Editor’s note: This story contains descriptions of violence.
Ghana’s wheelchair tennis team have criticised the country’s government, saying they have not received adequate support following an attack by gunmen in Nigeria while on international duty last month.
According to a statement from the Ghana sports ministry, the team were attacked near Sagamu, Ogun State, in the early hours of Feb. 13. They were travelling by bus after the 2023 BNP Paribas International Tennis Federation World Team Cup African Qualification tournament, held in Abuja. Three members of the team sustaining injuries in the attack.
Unable to afford a hotel in Abuja on the evening of Feb. 12, the team opted to travel overnight on their way back to Lagos when they were confronted by armed robbers at approximately 2:30 a.m. local time.
Player Bernard Yawson, who was sat in the front seat, was impacted by the shattered windscreen as it was hit by the bullets, and the team were fortunate that the quick-thinking driver accelerated away from the gunmen and out of danger.
The team has urged authorities to ensure appropriate provisions for athletes with disabilities, saying they should not have been in a perilous position in the first place and did not have enough funds to get home safely afterwards.
“In Ghana we need to set our priorities straight,” Philip Plange, assistant head coach and deputy secretary for the Ghana Accra Tennis Association, told ESPN.
“Following this attack, we’re not going to travel by bus to a different country again unless by air or if the event is taking place locally.
“We request to put [the team] on the payroll as a form of compensation, because they’re not working and earning money apart from playing wheelchair tennis.”
The World Team Cup tournament decides Africa’s wheelchair tennis qualifiers for the Paris 2024 Paralympics, but the team had to take out their own $1,200 loan to hire a private Nigerian transport company, having been allocated 800 Ghanaian cedis per person (approximately $62) for the duration of the weeklong trip to Nigeria.
“They would never treat our national football team — the Black Stars — like this,” Plange added, “but we don’t even get travel insurance.”
While the team received medical attention by the Ghana ambulance service upon their return to Accra, they have not received any formal counselling following the traumatic encounter.
“I released the players to go home to their families,” Plange added. “They really needed to see them back safe and sound.
“Stacy [Konadu Mensah] and Zinabu [Issah] had minor [injuries] but Bernard’s own is deep,” Plange added. “I am stressed and becoming frustrated with the whole issue.”
According to wheelchair tennis coordinator Henry Larbi, who personally contributed finances to support the team, the senior executive director of ITF tours and player pathway Jackie Nesbitt has written in to the Ghana Tennis Federation to encourage safeguarding of players and provision of safe modes of transport when travelling to events.
“It was an unfortunate incident and they could have lost their lives,” Larbi told ESPN. “The main issue is lack of funding for Para Sports in Ghana.
“We hope the government of Ghana will pay more attention to Ghana Wheelchair Tennis, although some media houses in Ghana have raised [money] for the team, which was used for medical attention.”
Ghana’s women finished second in their round-robin at the event before being defeated by Tanzania in the third-place playoff, while the men’s team finished fifth in their event after a playoff victory over Cameroon.