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The football dilemma in Belize

EditorialThe football dilemma in Belize

Belize loses at home, 4-0, to Nicaragua in WC qualifier

Group D —Nicaragua, Panama, Guyana, Montserrat, Belize
Sat. June 8, 2024 – Belize 0-4 Nicaragua
Tue. June 11, 2024 – Guyana vs Belize
Tue. June 3, 2025 – Montserrat vs Belize
Fri. June 6, 2025 – Belize vs Panama

Four years is a considerable period of time. The USA has a 4-year term for its president. And a young child at 12 years old is suddenly a blooming and strong youth at 16; and another 4 years and they are positioned to carry the nation’s pride and dreams onto the highest level of competition on the international stage. The FIFA World Cup cycle is a 4-year affair, and, although Belize has never qualified to attend the month-long gala including the 32 qualifying nations of the world, it is still a time to dream of the next World Cup whenever one is over, and ponder the possibilities of our next crop of talented young footballers. Could it be that this will be the time when Belize fields a daring group of players who will light up our hearts with hopes and dreams of that glorious day when our team might “kick up some dust” and qualify for the World Cup? Alas, that dream keeps getting dashed with each new World Cup cycle; and already it seems we are back where we started. How much longer can Belizean football fans, patriotic Belizean fans, bear to hearken to the call of the FFB and make that journey to the FFB Stadium to ride with their team, only to be heartbroken one more time? Perhaps, it will take some “tough love” from our fans and the media in Belize also, which have been meekly towing the line of patriotism; there are beginning to be some signs that fans may be leaning in the direction of our northern neighbor, and about to start to “bon fire” on the FFB and the coaching staff, like they do when the Mexican national team has a big loss. Yesterday’s 4-0 loss to Nicaragua at the FFB Stadium was one such situation. Belizeans may be nearing the end of their rope.

Of all the sports in Belize, football, our undisputed number one sport from way back, is the sport that has had and continues to receive the most funding from its international parent body, FIFA, which from the last we heard, dishes out a million US dollars annually to fund the administration and development programmes of the FFB. No other sport comes close. Volleyball is by far NOT our number one sport, but they have made Belize proud on a couple occasions, giving Belizean fans something to cheer about at the Civic Center. And basketball has done it also, with our local team winning the Caricom 1998 tournament at the old Civic; and, despite setbacks going into the recently concluded AmeriCup in Argentina, they accomplished the unthinkable, defeating powerhouse Brazil in their tournament opener. In a nailbiter just over a decade ago, Belize pulled off a 2-1 win against Nicaragua in a 2013 Gold Cup qualifier in Costa Rica, that allowed us for the first and only time so far, to make it to the Gold Cup competition in the U.S. But we have been struggling ever since.

It’s a feeling that all sports fans long for: the feeling of courage and confidence when your team steps on the court or on the field, that we are here to take care of business, and match our opponents “mano-mano”. In football, when a team takes control of the ball, and starts passing it around with skill, precision and confidence, it instills a feeling of pride and comfort in their fans; and that’s a feeling that Belizean football fans have been yearning for with our Jaguars, but it has not happened in a long, long time.

Sports is full of surprises, and there are no guarantees when two teams take the field, that your team will win. That’s the beauty and the drama that the game brings, the uncertainty and suspense, that for the winning side will be rewarded with that glorious feeling of victory and celebration. It’s all love and praises among the winners, as fans congratulate their favorite players, and they rehash the memorable moments of the just completed game. The losers will grumble and complain and talk big about next time, when they will get their revenge. It’s all in the game, relieving our stress of the past week, and going back to the drawing board to have a better outcome next time around.

But in Belize’s football internationals, we have been losing too much, and for too long. Our national football team has left us all with broken hearts too often. Our FFB heads seem to be doing a fine job with the many courses in referee training, coach training, getting “D” licenses and “C” licenses. And the FIFA dollars have also done great renovations to the FFB Stadium, so that we no longer have to be hosting our “home” games on foreign soil. Our FFB president has even been elected as a vice-president of Concacaf. And the FIFA funds are apparently well accounted for, otherwise they would not be sending any more. FIFA is all for “development”, and they must see Belize as a prime target for investing in development of our football, especially female football, since we seem to be so far behind our neighbors in Central America.

The problem for Belizean fans, though, is that it is taking too long. Generations of youths have come and gone, and we are still “developing” and taking a licking. The challenge facing the leadership of the FFB is to translate all the seminars and workshops, into results at the highest level of football representation of the country, which is the National “A” Team. If the FFB is restricted from utilizing the FIFA funds for investing in our national team, then perhaps we need to review that situation with our Ministry of Sports. The problem there might be that “who pays the piper, calls the tune”; and that might impact the choice of national coach, which so far has rested solely with the FFB.

It is a dilemma for the FFB and for all Belizeans who hunger for better representation of our country in international football competition, especially World Cup qualifiers. All our development programs and plans and coaching staff are geared towards the ultimate objective of our National “A” Team; and every player on that team deserves the full respect, financial and otherwise, from all the bureaucrats and experts at the FFB. Belize has talent; consistent failure at the national level is never the fault of the players, but those who are in charge of choosing, preparing and sending them out to the “field of battle”.

By their own press release, the FFB admits some mishandling of our players’ affairs. No sane athlete will, as the FFB release says, train “with their national team counterparts for over a week”, and then “just four hours before kickoff” announce their decision not to play, if they were not seriously aggrieved about some issue that the FFB was responsible for. We don’t know what were the “contractual differences” cited, so we withhold further comment. But being familiar with the history of Belize and the attitude of the powers that be toward our athletes, we have to sympathize with our players. As our lessons of the past have shown, sometimes it takes drastic decisions and serious sacrifices by a few players for major changes to take place for the benefit of all in the sport. Enough is enough.

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