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  • Growing Water Polo in Ghana

    May 10, 2023 8 min read 1 Comment

    Former water polo pro player Prince Asante Sefa-Boakye, who introduced the sport to Ghana in 2018, shares his plans to promote diversity and grow the sport of water polo in Africa. 

    KAP7 is a proud supporter of Asante Sefa-Boakye, an African American water polo player with Ghana roots who is trying to grow and develop water polo in Africa. KAP7 has donated money and equipment to the team and just launched a product line where all of the proceeds go directly to Asante and his organization. You can shop the collectionhere. You can also follow the development of waterpolo in Ghana and a donate by visitingblackstarwaterpolo.org

    Here is the story on how this dream came to fruition. 

    Prince Asante Sefa-Boakye has frequently found himself to be the only African American player, and one of very few players of color, in awater polo pool.

    The 31-year-old, who grew up in Coronado, California, is now taking on a new challenge by introducing the sport to his father's homeland. Asante is currently training and working with players in Ghana to create the first-ever 'all-Black’ water polo team to compete at the Olympics.

    “My reality of being this foreign player as a minority player is beginning to wash away with this new Black Star polo initiative. Seeing the Africans on the main stage for water polo, is a big dream of mine.”

    The American-born Ghanaian has seen his dream of promoting water polo in the African county grow significantly since he first introduced the sport to a local school in 2018.

    Today, he oversees a seven-team national league that operates under the Awutu Winton Waterpolo Club. His program is also sparking the promotion of the aquatic discipline in Africa.

    To date, only two African countries, South Africa and Egypt, have had the opportunity to field men's water polo teams at the Olympics.

    Asante vividly remembers the first time he set up a water polo scrimmage at a school in the west African nation. With no goal nets available, he improvised by using a soccer bench and two chairs placed at either end of the pool.

    The kids in caps were thrilled to be able to tread and shoot balls. “It was a beautiful mess!” he recalled the Ghanaian youngsters' first proper attempt at a water polo game.

    “I was happy to have been met with such enthusiasm, enjoying this new sport. Ghanaians and Africans, we're just very competitive by nature and once we get something, we stick to it.”

    A wonderful turning point for the sport, that was a hard sell initially in Ghana. Swimming, a fundamental skill for water polo, is not widely practiced despite a quarter of Ghana’s 32 million people living along the 550-kilometre coastline.

    Most of the locals are terrified of swimming in the ocean or open water.

    Whenever Asante, who played collegiate water polo at California Lutheran University and played for teams across Europe and Brazil, would train in the deep waters, it sparked panic.

    The fear focused on the possibility of drowning in the Gulf of Guinea that is part of the eastern tropical Atlantic Ocean, known for its strong and dangerous rip currents. “I would do runs and runs of long-distance swimming. I leave and people are shouting, crying, just chaos. And then when I come back, the jaws are all dropped to the floor,” said Prince looking back at his early days visiting Ghana.

    “Because the reality is nobody comes back, and I'm the one that came back. And that's just what shocked everybody. Then it got to the point where they said, ‘wait a second, if this guy that looks like me can do it, maybe there's a chance that I can do the same thing’. And it went from one person going on to the ocean to swimming to two, to three, to six to eight.”

    According to arecent research conducted by Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Ghana has recorded nearly 1,500 drowning cases in the past three years.

    When the former professional water polo player introduced the sport to Ghana in 2018, he was reminded of a familiar social stigma that he had experienced before.

    “You don't see the pool filled with Black Africans swimming and having a good time, you don't,” Prince added disappointedly.

    “We have the Michael Jordan, the LeBron James, the Kobe Bryant, Serena Williams; we have the Tiger Woods, but when it comes to water sports, we don't have many or anybody to look up to.”

    In 2001,Genai Kerr broke new ground as the first Black American athlete to compete at a men's water polo World Championship. Three years later at theAthens 2004 Olympics, he andOmar Amr made history as the first Black players to feature for a U.S. Olympic water polo team.

    However, it wasn't untilRio 2016 thatAshleigh Johnson shattered another barrier by becoming the first Black woman to make the U.S. water polo team.

    Prince admits to being overwhelmed by the response to water polo amongst boys and girls in Ghana. He started by focusing on schools that had swimming facilities but has since expanded his reach.“The majority of the ages are from about 16 to 25. That's our biggest pool. And then we have some younger kids, probably from about seven to 7 to 13,” said Prince, who also has a thriving career as a musician. “Some kids live by the streets. Some kids go to a free high school. Some kids are university athletes. Some kids whose parents are fishermen live by the lake or sea.” The dream, rooted in the belief of a more diverse and inclusive sport, has now blossomed into a national league with seven teams, which started in January 2022.

    “Water polo is very difficult and so this whole journey of bringing water polo to Ghana and African communities, has been very challenging, and it's definitely made my heart and the resilience even stronger.”

    “My main goal was to create the interest, the demand, and then once the demand is there, we can work on creating this infrastructure. But the way these kids have progressed and the way they are serious about it and the way they have a passion for it is an indicator that water polo could very well be a national sport of Ghana, because we're a coastal country.”

    The growth is fueling his bigger ambition, ‘An all Blacks' team at his home Olympics atLos Angeles 2028.

    “My short-term vision, which started as a joke, is to make an all Blacks water polo team. I want to see Ghana at the Olympic Games representing for water polo and not just to solely represent the continent, but to also be competitive.” “The talent is there, the passion is there,” he continued of his largely self-funded initiative, which now has nearly 85 athletes guided by 10 local coaches. He’s also garnered support from double Olympic gold medallistBradley Schumacher and KAP7 International. “But the bigger picture is that a lot of these kids come from generations of fishermen, families. Their father was a fisherman, their grandfathers, or they'll be a fisherman, and they've never done anything else. Now they have that skill along with the sport that can take them to a university, to a school, take them abroad.”

    Players showing their first passports in their lives. Above, the team which is participating in HaBaWaBa 2023.

    In five years, Black Star Polo (Asante’s non-profit) has raised almost 30,000 dollars, turning into more than just a sports project. Asante has brought waterpolo to several towns in Ghana, bought goals and balls, taught boys and girls of all ages the fundamentals of the game and set up a local league, providing the poorest kids with meals and the opportunity to travel around the country. The success of Black Star Polo has been simply sensational: Sefa-Boakye started the project in Accra, in the pool of the Awutu Wintor Water Polo Club at the University of Ghana, but subsequently young Ghanaians started playing water polo in lakes, sea, wherever a ball could be floated. In fact, Black Star Polo proved that developing waterpolo in Central Africa is possible. And in a few weeks, the passion for the game of the Ghanaian kids will also spread to HaBaWaBa International Festival, which Black Star Polo U12 team will participate in. HaBaWaBa is the biggest and most important event for kids waterpolo in the world: in 2023 the 15th edition edition it will be joined by131 teams coming from 4 different continents.    

    “Nowadays we have 82 players in total, 22 of whom are in HaBaWaBa age group categories”, Sefa-Boakye, who has returned to San Diego these days to continue his fundraising campaign, tells us. “We will arrive in Lignano Sabbiadoro with 10 boys from three or four different areas of Ghana. Some of them come from the ghetto and have not had many opportunities in their lives. In order to participate in HaBaWaBa they are experiencing a series of ‘first times’: for the first time in their lives they have obtained documents and their first passport; they will take the plane and leave the country for the first time; for the first time they will participate in an international sports competition. A few days ago, some of them ate pizza for the first time after a training session. However, they still have no idea how their lives will change”.        

    Sefa-Boakye recalls how in the beginning it was the enthusiasm of the Ghanaian kids that made the Black Star Polo project possible. “Ghana is a country that loves sport, especially football. Swimming is not part of its culture, but the Ghanaian kids are very competitive, they get excited about new challenges. I showed them waterpolo, they liked it and I told them that if they wanted to play they would first have to learn to swim. They are ambitious and so, little by little, they learned to swim, then to hold the ball, to shoot, and so on. Basically they just needed a chance”. 

    Sefa-Boakye and the players of the last Ghana National League.

    Now Sefa-Boakye is focusing his coaching efforts on preparing Black Star Polo for the HaBaWaBa International Festival. “Kids have great enthusiasm, everyone wants to score a goal in Italy! – he says – But participating in HaBaWaBa will help these kids to understand the great work they have to do to improve. They are not afraid of anything: not so long ago some of them could not even swim. They want to learn to play like the waterpolo champions they saw in World Cup games I showed them. They want to be as good as Thomas Vernoux: I told them that he also came to HaBaWaBa as a child. They want to be like him”. And like the other HaBaWaBa participants, the Black Star Polo kids will also have fun and get to know peers from all over the world. “Many children their age have never experienced something like this, HaBaWaBa is a golden opportunity for them. They will be able to connect with other kids, maybe make friends and bonds: waterpolo is all about relationships with other people, players, coaches. Joining this community is an opportunity for their lives that goes beyond sport”. 

    HaBaWaBa will also be an important showcase for the Black Star Polo project in the eyes of international sports institutions, such as World Aquatics. “We are proving that waterpolo can take root in Africa, even in countries without much tradition. There is a great desire for sport in Ghana, where there are swimming pools but they are not accessible to everyone. And spreading waterpolo will encourage people to learn how to swim, it will spread water safety, which is one of the key objectives for World Aquatics”.  

    Finally, for Sefa-Boakye, participation in the HaBaWaBa International Festival is a step towards his big dream: to see Ghana at the Olympics. “It’s something possible. When it all started, we were aiming for Los Angeles 2028, but it doesn’t matter if it will be in 2032 or 2036, there is no deadline. Not only do we want to go to the Games, we want to go there and be competitive. It’s right to fuel this dream, anything is possible if we keep gathering resources. And who knows, one of the kids who is coming to HaBaWaBa maybe one day will be Ghana’s captain at the Olympics”. 

    Interested in helping Asante reach his goals? Feel free to reach out if you have any ideas or questions. Again, you can directly support their efforts by donating direction on their  site or by purchasing items from ourGhana Water Polo Collection.

    1 Response

    C. Maddox/Dallas,Tx
    C. Maddox/Dallas,Tx

    December 29, 2023

    Amazing! Well done!🤽🏽‍♂️

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