TOKYO — Recently, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz took to social media to make a plea for more support. “Hirap na hirap ako (I’m really experiencing hardship), I need financial support,” the Olympic silver medalist shared in an Instagram story, where she also admitted she was contemplating looking for sponsorship from private companies.
This is not the first time that Diaz has articulated her difficulties. Last September, she wrote a “scathing letter” to Butch Ramirez, chair of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), lamenting how weightlifting is “governed by sports officials without plan” and how a “palakasan” system is holding back Philippine sports. Weeks later, the PSC responded by saying they would accommodate her requests.
With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics due in just over a year, however, perhaps Diaz is feeling some urgency—and a sense that whatever support she’s getting is not enough.
As is expected in a country where aspersions are cast even on the Filipino fishermen whose boat was sunk by a Chinese vessel, Diaz’s remarks were met with criticism; not a few pointed out that she already receives a lot of support. But given her position as an individual athlete and her own admission that her outspokenness is “nakakahiya” (embarrassing), my sense is she is speaking from the heart.
In any case, it’s not like we are not aware of the general lack of support that has undermined our sporting dreams. Although we were one of the leading contenders in the Asian Games during the 1950s, many of our neighbors have since overtaken us in sports, just as they have overtaken us in economic development.
Beyond funding, the disarray in governance is in plain sight with the chronic bickering among different agencies and personalities. Even as our politics is looking like a sporting match, our sports sector is looking more like politics. How much money and time are wasted in these squabbles, and in the gross mismanagement of the sector?
The tragedy of these issues is compounded by the fact that we are actually not lacking in sporting talent. Time and again, our athletes have shown their ability to compete on the global stage, but oftentimes they fall marginally but decisively short at the highest levels of competition, where talent alone is not enough to compensate for the combination of skill and state support their competitors have.
The case of chess prodigy Wesley So illustrates one possible choice for our athletes: Go elsewhere. Like Diaz, the now-US based So couldn’t help but voice his frustrations, referencing the “quarrel between the kings of the sporting bodies” in his feeling of not being appreciated in his own country. How can we make our talented young athletes see a future bearing our flag?
Underpinning the issue of supporting sports programs is the larger debate about the relevance of sports in society. I can imagine people saying, “So what if we haven’t won an Olympic gold medal? We have bigger problems.”
Arguments that pit sports funding against education and health, however, fail to mention government spending on things that are far more difficult to justify — from President Duterte’s billions in intelligence funds to his travel junkets. Surely, taxpayers would rather send more athletes to the Tokyo Olympics than see more sycophants joining the President’s foreign trips.
Besides, sports has demonstrable benefits for our nation. The sense of collective pride fostered in sports, for instance, must count for something in a country where unity is in short supply.
Moreover, at a time when the K-to-12 system recognizes that young people can take different tracks, we need athletes as role models who can show the youth that a viable career exists in these paths. With the FNRI reporting an alarming increase in obesity rates in the country, they can also help encourage our people to pursue athletic activities and healthier lifestyles.
Of course, there is a limit to how much funding we can give to sporting programs, but we actually have enough resources to bring our best Olympic hopes at par with their rivals in terms of the training and support they need. No elite athlete should have to beg for her own funding, especially when she’s doing her best to represent and give pride to our nation.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.