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Cross Country Classic

LettersCross Country Classic

Dear Editor,

“Guatemalans continue to humiliate Belizeans as if annexation of the Sarstoon is not enough they win the Cross Country Classic two years in a row. Adding insult to injury!!”
– Hubert Pipersburgh, Facebook post, April 15, 2017

“Sports are, at a baseline, the ultimate meritocracy. There’s a winner and a loser, and the outcome is seldom in question — a rarity in a world that’s mostly gray. And yet, sports have never been wholly separated from politics, from race, from gender, from business, from society. Sports are, and always have been, a microcosm of where we find ourselves as a country — perhaps as a world.”
– Kavitha A. Davidson, http://www.espn.com, Feb 15, 2017

In the normal course statecraft is extremely complex as there are significant forces at play, seen and unseen, attempting to shape a country’s domestic as well as foreign policy. Belize’s diplomatic space is made even more complex because of the unfounded Guatemalan claim. There is no other country in the world that is being claimed in its entirety by a neighbouring state. Confronted with such a scenario we would be doing our country a great service by dissecting anything done by Guatemala or by Guatemalan nationals. Guatemala’s stated intent is to “recover” Belize and therefore we should strive to understand how each of their actions relates to such a stated intent. In the practice of statecraft things are seldom what they seem.

On Holy Saturday, for a second time in an equal number of years, we saw a Guatemalan take home the garland. Hubert Pipersburgh, like me, it appears, was frustrated that we would lose Belize’s most prestigious sporting event to a national of a country that has time and time again punked us as a nation. A country that for all intents and purposes wishes to see Belize disappear from the map. Hubert’s post drew predominantly negative comments with the majority of responses castigating him for mixing sports and politics. Some people, it seems, were unable to see the picture that Hubert was trying to paint.

There are some people who believe that Padilla’s victory was nothing more than a sporting conquest and that we should not link it to the unfounded claim, nor should we feel any sense of humiliation by having a Guatemalan win the Cross Country not once but twice in a row. I don’t buy that argument. We were humiliated as a nation on Holy Saturday! If Hubert’s subsequent comment on his post which he attributed to Santi Castillo is true, we can understand why Padilla was able to deflate our national pride on the 15th of April, 2017. Santi made two interesting points: (1) Belizean riders are lazy and do not put in the necessary work to win and (2) it would cost us about $250,000 a year to raise and maintain a national team to defend our honour on Holy Saturday. Santi has the credentials to speak on these matters. I therefore yield to his authority. All I will say is that we need a new breed of road warriors who will do what it takes to defend our honour on Holy Saturdays yet to come. The price tag for the defence of our national honour, $250,000 per year, is a small price to pay. In fact the one million dollars that the Hon. Patrick Faber intends to grant to the teachers, he views as supporters of the UDP, could sustain our national team for four years at the annual costs suggested by Santi.

Logic tells us that if winning bestows a sense of pride, then one might be able to deduce that losing can diminish one’s sense of pride. The psychological effect of losing can be so intense that athletes sometimes cheat in order to win; they rather dope than face the prospects of losing. In sports, at the individual level, losing can devour one’s self confidence. At the international level, when a citizen of one’s country excels in sports such success can serve as a source of national pride. And when nations develop a sense of pride, oftentimes along with such pride comes a greater sense of oneness. The flip side, of course, is that when a country loses, the nature of the contest and degree of the loss can lead to national ridicule. The Belizean riders, though privately sponsored, were representing Belize; Padilla, however sponsored, was representing Guatemala and Padilla won. Guess what? Guatemala won! But they say to Hubert, don’t mix sports and politics!

The world is a very complex place. Some Belizeans, it appears, are not able to process the array of threats to our sovereignty. We truly believe that the world loves us; therefore, no harm will come to us as a people. Even in the shadows of an unfounded claim by Guatemala we go about our lives the least bit concerned about the existential threat presented by our ultra aggressive neighbour. Perhaps this is the sole province of political leadership. What I do know is that since renouncing the 1859 treaty Guatemala has adopted a de facto policy of “strategic patience” as it relates to the “recovery” of Belize. A critical dimension of their policy of “strategic patience” has been psychological warfare. What we saw on Holy Saturday was just that—psychological warfare. The Guatemalans see sports as Davidson does: as a microcosm of our world; therefore to them sports is politics. If one thinks the oligarchy in Guatemala does not understand what Holy Saturday means to us then one might as well change one’s name to Elrington!

Yet still we continue to hear that we should not mix sports and politics. In 2008 when, incredibly, Bertie Chimilio took the Belize national team to Guatemala City for its World Cup qualifier home game, the UDP, then in opposition, called it “a serious affront to our national sovereignty.” But in 2008, Chimilio’s love of FIFA was greater than his love of country; he drove on. In 2013, we heard the same cry from some quarters—don’t mix sports and politics—when a Belizean basketball team, under the courageous leadership of Charles Ellis, withdrew from a regional tournament hosted by Guatemala. The hosting federation had published a logo with a map of Guatemala which included Belize. Reportedly, three Belizean players stayed behind and played in the offending jerseys that carried the map showing a Belize consumed by Guatemala. Their love of basketball was greater than their love of country. This is how we have raised our children. Madness!

Now, once more, they tell us that we should not mix sports and politics when a Guatemalan, wearing his national colours, humiliated us on Holy Saturday. Like the majority of Belizeans, I always want a home boy to win, but at the end of the day I can accept that a foreigner who puts in the work and crosses the line first must be respected. I also understand the strength that it takes to complete such a race and so I salute my Belizean brothers who rode on Holy Saturday. Having said that, I cannot accept losing the garland to a Guatemalan. Every time we give the Guatemalans the opportunity to score such psychological victories we strengthen their resolve and erode our own. Out here in the real world, sports is politics. Holy Saturday ain’t no joke! Holy Saturday is about more than just a race!

Major Lloyd Jones

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