Game-changing boost | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

Game-changing boost

/ 05:07 AM June 20, 2020

It would be within the realm of reality to label Republic Act No. 11470, which was recently signed into law by President Duterte, a game-changer for Philippine sports.

The National Academy of Sports (NAS), a secondary education program that aims to grease the wheels of sporting development in the country, is being hailed as a progressive approach to building world-class athletes for international competitions. By providing young athletes a mix of targeted elite training and quality education, the academy aims to provide a pathway for those who see themselves in a long-term sporting career.

“This is a high school that will give our students a quality and enhanced secondary education program, integrated with a special curriculum on sports. Our students will be housed and trained in world-class sports facilities which are at par with international standards,” Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said in a report in this paper. “We want to support aspiring athletes at the earliest possible opportunities, so we would look for those who have the potential and train them in world-class facilities.”

Crucially, the academy centralizes the country’s grassroots sporting program. For decades, that program has been reliant on coaches traveling to national youth tournaments held once a year in search for raw talent. Once that talent has been identified, coaches have to keep tabs with the athlete until making a decision to bring him or her over to a college or university willing to offer the student a scholarship in exchange for school representation in varsity meets.

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But such a tedious process breaks down at several points—mainly, coaches often look for the best talents to maximize the cost of scouting for them in the provinces. The tendency is for less-heralded, yet very promising, players to slip through the cracks. That results in a shallow pool for international meets, and several sports associations have been criticized in the past for recycling national athletes even after poor performances.

Had a similar academy existed before, would have it been possible to catch a young and still-rising Manny Pacquiao and stave off his pro plans for a few years to allow him to represent the country in Olympic boxing, and perhaps win that coveted gold medal? It’s all hindsight now.

With the NAS, talents are now mandated to be pooled in one academy. College and university scouts and national coaches can identify and train young phenoms with ease and have an easier time tracking their progress.

“As a former athlete, [I believe] the birth of the National Academy of Sports is like hitting two birds with one stone. Affording our youth with quality education and world-class training is indeed a very commendable move, to say the least,’’ said PSC (Philippine Sports Commission) Commissioner Ramon Fernandez. “This will definitely propel, prepare, and encourage our athletes to compete creditably on the world stage,’’ the four-time Philippine Basketball Association MVP added.

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The academy is also designed to be highly inclusive. Not only will it provide training athletes a venue to pursue secondary education, it will also offer educational strands that could lead to sports-related courses and professions like coaching and management.

The main campus of the NAS will be established at the existing New Clark City Sports Complex in Capas, Tarlac, relieving the facility of the burden of becoming a white elephant, a fate that has befallen several sporting structures around the world erected by countries hosting major meets. The NCC complex was built for the country’s hosting of the Southeast Asian Games last year.

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Several countries have their own sporting academies and have tasted international success because of it, notably South Korea and Australia—countries whose national programs feature targeted sports for more success, a tack an underfunded Philippine sports infrastructure is trying to replicate.

The Korea National Sport University, for instance, counts as its alumni Park Sang-young, the épée (fencing) gold medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. The Australian Institute of Sport, meanwhile, has produced several world-class athletes, including the likes of basketball stars Luc Longley and Lauren Jackson and Olympic gold medalist for swimming Michael Klim.

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The National Academy of Sports might still be a long way from enshrining its own Hall of Fame scholars, but by coming into existence, and once implemented properly, it becomes the first step toward providing the Filipino athlete with the same competitive start that rivals have long benefited from.

TAGS: Philippine Sports, sports

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