SEAG performance an embarrassment
The 29th Southeast Asian Games came to a close last Wednesday, a day before the 60th anniversary of Malaysia’s independence from British colonial rule. Kuala Lumpur had much to celebrate as Malaysian athletes took most of the gold and silver medals, including the overall medal tally. It was the second SEA Games championship for Malaysia, and reflects a determined effort to prepare their athletes for world competition.
As for the Philippines…
First of all, we commend all our athletes particularly our gold medalists, for their performance at the Games. They did their best. The same cannot be said of many of our sports officials who should have done their homework long before the start of competitions. In the gold, silver, bronze as well as the overall medal tally, we defeated — by overwhelming margins — Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei, and Timor Leste. Can you imagine if we had been beaten by any of those countries just mentioned? It would have been the ultimate embarrassment and would have made us the laughing stock of the region. Somehow, we were able to avoid this monumental disaster. The question is: For how long?
Now, for the bad news.
In the gold, silver, bronze, and overall medal count, we lost by huge margins to Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, and Indonesia. With the exception of Vietnam, the others are co-founders of Asean with the Philippines, the regional economic grouping that is marking its 50th anniversary this year.
In terms of population and GDP per capita, this is how we stand with the five nations that defeated us. I have also added their respective gold medals won at the games.
What makes us different from the others in the group? There are a number of issues that stand out:
We are the only Christian nation; the rest are either Muslim or Buddhist.
We were colonized by Spain and the United States; the others were ruled by Great Britain, the Netherlands, or France. Thailand was able to maintain its independence. Different colonizers, different outcome.
We change government every six years; the others are parliamentary in form, allowing for continued stay in power, depending on election results. Indonesia’s president can stand for reelection, giving him up to 10 years while Thailand and Vietnam are ruled by authoritarian governments.
Do these differences help explain why we tend to lag behind the others?
Perhaps, a good comparison to make would be that of the Philippines and Vietnam. We have roughly the same population size and our GDP per capita is only slightly higher. And yet Vietnam garnered more than double our total in gold medals. This is a country that only recently was ravaged by decades of a war for independence, first against the French and then against the United States, both Western superpowers. In both conflicts, the Vietnamese emerged victorious. Incidentally, last month was the 106th birth anniversary of one of its greatest military leaders, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, the victor over the French at Dien
Bien Phu, and the principal architect of the 1968 Tet Offensive in South Vietnam against the United States.
In our own struggle for independence, perhaps what we lacked were leaders in the mold of Vo Nyugen Giap: tenacious, resolute, willing to sacrifice and endure hardships in the face of difficulties, not just for years but for decades.
The same holds true in the field of sports. What we need is inspirational leadership. Not the kind that is more concerned with the trappings of power, but the kind with a clear vision of objectives and a willingness to make the sacrifices required to attain those objectives.
In 1994, Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president, with his election opponent, former president F.W. de Klerk, sworn in as deputy president.
The following year, South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup. Their team known as the Springboks, was made up of white players and one colored. Many black South Africans saw the team as a product of the apartheid era and wanted it dismantled and replaced, possibly with black players.
Mandela disagreed and saw the situation as a means of bringing about greater unity among his people. He called for the
captain of the team and encouraged him to reach out to the community in a bid to gain support for the coming competitions. The team responded by going to the slums and teaching black boys how to play the game.
As South Africa prepared for the World Cup, the minister of sports told Mandela, “According to the experts, we will reach the quarterfinals and no further.” Mandela replied, “According to the experts, you and I should still be in jail.”
In the finals, South Africa went on to defeat the heavily-favored New Zealand All-Blacks in overtime.
In 2019, the Philippines shall host the 30th edition of the Southeast Asian Games. It is likely that we shall be able to improve our standing in the final tally of medals after the Games. There are advantages in hosting such an event in the country. For one thing, we can field a large number of athletes in many events. Our organizing committee will have the final say on most issues that may arise from the staging of the Games. Our athletes will enjoy the full support of their countrymen while performing in familiar surroundings. In other words, we have hometown advantage.
But, this early, a word of advice: Let us not take it as a sign of progress. Unless new leadership, one with vision and determination is infused into our sports programs, we shall continue to lag behind the rest of the neighborhood to the
detriment of our athletes and our reputation in the community of sports-loving nations.
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