In the end, it was a simple low-key ceremony. It probably best described the incredibly humble champion that Tapueleele Opeloge of Vaoala is.
But you can’t help but wonder what could have been. Most of us would have opted for a grand parade with the glitz, glamour, bells, whistles and fanfare – especially given that an Olympic medal was a stake. Alas the moment we had all been waiting for arrived swiftly and it ended just as quickly.
The crowd was missing, the fans weren’t there but no one could deny that the moment belonged to this amazing Samoan woman champion.
Flanked by her fellow weightlifters and her parents, Ele proudly carried the Samoan flag walking through Beach Road, which was largely empty. There were no flash four-wheel drives, no banners, no children who would have loved to be there to meet their hero.
In front of the government building, the presentation was such a humbling ceremony it was simple and heartbreaking at the same time.
Simple in the sense that after Ele had waited nearly 10 years for her moment of glory, when it finally arrived yesterday, it could not be more simpler.
She should have been overcome with excitement. The problem was even if she was excited, she did not show it. She looked as if she was there reluctantly. Which was the painful part. It was awkwardly painful that politics was allowed to ruin the celebration of what could possibly be Samoa’s biggest sporting achievement in history.
But then again, this is the story of Samoa today, isn’t it? Politics trump everything – including doing what is good and decent.
The heartbreaking aspect of it all is that this moment belongs to Ele Opeloge. It is a moment that belongs to her family, her coach Tuaopepe Jerry Wallwork and the Samoa Weightlifting fraternity.
Yet the way the ceremony was poorly organised and run yesterday indicated that in Samoa today, there are different strokes for different folks.
I sat there with sadness, tears welling up inside. I couldn’t help but cast my mind a couple of months back when the big corporate companies and the government did not spare any expense in celebrating Lupesoliai Joseph Parker’s WBO victory. It was the victory parade of the century, the works and all. Who could forget?
But here we were welcoming Ele, the daughter of vegetable vendors up at Vaoala. The contrast couldn’t have been more obvious. There were more media people than spectators. The speeches were dry; words were spoken because they had to. They sounded so bloody hollow.
When the medal was finally presented, the silver medal was dangled in Ele’s face and the official message was you are not good enough because you did not win gold.
This government has already insulted this woman by downplaying her achievement and refusing to give her a single penny from the public coffers.
Was it really necessary then to add insult to injury?
Did they need to slap her in the face one more time in the biggest moment of her career?
Why did they bother to have a ceremony at all?
If Ele looked emotionless yesterday, we can’t blame her.
How would you have reacted? What would you have done? How would you have felt if you were Ele’s father? Mother? And her coach?
One of the biggest insults was that Ele was not even given an opportunity to at least say something. Neither her nor her coach Tuaopepe or anyone from the Weightlifting fraternity was given an opportunity at all.
Even the Police left before the ceremony had finished properly.
Where else in the world does this happen?
Come on Samoa, this is not normal? How many more sons and daughters of this country will have to be insulted and subjected to such treatment?
Let us remind ourselves once more that today is about Ele, it is about weightlifting and what they have done for Samoa.
Years it has taken her to reach where she is. She deserves better than what happened to her yesterday. With the last minute and hastily organised ceremony, the refusal to reward her and everything else point to a conspiracy to insult and cause more hurt to this woman. What has she done to deserve this?
Let’s try and put things in perspective. We love rugby, most people on these shores do. But nothing the Manu Samoa – or any other rugby team for that matter has done – can compare.
The same can be said about rugby league, boxing or any other sport with due respect. We are talking about the Olympics, the biggest sporting event in the world. Even a bronze is celebrated like no tomorrow.
Interestingly enough, when it comes to rugby, we are reminded of a few years ago when the Manu Samoa Sevens won our first World Sevens Series title.
After the excitement, then came the time when the players returned and were supposed to be rewarded. Needless to say, the rewards were peanuts.
And when the issue was raised about how poorly compensated members of that champion team were, the official line was that they were greedy.
And because that line was promoted by the very same people who are still in power today, the poor players were suddenly made to look like the bad guys. This of course came in the midst of allegations of corruption and mismanagement in the running of the sport. Now fast-forward today, look at what’s happening to the Sevens programme.
The point is that as a nation, we need to properly honour and compensate our locally-based athletes, just as we do when our more fancied overseas-based athletes do good for Samoa.
Today, there is nothing more than can be done for Ele or the Sevens players of the past. What’s done cannot be undone.
But we can learn some lessons to ensure the next elite athlete who makes this nation so proud is not robbed of their moment and insulted so badly they’d wish they had never represented Samoa.
Lastly, yesterday, the Samoa Observer presented the proceeds of the Samoa Observer Ele’s Fund to Ele herself. I spoke at the end of the ceremony and this is what I said in Samoan:
Lau Susuga ile Taitai o le Sauniga
Lau Afioga le Palemia, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi
Mamalu ile Aiga Kapeneta, Sui Faipule o le Paleme o Samoa
Peresetene o le S.A.S.N.O.C, Fepuleai Patrick Fepuleai
Peresetene o le Samoa Weightlifting Federation, Tuaopepe Jerry Wallwork
Afifio le ma’ave eseese ua aofaga potopoto i lenei taeo, outou paia faale ekalesia, faale malo ma faleaganu’u.
Tulou, tulou, tulouna lava!
Ou te mua’i fa’atalofa ma ou fa’afeiloai atu i lenei taeao. Taeao matagofie, taeao paia, taeao manuia ua tatou aulia fa’atasi i le alofa o le Atua Silisili Ese.
O le upu a le Fai Salamo, o le aso lenei tatou te olioli ma o tatou fiafia ai. Aua o le aso na faia e le Atua tatou te patipatia ai le taumafaiga maoa’e a se tasi o alo o Samoa, le tamaita’i o Ele Opeloge.
Ia tatou fa’amanu ma fa’afetai i le Alofa tunoa o le Atua ona o lenei fa’amanuiga ogaoga. Faimai Tavita, lo’u agaga e, ia e fa’amanu atu i le Ali’i… aua fo’i nei galo se mea e tasi o ana mea alofa.
O le tulaga moni, ole pine siliva a Ele Opeloge o se mea alofa mai le Atua. Ana le seanoa lona agalelei, ailoga a tatou potopoto fa’apenei. A o le aso, ua taga’i i ula, tepa i ula – ua mua uta, ua mua i tai. O le fa’amoemoe ua taunu’u, tatou taufa’i si’i fa’atasi le vi’iga ma le fa’afetai.
Ae ua ou tula’i e fai a’u ma Sui o le Afioga ia Gatoaitele Savea, Muliaga Jean Malifa, le kamupani a le Samoa Observer aemaise le paia lasilasi o Samoa i ona tulimanu eseese – e molimoli atu si a matou meaalofa fa’atauva’a e auala mai i le Samoa Observer’s Ele Fund.
O lenei taumafaiga ua lau silafia e Samoa potopoto. E le toe o’o iai sa’u fa’amatalaga.
• Ae mo le silafia o lenei aofia, o le sailiga atoa e aofia ai tupe ma mealofa eseese e $31,009.60 sene.
• O meaalofa (in kind donations) e $6,000 tala.
• O le seleni o le a tauaaoina atu ia Ele i lenei taeao, e $25,009.60 sene.
Ou te fia fa’aogaina lenei avanoa e momoli atu ai sa matou fa’afetai, mai le ta’ele o matou loto ma o matou agaga ia i latou uma na feasoasoani i lenei fa’amoemoe. O kamupani esese, pa’aga fa’apisinisi, kalapu ta’aloga, kalapu tapolo, aiga taitoatasi, alo ma fanau aoga – ma so’o se tasi lava na alofa mai. Faafetai, fa’afetai, faafetai tele lava.
O le upu a le Tusi Paia, e leai se ipu vai e te asuina e fa’amaumauina. Ia alofa le Atua o Manuia toe fa’atutumu mea ua fa’agaogaoina ona o lo outou titi faitama ia Ele Opeloge ma lana taumafaiga.
E fia fa’amauina fo’i sa matou fa’amalo ma le fa’afetai ia Ele Opeloge, Tuaopepe Asiata, ma le Samoa Weightlifting Federation. Se fa’amalo le finau, fa’amalo le loto toa ma le loto nu’u, faamalo le fa’aeaea.
O le matou toe upu, ia alofa le Atua ma saga fa’amanuia Ele, ma tama ma teine ta’aalo uma o Samoa, i so’o se ta’aloga.
Ia alofagia e le Atua lenei aofia, aemaise ta’ita’i o le tatou atunu’u, ia puipui pea Samoa i lona alofa ma lona agalelei, ae matou ola.