Sports and politics
The recent experiences of the Philippine Dragon Boat Federation team and the Philippine team that competed in the women’s Big League Softball World Series are symptomatic of what ails Philippine sports. Despite the daunting problems that the two teams faced, they performed wonderfully and brought honor to their country.
Their experiences showed that Philippine sports is still plagued by politics. No less than President Aquino admitted this last week when he gave the dragon boat team the heroes’ welcome that it didn’t get from the country’s top sports agencies. The team won five gold medals, two silvers and broke two world records at the 10th International Dragon Boat Federation World Championships in Tampa, Florida last week.
The team lost funding from the Philippine Sports Commission after the Philippine Olympic Committee, headed by Mr. Aquino’s uncle, former Rep. Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr., refused to approve the team’s trip to Florida, making it ineligible for aid from the PSC.
Mr. Aquino chided the country’s sports officials, saying politics should be left to politicians and should not be allowed to infect sports. “We will strive especially to remove politics from sports,” the President said. “It should be a unifying activity rather than a divisive activity.” He thanked the team and said he would see how they could get their due rewards and benefits.
Funding was also the major problem of the Philippine softbelles. Luckily, Tarra Quismundo of the Inquirer learned of their plight and wrote a story about them that was published on this paper’s front page. The day after the story was published, a windfall of monetary contributions and pledges came from big corporations as well as individual donors. In the United States, the Filipino communities where they stayed and played overwhelmed them with kindness and hospitality—free accommodation, a lot of Filipino food and tours of their cities.
The Manila softbelles were doing well until the crucial championship game, when due to tension and errors, they folded up and lost to defending champion Grand Rapids, 2-9. It was the third time that the Manila softbelles’ campaign ended in heartbreak, but still it was a respectable finish. A foreign sports official said that playing the women’s softball world series without the Philippine team would have been like staging the football World Cup without Brazil. The Manila softball team, the Asian-Pacific champion, is a well-respected team.
Another problem that plagues Philippine sports is the concentration on basketball, a sport in which the height-disadvantaged Filipinos (even when aided by hastily naturalized foreign players) cannot hope to win international honors. Because of the focus on basketball, sports like softball and dragon boat racing, as well as other sports in which the Philippines used to excel, such as baseball, tennis (remember Ampon and Deyro?), bowling (remember Nepomuceno and Bong Coo?) are forgotten and not given enough attention and funding.
If there is a comprehensive national sports program, we are not aware of it. The search for potential champions in various sports should start at the grassroots, possibly in the Palarong Pambansa and other national sports competitions. And sufficient funds should be given to sports in which we can excel regionally and internationally. At present, funding is given on an ad hoc basis, and only when a sporting team or federation shows great promise.
It’s a pity that sports in general is not being given enough attention by the government and the private sector. Some countries have become identified with certain sports, such as Brazil, with football, and the United States, with baseball and golf. The Philippines has gained millions of dollars worth of international publicity because of the outstanding achievements of Manny Pacquiao in boxing. We could gain more publicity and renown if we could excel in other international sporting events.
In turn, the favorable publicity could draw foreign investors to our shores and provide us with funds to set up industries and businesses that would employ thousands of our countrymen.
But we should not think only of the publicity and financial benefits that we can derive from sports. Promoting interest in sports among our people could make us a healthier, more active, more prosperous nation.
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