There are some intelligent Belizeans who believe that sports are frivolous, and they will not consider the manifest deterioration of the MCC Grounds and the virtual death of the Civic Center to be the socio-economic catastrophes they have been in the old capital.
Over the last three decades plus, we have experienced five changes of government in Belize. The value of those changes from PUP to UDP, and vice versa, is that Belizeans have been able to see for themselves that in some important policy areas, such as sports, there is not that much difference between the red and the blue.
In the days of colonialism and self-government, we Belizeans entertained ourselves with our own sporting events. Our weekends were taken up with football, softball, cricket and basketball games, in addition to boxing and cycling, which were community events. Today, in 2013, we spend most of our leisure time watching American and European athletes play these games on television, and our local games have suffered dramatically in attendance and energy.
The MCC and the Civic are prime examples of how PUDP governments ignored, and sometimes abused, the most important facilities for the playing of Belizean sports at the highest domestic levels. With the advent of television three decades ago, there should have been more investments in upgrading Belize’s sporting facilities, because television made it more difficult to bring Belizeans out of their homes. Instead, the facilities were ignored, and in some cases openly and cynically abused.
A couple months ago, we discovered that local volleyball officials who are highly placed in Belize’s National Sports Council, were soliciting funds for volleyball in the major American cities from diaspora Belizeans. From one perspective, you may say more power to volleyball and kudos for their organizational energy. Insiders know, however, that volleyball is far and away the most wealthy sport in Belize. When the rest of the Central American countries were sending their volleyball teams to regional tournaments in buses, Belize volleyball teams, which were invariably finishing last in those tournaments, would fly in and fly out like dignitaries. There is a story here which needs to be told, because that story would expose the thinking of some powerful Belizeans where Civic basketball and MCC football and other sports are concerned.
Socio-economically, the saddest thing that has happened in Belize City in the last twenty years is the destruction of semi-pro basketball. This destruction was a personal project of Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel and his UDP government of 1993 to 1998. Semi-pro had already been dealt a serious blow by the PUP’s Ralph Fonseca and David Courtenay when they ruined the Civic’s cooling in the latter half of 1992, but semi-pro could perhaps have found a way to survive. When Esquivel came to power in mid-1993, he identified semi-pro basketball as the area where he could hurt Kremandala most keenly. There was, of course, collateral damage.
When the PUP returned to power in 1998, they tried to revive semi-pro basketball, but the team budgets were no longer sustainable. There were two major reasons for this. One, the Civic facility itself was discouraging fans from attending games, and two, teams were importing expensive players from California in order to be competitive.
Semi-pro basketball can be revived if any Belize government found the political will. The sport is extremely popular in Belize, no one can deny. But the nation’s population center does not have an adequate basketball facility. Incredible! Volleyball now has its own facility, but the far more popular basketball has no home. How did this happen?
When Belize finally shed the political strictures of colonialism in 1981, there remained a colonialism in the thinking of our people. We looked upwards for help all the time, instead of building on the ground. We wanted things always to be given to us, instead of creating our own structures. And because sports was so intensely competitive in Belize, we couldn’t compete against each other and cooperate at the same time for progressive decision making where our individual sporting disciplines were concerned.
Since Belize is a free market, capitalist economy, there must be some form of professionalism at the highest levels of our major sports. If we were a communist country, professionalism would not be necessary. Belize, however, is a capitalist country, but a capitalist country where a powerful element in the ruling class insists on extolling the virtues of amateurism. This is not only archaic, it is absolutely colonial. We really can’t go anywhere thinking like this, and because of this archaic, colonial thinking which is so influential in the PUDP, what has happened to the MCC and the Civic is not surprising. This is more than sad: it is sick.