Ghana’s Grace Obour, has had her women’s 400m U-18 bronze medal taken away, after it was discovered that she ran in the wrong age category at the just-ended CAA U-18 and U-20 athletics championships in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.
Obour, 18, won bronze in the women’s 400 meters in the U-18 category, with a time of 52.59 seconds to give team Ghana its second medal of the competition, after Rose Amoanimaa Yeboah won gold in the women’s U-20 high jump.
Hours after the event however, organizers discovered that Obour was not eligible to compete in the U-18 category, and should have run in the U-20 race instead. She was disqualified and the medal immediately taken away.
The situation has left both the Ghana Athletics Association and Confederation of African Athletics officials embarrassed as they struggle to explain how an error of this magnitude was allowed to happen.
The Ghana Athletics Association
When contacted for comment, GAA General Secretary, Bawah Fuseini, insisted the AMASS final year student was registered in the U-20 category and suggested the error may have come from the organizers who mistakenly placed her in the U-18 category.
Even so, it is still unpardonable that no one spotted the error when the start list came out and Obour’s name was listed in the U-18 race. What’s more startling though, is that there were two previous races before the final race – heats, and semi finals. How it is possible that the error still wasn’t spotted is inexplicable.
There are only two ways this could have happened – either someone spotted the error and let it slide, in which case, it would be disingenuous; or the error wasn’t spotted at all, it which case it would smack of incompetence.
Either way, for the GAA, an association already facing administrative crisis back home, this has certainly left them with eggs on their faces.
The CAA’s organization of the U-18 and U-20 championship has left many disappointed. Race start lists were handwritten and handed to coaches only during call time. Results were difficult to come by and journalists scrambled for information, with no functioning website for the championship.
According to a close source in Abidjan, on the morning of Obour’s race, a technical official from the CAA rushed to the warm up area with a handwritten start list and called out Grace; she responded and was Marched onto the oval. No one had a chance to ask questions. The athlete herself, so immerse in race preparations, never knew she was running in the wrong race.
It was also the organizer’s job to have a system that automatically disqualifies athletes whose names appear in the wrong category. For age restricted competitions or any competition for that matter, athletes are entered along with their date of births. The onus was on the organizers to properly place athletes in the right categories based on their ages, especially in this case that the entry form did not ask for category listing for either U-18 or U-20.
The news will come as a massive disappointment for Obour who has worked so hard in the last 15 months to get to this point. She would be especially pained when she discovers that had she run in the U-20 category, she would easily have breezed to a gold-medal win.
Her bronze winning time of 52.59s in the U-18 category, was almost a second faster than the winning time in the U-20 race, a 53.57sec performance by Kenya’s Mary Moraa.
The TI Amass student has shown steady improvement since finishing 2nd behind Rafiatu Nuhu in the 2018 Ashanti Regional Super Zonals in March 2018.
Two months later in May, she had her revenge at the ECOWAS U-20 championships held in Cape Coast, cruising to a gold medal finish with a time of 54.60s.
At the 2019 Ashanti Regional Super Zonals, Obour was the star of the championships, winning the 100m, 200m, 400m, and 800m events. The SuZo ended on the Friday and she then made a 9 hour overnight trip to Tamale for the GAA U-18 trials where she won the 200 and 400m events on the Saturday.
The CAA U-18 bronze medal will have capped off what has been a great year for the 17 year old, just 4 months into 2019, but she’s left with nothing, because of the negligence of the very institutions responsible for guiding her to the top.