If I watch a sporting event at night on television and I have an emotional connection to one of the teams, it will be impossible for me to fall asleep after the game. Thus it was that when the Belize football selection played their home game against the Cayman Islands on Wednesday night, March 25, at 8 p.m., I decided to go to sleep early the night. Thursday is a difficult day in the newspaper business, and I didn’t want to be walking around groggy the Thursday morning after the game. Of course when I got up, around 4 a.m., I was desperate to find out what the result of the game was. (Everybody who had watched the game was now asleep.)
The Cayman Islands is a small British colony in the Caribbean Sea between Belize and Jamaica. Most of their business is offshore banking, and theirs is a wealthy economy. Belize has been an independent nation for going on 34 years. Our economy is not as wealthy as the Caymans’, but there are attitudinal benefits to independence which are supposed to translate into improved performances in international sports. In the FIFA rankings, Belize is almost forty places higher than Cayman.
The 0-0 draw on March 25 was a very, very disappointing result for Belizeans. This is what you get for having ruling politicians too intimately involved with your selection and decision-making process. That’s what I thought when I heard that result.
For the “away” game in Cayman to decide which country would go on to the next World Cup eliminations round, I felt I had to watch the action. It would start at 6 p.m. on Sunday, March 29, so I would have more time to “decompress” emotionally after the game. I was confident we Belize would win the game, though I knew that we would have to fight hard for the victory.
When I started watching the game, there was no sound, only the video on the television, and the video wasn’t clear at that. One team was in red, and when that team in red scored an early goal, I was sure it was Belize which had scored. But then the score flashed on top of the television screen – Cayman 1, Belize 0. What kind of crazy nightmare is this taking place? I watched about ten more minutes after that, but the pressure was too much for me, so I went to bed. I guess I planned to do the same thing I had done for the March 25 game. But, I couldn’t sleep now. I turned on the game again when the second half was just about to begin. Belize had scored in the first half to even the game at 1-1, so this eased my stress somewhat.
After about ten or fifteen minutes of the second half, I turned off the game and decided to try to sleep again. I had been much disturbed by the Belize team’s great impatience and their primitive long ball attack. I did fall into a fitful, frustrated sleep, and that little sleep only occurred because I was sure that when I woke our team would have gotten a positive result. I woke about a half hour after the game and called a friend for the score. 1-1. I said to him, well, what does that mean? Belize advances, he said, because our away goal is more valuable than the Cayman’s home goal.
I was, nevertheless, angry. Belize had played the Caymans for 180 minutes and only managed to score 1 goal, on a set piece at that. We had been unable to defeat a small British colonial possession. For me, the problem is that Belize is an independent country with a colonial mentality. We are a people whose decision-making institutions are excessively influenced by ruling party politics and class considerations. Once a decision-making process prominently involves a ruling politician, it automatically means that the large section of the populace which does not support the ruling party will not give all-out support to the selection. This poisons the atmosphere around the selection, making it difficult for the team to perform with total zeal.
In the case of the present Belize selection, we all know what happened: there is bad blood between that specific ruling politician and Belize’s most successful goal scorer, who, incidentally, is a young man at 27 years of age. The selection’s assistant coach, who does most of the talking for the team and has a political past with the ruling party, kept saying how the selection was going “young.” Young or old, the fact of the matter is that the Belizean who had proven himself to be our best at putting the ball into the net, was not there at crunch time.
I want to discuss another sport before I close. Crosscountry takes place Holy Saturday. My late uncle, Buck Belisle, was very close to Crosscountry from the 1940s until the middle 1980s, which was when the sport changed. In 1971, Crosscountry in Belize had suffered a trauma when a Mexican, Pablo Calderon, won the race, which went to Orange Walk Town that year, and finished at the National Stadium. The following year the race returned to Cayo, and in a dramatic scene, Belisle’s rider, Anthony “The Tank” Hutchinson, chased down Calderon coming out of San Ignacio on the way back, and called to him, “Vamos, paisa.” Calderon had not been able to respond, and Hutchinson rode into town alone to recapture the garland for Belize.
My uncle used to explain to me, as we both watched the Crosscountry carnage which had essentially begun in 1987, that before 1987 Belize did not invite cyclists beyond a certain point in Mexico. In Mexico, you see, the further north you go from Belize, the higher the altitude, and the more formidable the Mexican athletes – boxers, footballers, cyclists, or whatever. (Calderon had come from Ciudad Del Carmen. I wonder if he is still alive. It would make a great story to talk to him. Hutchinson lives in the United States.)
These days, the caliber of the foreign cyclists is obviously superior to the caliber of the Belizeans. The Crosscountry has become much bigger, but since 1987 Belize’s chances of claiming the garland are only around 30 or 40 percent. These days, we don’t build our national hopes up too high on Holy Saturday morning. Yes, we pray, but we are fearful nowadays.
The young people say that this is progress, and one really cannot argue with them, I guess. The young people say that cycling is a very expensive sport, and this is how the big sponsors in the sport want it. Personally, I preferred it the old way, but this is always the case with us old folk: things always seem as if they were better back then.
Power to the people.