Ele’s treatment is the story of Samoa today

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The government’s attitude towards Ele Opeloge’s historical Olympic medal – in particular its stingy reaction to talk about a monetary reward - highlights everything that is wrong with this country today. 

Aside from another case where the government flatly refuses to do what is right, the condescending attitude towards the achievement of this female athlete sadly reflects a colonial mentality we’d rather not revisit. 

And hearing the Prime Minister’s tone is disheartening.

Suffice to say if Ele were from a well off family with connections here, there and everywhere, we doubt we’d be having this conversation. 

We say this because the different treatment of two Samoan athletes of such high distinction is so obvious we’re finding it extremely hard to accept. It’s appalling.

Don’t get us wrong, we all love our world heavyweight champion Lupesoliai Laauli Joseph Parker. It’s unfortunate we have to mention him in this piece because he has nothing to do with the decisions being disputed here.

The facts are, however, he fought for a world title and the government offered him more than $200,000 to make the fight that happened. The government did not pat an eyelid. They did not ask anyone if it was okay, they just went ahead and made the decision.

We said at the time that the assistance was justified. We were criticised for backing it but we stand by what we said then. We believe it was a worthwhile investment.

Now after Lupesoliai won, he was quickly flown over to Samoa where he was rightly hailed as a hero. Later he was awarded during the government’s honours list when he was conferred the Order of Merit. All that is fine. Lupesoliai deserves it.

Weightlifter Ele on the other hand has defied the odds to win Samoa’s first – and probably our only – Olympic medal. Prior to that, this female athlete from Vaoala had been wining countless gold medals for Samoa at all the major world competitions. 

She personifies a true Samoan heroine. She is a made in Samoa story where she has overcome tremendous odds to climb to the top of the world. 

Although her victory has come some eight years later, that is irrelevant. Ele is an Olympic medalist and no one can deny her that privilege anymore. 

Now you’d think that having just witnessed the way Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his administration had embraced Lupesoliai Parker, is Ele not worthy of the same treatment? What makes her different? Why is the government not jumping up and down at the opportunity to congratulate her?

Let’s not forget international boxing is in a mess right now. Lupesoliai has one of at least three or four other belts floating around the world being held by other champions.

Ele on the other hand is an undisputed Olympic silver medalist. Yes we are talking about the Olympics, the biggest stage in world sport. A medal from there is the ultimate achievement to top all achievements.

And how does this government react? Well according to the Prime Minister, the government only awards gold medalists with monetary rewards.

 “That’s in the Constitution. For every competition, we only award those who win gold medals,” Tuilaepa said.

Are you serious? Say that is the case, if the award for the gold medal is $100,000, why can’t you just half it for the sake of fairness and to acknowledge such a milestone achievement? 

Now here is the irony.

“I’ve seen the medal,” Tuilaepa said. “It was the first time I’ve seen an Olympic medal. I thought I would die without seeing one, but I was wrong.”

Tuilaepa is not the only one. We could say the same thing about Lupesoliai Parker’s achievement.

These are massive moments. Who would’ve thought that one day we’d have a boxing world champion? And would have dreamt about Samoa having an Olympic medal? 

Lupesoliai’s achievement and that of Ele are unlikely to be repeated. 

And given the way sports have changed dramatically over the years, this might be the only chance we have – unless the Manu Samoa Sevens can prove us wrong. But let’s not talk about them for now, one headache at a time is enough.

Getting back to Ele, Tuilaepa appears to have no issues about her going on to represent New Zealand – which is unlikely to happen.

“Right now you should always go to where the money is. You don’t need to worry about anything else, but go to where you benefit from.”

Now what on earth is he talking about? 

What about doing what is right for Ele? What about Samoa paying her dues to a woman whose entire career has been dedicated to making this country proud? 

Regardless of what they’re saying about her applying for a residential visa in New Zealand and what not, the truth is simple enough. If Ele was someone of status and with the right connections here, the government would have made sure she was whisked over a long time ago from New Zealand, pampered with the red carpet treatment and probably a national holiday to go with it. 

Alas nearly three months after Ele’s medal was confirmed and even after the medal has arrived in Samoa, what’s happening today could not be a more accurate reflection of why this country doesn’t feel like its going anywhere. 

What do you think? Write and share your thoughts with us.

Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless! 

© Samoa Observer 2016

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