“The reality of Samoa in Samoa”

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

When will it ever end? When will we stop reading about these grievances? And when will things ever change for the better in Samoa? 

Come to think of it, is change possible at all? Can it be better or should we just settle down and say this is as good – or in this case bad – as it gets?

These questions immediately come to mind in light of the open letter from Sprinter Jeremy Dodson where he has challenged the status quo in the administration of sports in this nation. In doing so, the American-based Samoan sprinter is hoping for some changes so that Samoa can finally achieve her full potential in the international arena.

The challenge from Dodson is made in a blog titled “A letter to Samoa sports.” If he was hoping to gain national and international attention, well he has certainly done well. We encourage you to read the letter and tell us what you think.

In the meantime, we believe the issues raised are both serious and relevant. They deserve urgent attention with the idea that they should be fixed.

Writes Dodson: “From the three years I have represented Samoa, I have seen officials do nothing but get free trips, trips spent lounging in sponsored hotels while athletes eat processed food.”

“I have seen officials get elected not off merits, but friendships. I have seen decisions being made about sports they have never attended or know anything about. I have even seen sport funding being spent on bar tabs that date back over three years in Apia bars!”

Well these claims are not just serious they are embarrassing for Samoa, especially in the eyes of funders and donors who continue to lend a helping hand for sports development.

Keep in mind there are always two sides to a story. So we asked the President of Samoa Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee (S.A.S.N.O.C.), Fepulea’i Patrick Fepulea’i, for a comment.

“Unfortunately I do not agree with his generalisations,” Fepulea’i said.  

“I am disappointed with his generalisation including false accusations that we are funnelling money into our pockets. Sports administrators, other than the full time staff do not get paid. They do this on a voluntary basis.”

The President also expressed surprise at Dodson’s challenge.

“At no time did he express any views that he was unhappy with S.A.S.N.O.C. and/or the Athletics Association. He had the opportunity to raise any grievances with me but elected not to.”

“At the end of the day we at S.A.S.N.O.C. do our bit to help the different sports. We help our weightlifting association, swimming association for example secure I.O.C. scholarships for its athletes.” 

Fepulea’i pointed out that representing Samoa comes with its pitfalls.

“Like he said if the rugby players get paid WST$20 per week (which I am sure is not correct) but that underlines the reality of Samoa in Samoa.”

Okay then Mr. President. Fair enough. As we said, there are always two sides to a story and it’s certainly interesting to hear S.A.S.N.O.C’s take on Dodson’s grievances.

But let’s consider the phrase “reality of Samoa in Samoa” briefly. The truth is Dodson is not the first athlete to have raised these questions. Similar issues have been raised in the past under different S.A.S.N.O.C. administrations. Same old, same old.

And these grievances are not confined to the mother body of sports in Samoa. When you search a bit deeper, you will find similar murmurings in the administration of many other sports. It all has to do with the abuse of power, funds and poor administration.  Which must be a real concern.

That said, Dodson must be commended for finding the courage to speak up. So do other athletes in other sports who have raised similar issues in the past. It is not easy to be the unpopular guy who has to ask these tough questions.  But somebody has to. 

This is a small country where people talk and they talk a lot. Some people will openly spill the beans to you at the bar but when they need to find their voice where it matters, they become mute and tug their tail between their legs. This is why I always have the highest admiration for people who have the guts to speak up and put their names to these claims. 

Which brings us back to the question we asked earlier, can it be better or should we just settle down and say this is as good – or in this case bad – as it gets in Samoa?

Anywhere else, these claims should be seriously investigated with the idea of holding people accountable. The same should happen here. That is a sign of maturity, accountability, good governance and transparency.

But is that likely to happen here in this case? We doubt it. 

The problem for Samoa – and this is not confined to sports – is that our ears and eyes have become so used to seeing these claims that we’ve somehow accepted them as normal. It happens in sports, government, villages, churches and in all facets of Samoan society. This unfortunately is Samoa today. And it’s a crying shame. 

As we speak, another interesting story is unfolding. It is how the S.R.U has changed the Manager of the Manu Samoa Sevens, who happens to be a woman. There is  more than meets the eye there.

But that’s a story for another day. Have a fabulous Friday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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