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Time and overtime

EditorialTime and overtime

There is something sorely missing in our Belize society right now. The causes may be many, and we don’t claim to have all the answers. But there is one thing we are confident of, and that is that sports has the potential of healing a lot of our troubled minds and souls, which must be a part of the reason for so much violence in our communities. But sports itself is in need of nurturing and healing in order for its great potential to be realized. And sports in Belize is in a bad state. Sure, there is a lot of lip support, and some token contributions, but if our society was real and genuine about the importance of sports, as a nation we would be putting our “money where our mouth is.” Despite the recent efforts of the current Minister of Sports, the evidence is all around us, and “the buck stops” with our governments and their reluctance to change their attitude toward sports, and reflect that in their budgetary allocations so that sports in Belize can begin to reach its true potential as an inspiration and catalyst towards the health and happiness of our troubled people. This is a big topic, but we will try and confine ourselves right now to two aspects – how we treat our players, and how we treat our fans in Belize City, the population and commercial capital of the nation.

It used to be the norm, in decades past, for a sitting minister of government along with prominent business personalities to attend top-level football games on a Sunday afternoon at the MCC Grounds, and to view the matches from an elevated seat where the whole stadium could be viewed. This added a special dimension to the contests on the field, because the players knew that their performance and behavior on the field were being observed by representatives at the highest level of the nation. It brought a measure of dignity and importance to the event, and thus to those involved.

There was a two-storey structure, the Guinness Pavilion, which provided comfortable seating accommodations for dignitaries and guests to view the games. There was nearby a Brodies pavilion which also served as a special seating for guests and officials. And there were also three large wooden bleachers along the western sideline, so that in the afternoon, the sun was at the back of the fans. All these structures had zinc roofs to shield those seated under them from the sun and rain. And fans and prominent members of society felt safe and comfortable going to enjoy the games at the top level of football in Belize City. The MCC was considered the Mecca of football in Belize then, though by international standards it was way behind other countries in the region.

But instead of going forward, we have gone backward, way backward, as any ride along the Princess Margaret Drive today can show you. What sane nation that respects and appreciates its footballers would allow this situation to continue? But still, we often lament about the glory days of football in the 1970s, and the blame for everything today always seems to be on the players, that they don’t take their game as seriously as players did back then. There may be a grain of truth there, but how about reflecting on the amount of love shown to our players – love as in investment in the facilities that provide the impetus for the game and the fans and the players to flourish? Since September 18, 1978, when Hurricane Greta destroyed the pavilions and western bleachers at the MCC, they have not been replaced. And the field, which was once treated with care and nurturing, has been abused on a number of occasions by other events, and left to deteriorate to an abominable level, so much so that a visiting Trinidad team refused to have their players exercise there in preparation for an international friendly in Belmopan. Is there a correlation between abused Belize City football, and the violence prevalent in Belize City streets?

The official disregard for the facilities which are for the comfort of fans, and the field which is the arena for players, has become taken for granted, as much as our great stars of the past are gone and forgotten so quickly.

The little artificial turf, Berger Field is great for the kids to train and play their little Mundialitos, but don’t expect thousands of adult fans to cram the little space in the boiling sun on a mid-Saturday morning for fun and relaxation. Big-people fans come out in the evening cool – 3:30 or 4:00 p.m. —to watch their top-level players perform at the big stadium on a Sunday afternoon. But all we have are promises for the MCC.

It is said that a measure of a culture or civilization is seen in how they treat their old folks. And in the realm of sports in Belize, football in particular, it has been a sad case of neglect. How can youngsters coming up know about the legends of the past if we still cannot establish a Belize Football Hall of Fame?

In his book, Janus, C.B. Hyde explained briefly how in 1990 a government-appointed team of prominent elder sportsmen did the groundwork and prepared a list of 80 names of top athletes they selected from 8 major sports in Belize up to the year 1960. In a pioneering effort, they launched the first Belize National Sports Hall of Fame, with 10 names from each of the sporting disciplines chosen. A follow-up effort a few years later did not get ministerial support, and the 40 names reportedly chosen were never officially inducted.

Wellington Ramos and his Belize-American Football Hall of Fame committee have made a noble effort in recent years, but their selection might not receive approval across the spectrum in Belize because it is not validated by a nationally approved body.

There is an urgent need for the official body of each sport to embark on a similar effort, and here we, as we have done before, call on the Football Federation of Belize (FFB) to lead the effort in seeing to the establishment of the Belize National Football Hall of Fame; and it is important that this effort be a sustained program where annual or biennial selections are made to add new names to the list of Hall of Famers. It must be a living process that keeps younger fans informed as the years go by, so that elder Hall of Famers will no longer be strangers, as they now are, to young players and fans.

One of the key factors that keeps the engine of professional sports roaring in America, is the institution called the Hall of Fame, where the greatest stars of the game are put on a pedestal of appreciation for them to remain ambassadors of the sport during their retirement years, and the love and appreciation of fans during their playing careers carry on in life, as their names are forever etched in the annals of the sport. It becomes just another form of inspiration for active players to aspire to, and a continuing gesture of appreciation, a badge of honor they can proudly wear at every Hall of Fame ceremony and for the rest of their lives. Every major sport in the U.S. has its Hall of Fame. And its members’ presence stands as a guiding light and inspiration overseeing and nurturing the development of the qualities and attributes that their outstanding careers have set as an example for the next generation of would-be stars to emulate.

Why not, Belize? What are we waiting for?

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