In the name of history
There’s this idea of getting rid of the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex and replacing it with a modern landmark. That edifice of forgotten glory is old, dilapidated and practically useless. It’s said that it serves no more of its original purpose and it earns nothing for the city where it sits.
Turning it into a sprawling entertainment complex infused with smart technology and green spaces will surely liven up the spot it occupies. And provide Manila the additional tax and rental income it needs to return the city to its lofty perch as the Philippines’ premier metropolis.
Don’t worry, it’s said, the athletes won’t miss it. The sports complex is hardly conducive to the training of national athletes at the elite level. Besides, with beer joints teeming around it and girlie bars a mere stone’s throw away, there is just too much temptation for any sports hopeful yearning for a crack at a world record.
But it’s not entirely for sporting reasons that there’s a clamor to throw out the bid of a business magnate to pulverize the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex so that from its rubble something more up-to-the-times can rise. It’s mostly for this little thing called history.
And recent events have proved that this country needs tangible connections to its past lest the lessons forged there be forgotten. Remember that patch of infamy clandestinely set up just recently in the official resting place for heroes.
Where sports are concerned, the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex serves as a hulking reminder that once upon a time, the Philippines was a force to contend with in international competitions.
In its track oval, there are still faint echoes of the roar that accompanied Lydia de Vega’s run to the finish, and the passionate applause that greeted her on the podium, where she received her Southeast Asian Games gold medal. Unlike the poor paint job that marks the track oval’s walls, SEA Games triumphs still coat the perimeter to remind all and sundry how great the Philippines can be as a sporting nation if we get our act together.
In its baseball stadium, the markers still bear remembrances of visits from greats Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig—the two Hall of Famers who hit the first home runs in that field of dreams—letting people know that at one time, the Philippines was a preferred destination for some of the superstars of sports.
Inside the coliseum, one can stand alone in the free throw circle, make a few dribbles, close one’s eyes—and still catch the cheering of a crowd that went delirious with delight every time the locals pounded an Asian rival team.
But hardcore realists would scoff that these are but nostalgic pap. They’d say the material advantage of having an income-generating complex with modern amenities easily defeats emotional and historical reasons to keep the sports complex where it is.
Of what use is memory in this age of modernity? They’d demand to know.
Perhaps none. If the plan to transform the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex had been broached during past administrations, maybe the resistance would be less. But today? Any attempt to disassociate the Philippines from its past should be thwarted.
Look at what happens when there are no palpable reminders of the lessons of history: People become compliant to leaders who bend democratic processes as a means to a dubious end. People are not outraged by the curtailment of freedoms, having been in the light for so long and no longer remembering what darkness was like. And the remains of a thief and murderer manage to be smuggled into hallowed ground.
Maybe leaving the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex there will help prevent an apparent meltdown of the Philippines’ sporting culture. When the clueless ask why there’s a constant lament about the absence of a decent sporting program, and why necessary funding for Filipino athletes’ development and training have to be always begged for, it will embody the sad but clear reason: something that stands deteriorating and unobtrusive amid the traffic gridlock and trash-littered sidewalks, but on whose cracked, decaying walls are etched memories of a shining sporting past.
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