(Dis)Respecting National Symbols

St.. Lucia Flag

IT’S uncertain how many Saint Lucians will have seen, live and direct, on TV or online, the official ceremony at which the winners of the 2018 North American, Central American and Caribbean Federation (NACFA) Games had their medals bestowed. But those who did certainly felt proud watching this star Saint Lucian athlete take her place, standing tall, yet again on the highest stand, flying the Saint Lucian flag way above all others.

It’s like watching your national team being presented and paraded at the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games. Maybe more, maybe less…

But then, just imagine (this) as well: you’re watching an official ceremony at which your country’s representative won the top prize in an international sporting event being viewed worldwide. When the time comes to present the top prize, the audience is asked to stand for your country’s national anthem.

Out of respect, you also stand in front of your TV and wait for the anthem to start – and when it does, it’s some other country’s anthem!

That’s exactly what happened this past weekend when Levern Spencer was awarded her God Medal at the NACAC Games in Toronto.

It was bad enough to make anyone mad to see how hard she tried, with remarkable restraint, to signal that this was not Saint Lucia’s National Anthem. But the damage was already done. She – and all of Saint Lucia and all Saint Lucians everywhere – had been embarrassed, in the eyes of the world, on TV and still going viral online. And it wouldn’t have lessened the embarrassment at all if the correct anthem was subsequently played.

Some argue that no one should feel embarrassed about what might have been pure human error. But respect for national symbols is non-negotiable and when it comes to playing one’s national anthem at any public function, it is the solemn duty of the organisers to so well plan as to ensure that there is absolutely no such mistake.

Size is irrelevant in this matter. Saint Lucia’s flag is no less important than that of any country a hundred times bigger. Countries of all sizes indeed have equal responsibility take all national symbols seriously, starting with flags and anthems.

Imagine again: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II arriving for a function at Government House (official residence of the Saint Lucia Governor General), the gathering being called to attention — and the sound system operator plays the French national anthem? Would it have mattered whether it was a ‘human error’ or ‘just a mistake’?

There are all sorts of examples of the embarrassments nations suffer in such circumstances. Not too long ago in Grenada, at an official ceremony opening a stadium built by China, the Taiwan anthem was played.

Blatant disrespect for national symbols can and does get reflected at home as well. It’s no less embarrassing when pictures are posted online with the Saint Lucia national flag being flown upside-down on a national flag-post outside a Government Building.

But in no case is it excusable for the level of carelessness that will allow for any country to be embarrassed by having any other’s anthem or flag being presented as its own.

Will Saint Lucia lodge an official protest? Or even just a complaint?

We should say something…

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