(This column was first published in the Amandala issue of Friday, March 25, 1995.)
From the time King Hatchet was a hammer, on every occasion that this country sends a sports delegation to an international meet, whether it is the Olympics or regional games, an official prior to departure will sing this refrain, “We don’t really expect to win, but the exposure to international competition will do us very good in the future.” For the past 75 years this “future” is yet to be realized. Over the past 30 years the same managerial personnel appear to beg for support, to utter the familiar refrain, to go on the trips, and to apologize for the same lousy results on their return. You can bet on it that for the next international foray, it will be déjà vu all over again.
Why should this recurrent fiasco, except on countable occasions, be the usual experience that this country knows when it has such superb athletes? After all, upfront the government contributes “much,” considering their financial resources and political self-interest, and the businessmen have kept the industry alive. There are seminars and clinics from Olympic and international coaches and players from all over. Yet the international performances of our athletes are such that they should stay at home. This state of affairs will persist as long as the current structure is maintained, and maintained it will be if current officialdom has its way.
The problems are many: the foremost is that our officials and athletes have no concept of the pride and passion of what it means to perform abroad (it is not a vacation), of the intensity and politics (it is called power), the prestige of the gold (it is called money) despite all the years of foreign “exposure.” The commitment and the discipline of our athletes are lacking (it takes 6 to 12 months, not 6 to 8 weeks), the training facilities, what there are of them, are shameful and deplorable (you can’t run a 10 flat 100 metres preparing on a “logra-head” practice field), the physical and nutritional needs of the athlete seem to be of tertiary concern (you can’t go from working ship to running a 2:30 marathon), the coaches what there are of these, while enthusiastic, lack the authority and knowledge to prepare for the “warfare of the Coliseum.”
It is always easier to find faults, though. It is more difficult to chance solutions. Let’s take a try at the latter. First the obvious: Belize is a tiny drop in an ocean of Goliaths. Select the gifted athlete(s) of that particular sport and spend the time and money necessary to prepare him for “combat.” Second, all government participation in sports above the high school level should stop. The government(s) can maintain its consistency by offering shares to the public to buy the Civic Center, the National Stadium, the MCC Grounds and the like in the other districts. This will be the most beneficial form of privatization to the people of Belize. They can write legislation allowing the sponsors of teams or of individuals to receive a total tax deduction of their expenditures upon presentation of receipts. This will eliminate politicians manipulating the athlete(s) for their political agendas. It will also allow the less well-to-do sports enthusiast to participate in the sports arena. If they can do it with BTL, BEL, BCB, the Port Authority?, then they can do it with sports.
The sports loving businessman, knowing he has a total tax write off, can shower his athletes with all the training necessary to put the best up front. Combined with the advertizing budgets he receives from headquarters (which too are tax write offs) to promote their products, he may even be able to establish training camps for his players (more preferable to jail). The basic facility(ies) would be in place to train the athletes for international competition. The national selectees would, of course, be paid their salaries during the several months of training they have to be away from work.
The legislative environment of the government and the investment by the sponsors will only be successful if the athletes understand that while it is okay to talk the talk (trash or otherwise), he must walk the walk of commitment to himself, to his sponsors, and to his country to win; this will mean hard work and the discipline necessary to listen and to follow the coach’s regimen (the girls will come later).
I will give you a spread of 10 years that with the aforegoing format, our athletes will not be massacred by 9-0 soccer scores, nor fail to finish a cycling road race, nor be embarrassed by lopsided basketball scores. I will give you a further spread of 16 years that we will have nurtured the Marion Joneses, kept the Ludwig Lightburns at home, be proud of more “Golden Girls”, win CONCACAF, stand a fighting chance of advancing to an Olympic semifinal and of being credible in World Cup regionals.
Until such as this or modification thereof is instituted, the refrain of “the international exposure will be good for us” will beat on, and on, and on…’Nuff respect.