Sports — 22 October 2016
Strike at the MCC; will something good come of it?

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Oct. 20, 2016–We alerted fans a couple weeks ago about problems developing between the players and the management of the FC Belize football team; and it was manifested last night at the MCC, where the FC Belize team refused to take the field for their home game against Belmopan Bandits FC, who were awarded the 3-0 default victory. The win puts the Bandits alone at the top of the PLB standings with 23 points, while FC Belize stood down and endured their first loss by default, in an attempt to let authorities, PLB and FFB, know that they are serious about not continuing to play under the present conditions of management.

It is not the first time that a football team has “gone on strike,” that is, refused to take the field for a game at the MCC; but this time was a bit different.

Stann Creek Selection 1979

Back in 1979, when the Stann Creek Selection was slated to take on the Corozal Selection at the MCC Grounds in the finals of the Inter-District Competition, there had reportedly been an assurance given to the Stann Creek team that they would be receiving a portion of the gate receipts at the game that Sunday afternoon.

According to a member of that Stann Creek team, “It was the last game in the season between first place and second place. We needed only a draw. Corozal had to win. The rules were that, if fans stop a game, the home team lost by forfeit… The Corozal fans beat up the referee when we jumped them 1-0 in second half.” Stann Creek should then have won automatically. But he said that, in that game the Ministry of Sports’ competition coordinator “changed the rules because he was from Corozal. But we still agreed to play, if we got a cut from the gate.”

The game was then moved to the MCC in Belize City. “Yeah, for more money,” he said. “It was always a hustle at players’ expense.”

But, with the MCC jammed with fans in anticipation of the monster match-up, the Ministry of Sports official, who coordinated the competition, informed the Stann Creek team that no such payment would be made. Either there was a huge “miss-communication”, or somebody reneged on a promise given. Whatever the case, the Stann Creek team, already in uniform, refused to take the field, and instead returned to their bus for the long ride back to Dangriga.

“He lied to us,” continued the veteran player, still seething with anger over the incident. “So we let him worry about paying back all those people who had paid.”

According to his recollection, “When people went to get refunds, the money was gone.”

The Stann Creek team and its management were unified in their resolve to stand up for their rights against the powers that be. He said that all the players on that Stann Creek Selection were subsequently suspended, but later reinstated in time for the next competition.

Coke Milpros 1989

Another, perhaps less dramatic, strike incident occurred in 1989, and set in motion a sequence of events that ultimately resulted in the launching of the first semipro football league in 1991.

Again, in that instance, which involved the Coke Milpros Football Club, the team and its management were of one mind and resolve. Official protests were lodged on two consecutive Sundays in July of 1989, when Coke Milpros drew, 2-2, and then, 1-1, with Duurly’s, in the best-of-3 games northern zone finals, with the winner to face the southern zone champion for the national championship. (City representatives Duurly’s and Coke Milpros had each won their respective zone the previous year, so the national competition organizers placed them both in the same zone in 1989.) Milpros management had delivered two protest letters, and insisted to the Belize National Football Association (BNFA) that the team would not be playing again until the “protests are heard and a judgement made” to determine if a third game was necessary. The BNFA went ahead and advertised the game; and the Milpros team did not appear. Duurly’s took the field and got their 3 points, and went on to the national finals of 1989.

But it didn’t end there. After being suspended from football, and pressing for an inquiry commission into the incident, and finally having the ban lifted, Milpros, after being absent from competition for a year, then resumed football activity in November of 1990 in the Belize City competition. They then qualified (2nd to Durrly’s) to go on to the BNFA National Competition, but immediately started to agitate for the formation of a semipro league instead, which would be an autonomous league under the umbrella of the BNFA, as provided for in its statutes. Thus, after a number of meetings, the first football semipro league, the Belize Semipro Football League (BSFL), was launched in April of 1991. After a few name changes along the way, it eventually became what it is today, the Premier League of Belize (PLB).

FC Belize players vs management 2016

Change often comes only after strong agitation with equal conviction. What was unusual in last night’s MCC stand by the players of FC Belize, was that their main gripe is internal – a dysfunctional management to players relationship. As much as they love the game, and want to win a championship, the players all feel so strongly that they can’t bear any longer to suffer under what they perceive as a management team that does not have their interest at heart. Without delving into the gory details, it does appear that this situation has unearthed a weak spot in the administration structure of the league that needs to be addressed urgently; and it has to do with protection of the rights of players in the professional arena.

A few years after the start of our first semipro league, a long-time football player and team manager, Charles “Jim Baxter” Bennett expressed his strong views that what we really needed in Belize was a “Players Association.” At the time, it seemed that Jim Baxter was not embracing the progress made in “going pro” in Belize football. But it now appears that he was right. The league affords all power to owners once a franchise is registered; but the players have rights too. And in the present situation with FC Belize players, their cries have gone unanswered, to the point where in desperation they felt they needed to make this great sacrifice, to try and have their situation rectified.

All is not lost

This coming weekend is an off week for FC Belize in the current PLB competition. Despite the loss of 3 points, they are still in a good position to make the playoffs, if their situation is ironed out, and the league does not levy any drastic penalty against the team besides the loss of 3 points. They did give adequate and prior warning of their decision not to play on Wednesday night, despite the league’s announcement.

In retrospect, it should have been the biggest and most attractive game so far in this PLB Opening Season – two undefeated teams that are tied in points at the top of the standings, having drawn, 0-0, in their first season meeting. It was a promoter’s dream for last Saturday night, the original scheduled date, and would definitely have been by far the biggest home gate so far for FC Belize. The decision to postpone the game was reportedly made by their owner in Belmopan without any consultation with the team. Not only did the team forfeit possible gate receipts last night, but they are also aggrieved by reports that the bar “rights” for all FC Belize games was reportedly sold by the owners to another individual for the rest of this season. So, the team has lost 3 points, and they now face an uncertain future.

One of the veteran team leaders remarked last night that he was prepared to call it off, stop playing football altogether, rather than continue playing under the current oppressive arrangement.

Football fans in Belize City are hoping that something is worked out soon, so that the FC Belize team can return to action in hope of still making the playoffs for the first time since January of 2014. Their three foreign stars reportedly left the country today, but indicated they are willing to return if the situation changes.

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