Put your money where your smiles and handshakes are
Representing an island nation is difficult at the best of times. Pitting your wits and skills often against the best in the world, and in the knowledge that virtually any country you come up against has a far larger pool to choose from can be deflating. You can often be on a hiding to nothing. But, the athlete and honest trier that you are, you get up, dust yourself off and try again.
Representing Bermuda can be a largely thankless exercise. Considering how little is given to sport on this island by way of funding and technical support, it is no great wonder that we are only a speck in the ocean of Olympic achievement, have not had a football team of note for generations, have played in the Cricket World Cup only once — albeit when the global authorities opened the floodgates to qualification for smaller nations — are sailing, golf, tennis and rugby also-rans, and rely on super individuals to “put us on the map” but only after they have left these shores to further ambitions that could not possibly be realised in Bermuda.
Against this backdrop, a landscape including sport being the perennial bridesmaid come budget time, with merely a crumb of the fiscal pie flicked its way, the cries from overly demanding supporters that we should be winning things are cacophonous.
For what we put in as a country, we hold no inherent right to be “winning things” — aptly put, we are the Newcastle United of international sport.
We should count our lucky stars when the likes of Flora Duffy, Tyler Butterfield, Nahki Wells, Delray Rawlins, Reggie Lambe and Nicole Mitchell go over and beyond in keeping the Bermuda name relevant for more than that “Triangle” thing.
The aforementioned are all adults and so for the most part have got past the stage where they have been thrown in at the deep end against opponents who are better trained, better funded, better organised and better supported. They have excelled in spite of this. But most do not and fall by the wayside — either through lack of desire or the single-mindedness required to make it to the next level as an elite athlete.
We say this on the presumption that the prerequisite for possessing talent has been met.
Our Bermuda Under-17 women’s team know what it is like to be knocked down. To get up. To dust yourself off. To try again.
Many of the group that performed wonders in qualifying for the Concacaf Under-17 Women’s Championship in Nicaragua next year were in the team beaten 12-0 by the United States in the Concacaf Women’s Under-15 Championship in Orlando in August 2016.
A host of mostly underage girls had done well to get to the knockout stage of that tournament and their reward was a tie against the host nation and pioneer for the women’s game globally. The result was thoroughly unsurprising but, regrettably, we were among those who were unsympathetic towards a group that had worked so hard against the odds.
They didn’t deserve that.
Women’s football, although it began in Bermuda more than 25 years ago, has been on a bit of a slow burner — it has taken some time for the local governing body and the public at large to give it some love, as romantics might say.
But those who have been loyal to the process can now reap the rewards of a national programme that yields no fewer than three squads, from under-15 to seniors, and the future is promising with many of our players lined up for schools overseas and one or two tipped to go even further.
The squad that did so well in Haiti, and in St Lucia before that, contained many of those who suffered that big loss to the Americans last year, but should they cross paths again, this more experienced group are expected to show how much they have grown in the interim.
That is not to say we will not be massive underdogs in Nicaragua, because we will. Already awaiting without having to qualify are “the big three” — the US, who are defending champions and three-times winners, Canada and Mexico — as well as the host nation, with the lone remaining qualifier from Central America to be determined.
But Bermuda, having reached the last eight on merit, should expect to acquit themselves well. We can help in that regard by giving this team all manner of support, and that includes thinking outside the box to make possible for them the best opportunity of dancing with the gods.
Between now and April, they should not be restricted to twice or thrice-weekly training sessions and scrimmages among themselves, but a warm-up tournament or tour designed to assimilate them for the demands that await in Nicaragua.
That requires money, which for sport in Bermuda is not in great supply — with a nod to the budgetary crumbs, a legacy issue.
It is why we have struggled to take politicians at more than face value when they fall over themselves to be seen to be congratulating athletes through rushed press releases, no matter the scale or scope of achievement, and then appear in what can only be described as photo-ops.
Not in this newspaper.
Governments of the recent past and present have been given the cold shoulder and will continue to feel the Arctic breeze from 2 Par-la-Ville Road until it is evident that a conscious effort is being made by those in positions of power to put their money where their smiles and handshakes are in relation to sport.
For if they do not, those greetings, while no doubt sincere at the time, can only be looked upon in hindsight as platitudinous exercises better reserved for a game of Gotcha!
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