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Respect the mind

/ 05:06 AM November 14, 2019

Wesley So, once a Filipino, is now an adopted citizen of America because short-sighted, inept members of the sports commission, or whatever inappropriate name they give it, rejected my previous entreaties to take this brilliant young man under their wing. They were besotted by a focus on basketball—a game the Filipinos, good as they are at home, will never, ever be world champions at.

In 2010, I was asked for help. I was more than happy to oblige, as I have huge admiration for games of the mind where the soul, the real person that makes us what we are, resides. The body is just the vehicle to carry the brain. My dad was world doubles bridge champion with Frank Cayley as his partner, and my uncle was world chess champion. I’m immensely proud of them and, no doubt, they’re responsible for my respect for the mind.

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But you can’t watch bridge because the hands are covered, while watching chess is like watching grass grow. Football (soccer) is nonstop action and excitement that draws thousands to the stands. But surely, if we can’t watch mind games, we can at least give them far more publicity, support and attention than we do.

Wesley was, back in those days, a budding teenager with obvious chess brilliance. I approached officials, I begged sponsors, I wrote columns — all to no avail. In final desperation, Wesley bid me farewell and did the only thing he could — move to a country that would recognize and support his talent.

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Last Nov. 2, Wesley beat the world’s No. 1 chess champion Magnus Carlsen, a Norwegian Grandmaster. They played the more challenging Fischer Random game, where the back row of pieces isn’t in its normal structured way, but randomly placed — a much more challenging game as each match has a different start.

Wesley is now ranked No. 2 in the world, and don’t the Philippines dare try and take any credit for it. He was born here, but that’s it. The Philippines deserted him, America nurtured him — that country deserves the credit for its support.

How many other Filipinos who could be world champions have failed to become one, because all our sports officials do is play politics among themselves? At least I presume they still do; I don’t follow physical sports much locally. I just remember the ineffectual disaster of sports when it was under the capture of Peping Cojuangco. Thank god he’s gone. But are his replacements any better? I’d be interested to hear from them what they do, not in flattering press releases but in terms of real facts. How do they identify up-and-coming champions? What do they do to support their careers?

Have they ever thought of making Filipinos world champion football players? Filipinos’ litheness and speed could make them so. Look at equally short Brazilians who’ve been world football champions for the most times. Has the commission chosen sports where Filipino bodies can excel? Recently, Filipino Carlos Yulo won our first gold medal in the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships — a sport Filipinos definitely have the talent for. Previously, we won Olympic silver medals in boxing and bronze medals in swimming and high jump. But no golds, and nothing in athletic-type sports where talent could lie.

Australia, where I come from, regularly takes about eight gold medals, and numerous silvers and bronzes, from a population of 25 million, versus the Philippines’ 108 million that, till now, has never won a gold at the Olympics.

On swimming, there’s virtually no Australian that grew up in Australia who can’t swim. Yet here, many Filipinos can’t swim. In a country surrounded by water everywhere, you’d expect that the country would develop world-class swimmers and divers. Instead, drowning is far too frequent, with about 2,500 recorded deaths last year — deaths that could have been avoided. We had a maid who drowned when her bangka flipped over and she panicked. She could have stood in water 4-foot deep. What is the sports commission doing to teach archipelagic Filipinos to swim?

Filipinos spend 10 hours a day online (that puts them No. 1 in social media use  in the world). Those hours aren’t spent playing correspondence chess. I wonder  if they spend even an hour playing outdoors? Time to do something serious about this.

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