Public and private support for athletes
When Yuka Saso, Bianca Pagdanganan and LK Go — golf’s golden girls — donated close to P17 million worth of incentives to the grassroots development program of the National Golf Association of the Philippines (NGAP), it shone a fitting spotlight on what the country’s sporting program badly needs.
The incentives were rewards for the trio’s performance at the Asian Games in Indonesia recently, where the girls took home two golds and a bronze to become the most successful discipline in the Philippine delegation.
A bulk of the total of what Saso, Pagdanganan and Go were set to receive came from the government, which has proven to be ready to open its wallets to top-performing athletes.
Recently, Malacañang declared that it would be willing to spend up to P600 million for sports associations whose athletes perform beyond expectation.
Philippine Sports Commission chief Butch Ramirez threw in a caveat, though — a necessary one: Those associations must be free of the leadership battles and political strife that often weigh down such groups and the athletes under them.
For so long, sports has been on the rear end of the government’s priority list. People swooning over the act of generosity by the golf stars shouldn’t miss the point of the government’s renewed interest in sports; in fact, more than half of the total incentives Asiad medalists received were from the government.
But that interest is being matched by private companies, which have also started to vigorously raise funds for Filipino athletes.
Notably, Phoenix’s Siklab Foundation has pooled the resources of several top companies to create a financial war chest of sorts to help in the country’s hunt for its first Olympic gold medal.
Siklab is a contributor to the windfall received by Asiad winners as medal bounties. The foundation’s aim is to have a reservoir of cash that can be spent on promising athletes as they gear up for Tokyo 2020.
The latter part of Siklab’s raison d’être is important. While admitting that “post-investing” in athletes — rewarding them for triumphs — is an integral part in sports development, Philippine Olympic Committee president Ricky Vargas said he cannot stress enough how much more important it is to invest in athletes as they prepare for battle.
“They need all the support we can give them,” Vargas said, adding that private support is as vital as government assistance. And it’s not just through cash.
The Cebu City government pledged a skate park after Margielyn Didal, the pride of the city’s Lahug barangay, won a skateboard gold in the Asian Games.
The often-overlooked but crucial accessory to that pledge?
Mayor Tomas Osmeña has vowed to let Didal have a hand in the park’s design, which she can shape in a way that best prepares her for the Olympics. Privately, the mayor’s sister has also pledged P5 million for the park.
This public-private dynamic is an example of how a cash-strapped country can provide for its national athletes.
Athletes spend a lot of their effort campaigning for support for their preparation and training.
Weightlifting gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz is often vocal about the need for officials to support her discipline, calling them out on every available platform she gets.
While preparing for Tokyo, Diaz also spends part of her incentives and her schedule on her weightlifting academy to train future national athletes.
Meggie Ochoa, jiujitsu bronze medalist, used to launch crowdfunding campaigns for her participation in international meets.
Athletes have often embarked on “marketing campaigns” to raise funds for their training. That’s time and effort that should otherwise have been spent in the gym, honing their skills.
The golf women’s experience illustrates this. Asked what key ingredient helped Saso, Pagdanganan and Go succeed, NGAP president Martin Lorenzo said, “They didn’t have to worry about anything but play, compete.”
As the country looks forward to the 2019 Southeast Asian Games it will host and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, that should be the goal of sports leaders and patrons: Put the athletes in a position where all they have to worry about is performing well—and winning. Then perhaps the Philippines’ first-ever Olympic gold medal would no longer be such a pipe dream.
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