We are undeserving of that elusive Olympic gold medal
Says Michael Benjamin
Whosoever coined the old adage about putting all of one’s eggs in one basket would have felt exonerated after Imran ‘Magic’ Khan, Guyana’s key hope for a medal at the impending London Olympics, lost his fight to Argentina’s Alberto Melian at the Olympic Box-off in Brazil recently.
Several other boxers did attend that forum including Bert Braithwaite, who eventually suffered a loss to St Lucian, Marcellin Lyndel, and Stefan Gouveia, who despite winning his inaugural bout against Teofilo Jeronimo of Honduras, lost out to Columbian, Eduar Marriaga in the quarter-finals.
Shortly after the boxers returned to Guyana, President of the Guyana Amateur Boxing Association (GABA), Steve Ninvalle, joined Tournament Director and coach, Terrence Poole, at a press conference to inform media operatives of the details of the trip. This is not the first time this was done nor was it the first time that journalists were fed with a litany of excuses regarding the boxers’ failure.
Of note though, was Mr. Ninvalle admittance that his executives erred in the development of its nursery sector. It was refreshing to note that GABA executives have rectified that anomaly somewhat and has subsequently teamed up with beverage giants, Demerara Distillers Ltd to stage the first edition of such an initiative with a promise of at least two others before the year has expired.
At that press conference also, the media was assured that there was a glimmer of hope that at least one of the pugilists might have still received an opportunity to attend the Olympics by dint of a wild card option. The media was warned that the notion was a bit far-fetched and would be ventilated by President of the Guyana Olympics Association (GOA); K A Juman Yassin after the latter individual had explored the options. To date there has been no positive word on this matter and it seems painfully obvious that Guyana’s team would be devoid of boxing representation; the last pugilist to represent us being John Douglas at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
This country’s inaugural entry to the Olympic Games was in 1948 and if the absence of a boxing representative fails to raise our ire, one needs only to reflect on the fact that after fifty-six years of representation at this forum, Guyana still has only a bronze medal to show. For the record, boxer Michael Anthony Parris, Guyana’s first and only Olympic medalist, procured that accolade at the 1980 Games in Moscow.
Recently Cuban boxing icon, Teofilo Stevenson passed away and subsequently received a state funeral. Notably, this former Cuban boxer has won gold for his country in 1972, ‘76 and ’80. Despite Fidel Castro’s communistic ideals and the perception of many that Cubans were under siege, the world could not help but admire Stevenson’s staunch nationalism when he opted, against all odds and imperialistic pressures, to continue representing his country. This decision was amidst offers to fight Muhammad Ali for a huge purse (reports had the sum somewhere around one million dollars). Any affirmation by Stevenson would have been in contravention of the policies of his government since Cuban athletes are not allowed to compete professionally. Furthermore they earned only a fraction of the salaries that their counterparts in other countries took home. But Stevenson did not appear to have any regrets about his decision to turn down a big payday by staying amateur. “What is $1 million compared to the love of 8 million Cubans?” he had declared.
His boxing contemporary and countryman, Felix Savon recently disclosed that Stevenson had told him that he was offered $US5m (£3.2m) to fight Mike Tyson – the best professional heavyweight of his own generation- but he refused even after that fee was later doubled.
Maybe the most impacting statement at Stevenson’s funeral came from the lips of President Fidel Castro; “No other amateur boxer in history shone so brightly,” Mr. Castro declared, hailing Stevenson’s talent first, then his loyalty. “Cuba invests heavily in sport, only to see many of its finest athletes defect in frustration, seeking better pay and opportunities overseas, but Stevenson could not be bought for all the money in the world.” Mr. Castro said,
Recently, I spoke with a Cuban national here in Guyana and he told me of the royal treatment that was meted out to Stevenson. He spoke of the many privileges enjoyed by the late boxer/statesman as the Cuban authorities honoured, in no uncertain manner, the feats of one of their loyal sons. My Cuban friend also pointed out that such privileges are not only for Stevenson, but those stalwarts that have served diligently in the sport sector.
While Stevenson was chalking up his third gold medal at the Moscow Olympics in 1980, Guyana was still in the doghouse and this country’s only claim to Olympic fame, fifty-six years after it was represented at the Olympic Games for the first time, was a bronze medal at the above mentioned Games. Regrettably, we as a nation have failed to hail this momentous achievement in a tangible way.
When Parris returned to Guyana following his medal winning feat, he was accorded a heroes’ welcome and the government of that era had gifted him a house on behalf of the Guyanese people. Since then our boxing hero has been obliterated from the local sports map and is only heard of or referred to whenever our top officials are in search of cheap publicity.
Recently, the executives of GABA ‘honoured’ Parris with the dedication of an amateur tournament. At the inauguration ceremony, Director of Youth and Sports, Neil Kumar spoke glowingly of Parris’ feat. If indeed the Sports Director nurtures such deep regard for Parris, he should be instrumental in organizing a gift that is more significant than affixing our stalwart’s name to a tournament with superficial benefits. Merely dedicating an amateur tournament is a far cry from an honourable gesture.
Further, during those 32 years since Parris’ feat none of our administrators (sports or government) has seen it fit to suggest a trip for Parris as our flag bearer/ambassador to any succeeding Olympics yet we continue to crave that elusive gold even as we demonstrate scant respect for the ambassador that has netted the only meaningful accolade at this level of local sports. Small wonder then that this emblem has eluded, and will continue to elude us; we are simply undeserving of the accolade.