanaian players had some swimming ability when they joined the program, but not in deep water where the sport is played.
“Kicking water and handling water polo was very difficult when I first started playing,” said Ishmael Adjei, 20. “But over time I could see myself improving personally.”
Adjeis 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]thought it was just a waste of time,” Adjei said, “because you had to help them with the family chores and take time off to train … but as time goes by, they always will.” more interested.”
Any significant growth in Africa would be a welcome development for a sport that has struggled for decades with a lack of diversity, much like water sports in general. Even in the places where water polo is most popular — like California and parts of southern Europe — there are very few black players.
Egypt and South Africa are the only African countries to have played men’s water polo at the Olympics. South Africa became the continent’s first women’s team to make it to the Games when they finished 10th in Tokyo 2021. World Aquatics said it does not have player participation numbers broken down by ethnicity.
“I think breaking out of the normalcy of traditional water polo nations over the last century is critical to the growth of our sport,” said former US player Genai Kerr, who sits on the board of the Alliance for Diversity in Water Polo.
Prince, the second of three brothers, got into swimming and water polo after his family befriended the family of five-time US Olympian Jesse Smith.
Prince played collegiate water polo at California Lutheran University and earned his degree in psychology. He competed professionally in Brazil and trained in Europe.
He often had the feeling that he stood out as a black man.
“Just getting used to everyone seeing me and noticing me,” he said, “and I’m the one that everyone notices first, in every class, on every team.”
Unlike in Ghana, the birthplace of his father Dr. Kofi Sefa Boakye. Prince’s mother, Elizabeth, is from Los Angeles and she met Kofi while they were students at the University of Southern California.
Prince started going to Ghana with his father after he graduated from high school. He often brought balls and hats with him on trips to visit family. In 2018, he reached out to the nation’s swimming association, and they hosted an event at Awutu Winton Senior High School — one of the few schools in the country with a pool — where he made a donation and promoted the program.
“What he’s doing is great because it’s so difficult to start something from scratch,” Smith said.
According to Victoria Jackson, sports historian and clinical assistant professor of history at Arizona State University, a relatively small geographic footprint can put a sport at risk of losing its place in the Olympics. But, Jackson said, decisions about which sports to include are difficult to predict and reflect politics, relationships and subjectivity.
Jackson said an all-black water polo team at the Olympics could have a profound impact on the sport.
“I mean, it’s that quote, right? ‘You can’t be what you can’t see,'” she said. “It instantly broadens horizons.”
Because of this, Prince’s appearance in Ghana has garnered attention from some prominent corners of the sport.
KAP7, a company that sells swimsuits and other water polo equipment, has supplied goals and other equipment. Kerr and five-time US Olympic gold medalist Tony Azevedo have also donated equipment, and former USA Water Polo director John Abdou held a Zoom training session for referees.
“It’s something where everyone can see, hey, look, this is happening,” said Wolf Wigo, a three-time US Olympic gold medalist, one of the co-founders of KAP7 and a men’s coach at UC Santa Barbara. “It’s not just one black person in a pool with 12 or two white teammates. It’s a whole pool of black athletes all playing water polo and having a great experience.”
Prince – whose full name is Prince Kofi Asante Sefa-Boakye – strives to keep the project going, making the most of his connections in esports 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, an important issue for black communities. He helped with swimming lessons to children of Somali refugees at a YMCA in San Diego last year.
“I just wanted to play the game,” he said, “but now I realize that this is an even bigger and more important mission than before.”
He also dreams of Ghana competing in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. The most plausible route would be through the continental qualifiers in Africa, but the next step is likely to see some of Ghana’s players enter American college programs. Prince also said he plans to field an under-12 team at a water polo festival in Italy in June.
Los Angeles looks like a long way off, but Prince has a plan — and he’s already come a long way.
“My face is in front of a portrait, so I don’t see the whole picture, so I can put my mind at ease,” he said. “But that would literally bring my two home countries together in LA and bring Ghana to LA.”
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