Posted: Friday, December 23, 2016. 4:48 p.m. CST.
By Hugh O’Brien: The exemplary performance last year of 19 year old Simone Biles at the Olympic games, was celebrated in Belize yesterday after she was invited by the Belize Tourism Board (BTB).
Biles visit to Belize will no doubt be a great boost to our tourism industry, and the BTB’s decision to celebrate her success was a great marketing strategy on their part. In fact, Simone referring to Belize as “my second home” and cherishing her Belizean heritage, is by itself free publicity for Belize. Tourism Minister, Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr., in his remarks yesterday, admitted that they were very excited when Simone accepted the BTB’s invitation by saying “you better Belize we are coming”.
There is no doubt that Biles achievement is a motivation for young athletes in Belize, particularly those who come from underprivileged backgrounds. However, some Belizeans have mixed feelings about the warm embrace that Biles received and have used social media to register their views.
Shalue Butcher, Owner/Manager of the Aguada Hotel in Santa Elena, Cayo, thanked Simone Biles and referred to her tweet about coming to Belize as a “marketing genius especially for a small hotel like mine”. She goes on to say “Belize is not in everyone’s vocabulary and still unknown to many. With the amount of Belizeans employed by tourism, including those trickle down employees, we should embrace this venture and not criticize. How many of us showed up when the Special Olympics team motorcade took the gold? How many went out to support the championship games in football or basketball.”
Biles success, in some way, is a counter reflection of the pain for sports in Belize, particularly Olympic sports. This pain is best summarized by Louis Wade Jr. Facebook post which says “Simone… We have laid claim to that which we had no input in because that which we have had input in has been by political favouritism which yields poor results… so we now try to associate ourselves with the results of others who have placed emphasis on talent development… and so we try to gain mileage from their work rather than spend time to build our own raw talents.”
Support for sports, Olympic sports included, from fans right up to the level of our Prime Ministers is severely lacking. Last year the Government of Belize said it was cash strapped when our locally produced star football striker, Deon McCauley needed $5,000 to travel into the country in time for the FIFA qualifying match against the Dominican Republic. Yes, Government or the BTB could not bring home David McCauley. Following on the heels of McCauley’s challenges, and in an almost robotic way, there was little effort made to get Kaina Martinez to represent Belize at the Rio Olympics. Kaina, who hails from Seine Bight village in Stann Creek, is the current 100 meter champion and record holder in the Central American games. She has held the 100 meter record for 4 years now and at the last Central American games she also won a silver medal in the 200 meters.
In watching Belize’s team at almost all the Olympic opening ceremonies, we always ask this question as part of our sober reflection: Why is it that we have more officials than athletes attending the ceremonies and the Olympic games that follow?
Activists Nigel Petillo, in the backdrop of Simone Bile’s visit, is asking Belizeans to not forget Kaina Martinez. Petillo emphasizes that, despite being “our very own 100 % Belizean” Kaina’s “dedication, her contribution and her talent has never been celebrated here at home” and that “she has been cheated by her own people”.
Successive governments in Belize is of the belief that massive infrastructure and ‘WHITE ELEPHANT’ projects is the way to develop sports. They do not seem to believe in structured and sustained talent development, coaching and competitive engagement. Investing over $40 million on the Marion Jones stadium, and it’s still not complete after more than 10 years of construction speaks for itself. In fact, the building of a multimillion dollar fence in honor of our beloved Marion Jones speaks volumes as to where our commitment lies. Is it our leaders’ intent to develop more ‘Marion Joneses’ or is it their intent to facilitate more corruption?
However, as a young nation, we fully embrace and nationalize immigrants from Guatemala, knowing well that Guatemala still has an unfounded claim on Belize.
We sent a Belize City Council ambassador and went far to embrace and deliver a passport to Wong Hong Kim, a Korean national commonly referred to as ‘Citizen Kim’, while sitting in a Taiwanese jail.
Why then should we question Simone Biles. There is no comparison. She is Belizean through her mother’s heritage, she loves Belize and we should be proud to embrace her. She allows us to reflect as to where we are in our sports development programme. She isn’t the problem for Belize’s Olympic or sports dreams…she is a much needed motivation. Those that use our country’s resources in a biased and unfair way are the ones that stand in the way of some kind of success, no matter how small. For now we will love and embrace Simone Biles.
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