“Liberate the mind and strive for unity” – Liberation Day Games

03 OCT 2016

By Avalon Edward
Pohnpei, FSM—For the past couple of years – there have been only 3-4 women teams for the basketball tournament in part of the Liberation Games. This year, however, seven teams (Kapinga, Kolonia, Kitti, Sokehs, Mwoakilloa, Nett, and Sapwuahfik) signed up. It was an exciting tournament as the competition pool nearly doubled!
All was well until playoffs – Team Sapwuahfik was to play against a team that it had previously beaten without its full roster. Again, because of schedule difficulties – Team Sapwuahfik had to round up players in order to have enough players to face off their opposition. As the buzzer sounded off – Team Sapwuahfik cheered as they managed to defeat the opposing team for the second time. The cheer was premature as they found out that the opposing team was protesting against one of Team Sapwuahfik’s players.

The protest was made against Mary-Ann Lekka, whose father is from Sapwuahfik and mother from Nukuoro. Mary-Ann is an athletic person and has represented Pohnpei in the most recent Micro Games for the Women’s Basketball Team (one of the starting players). For years – Mary- Ann has been protested against because she plays volleyball for Team Nukuoro and basketball for another municipal. The simple fact being – Team Nukuoro has never had a basketball team for women. For the past couple of years – Mary-Ann has played for Team Kolonia, where she resides – but ends up not going past playoffs because of protests made against her. This year – she joined Team Sapwuahfik, a new team and one that did not have a volleyball team. And yet despite the fact that Mary-Ann has both Sapwuahfik and Nukuoro blood – she was protested against, once again.
During the final game, there may have been some “misunderstanding” but Mary- Ann was under the impression that if the opposing team would protest – the officials would then subtract any scores she made during the game. Mary-Ann kept that in mind and only attempted and made one shot – assisting the players on her team. Which was why when the protest was issued – Team Sapwuahfik did not think too much of it – because they had won by double digits. Yet, after two lengthy meetings with the Protest Committee – the protest was accepted and Team Sapwuahfik “lost” a game that it had rightfully won.
Rightfully won because according to the Competition Brief (Basketball Tournament) created by the Pohnpei Sports Commission – the eligibility criteria for the 2016 Liberation Day Games Basketball Tournament are as follow:
1. Citizenship or voter of an entity
2. Parents or grandparents are from that entity (Heritage)
3. Residence of an entity
4. Marriage
When Sports Director, Patterson Anson, was asked about the rulings for the Liberation Basketball Games – he responded that the tournament was “conducted and coordinated using all applicable Rules and Regulations in accordance to FIBA.”
Nowhere in the Competition Brief was there any mention that a citizen could not play for two municipals. And when asked – Pohnpei Sports Office was not able to provide the appropriate document for such ruling. The only thing pertaining to Protests in the Competition Brief is the procedure for which a team is to follow in petitioning for a protest.
With the protest being accepted by the Basketball Protesting Committee – Team Sapwuahfik was denied the chance to move forward in the playoff bracket.
The purpose of this article is not to dwell on the case of Ms. Mary-Ann or cast negative perspective on Pohnpei Sports Office. No, the purpose of this article is to address a “rule” that has denied dozens of citizens the right to play in the Liberation Games despite the fact that their municipals did not have a competing team in a sport. Because how can one limit himself/herself to one municipal when he/she is from three or even more? How do you choose which side to play for? Should we play for our mother’s side this year and father the next? It would be understandable if the two municipals had teams for both sports – but in Mary-Ann’s case and with so many others – not all municipals are able to compete in every sport.
This article is a reminder of why we celebrate Liberation Games with municipal games.
On September 12, 2016 – the whole island gathered at the Track and Field for the last hurrah of the 37th Liberation Games. People cheered and laughed and cheered some more. At the last event (4X100 Relay) the Track and Field organizers divided the men’s relay into two because they had more than one team for a couple of municipals and one team with mixed municipals. Despite the “rule” they were able to compete. Fortunately, there were no protesters. It was then that I was reminded, yet again, the purpose of Liberation Games. It is not to compete or to gain the most wins. The purpose of the Liberation Games is to celebrate in unity. We celebrate because we were liberated from foreign rule. After all, that is the purpose of Liberation Games – isn’t it? Why must we go through these bogus protests year after year? So what if someone plays for two municipals – we are all from one state – one people. If we continue to focus on competition and winning – then we have lost sight of the goal. A wise person once said, “We may have been liberated from foreign rule and oppression, but we are still bound by our own crippling mentality.” Let us liberate the mind and strive for unity.