See you in Rio
Last week the XXX Summer Olympic Games staged in Great Britain ended with the United States claiming supremacy over China with 104 medals against the 86 medals of its closest rival. This tally included 46 gold medals for the United States, as against China’s 38.
Among Asean countries, Thailand brought home silver medals for weightlifting and boxing, and a bronze for taekwondo. Malaysia had a silver in men’s badminton plus a rare bronze in the 10-meter platform diving. Indonesian weightlifters won silver and bronze medals, while tiny Singapore had two bronze medals in men’s table tennis for singles and team competition.
Briefly, the Philippines sent an 11-man team composed of swimmers, archers, boxers, track and field stars, a weightlifter, skeet shooters, and a cyclist. These from a nation of about 95 million, second only to Indonesia in Asean population figures. Since the Games were staged in Athens, Sydney, Beijing, and now London, we have not won any medals in Olympic competition. In baseball parlance, it would have been described as one hit, no runs, and no errors. The only hit was boxer Mark Anthony Barriga’s first-round victory over his opponent in the light flyweight division.
Did we expect more from our athletes?
Not really. I did not sense any great enthusiasm from our sports leaders about possible miracles. And when President Aquino himself failed to attend a send-off rally for the Olympic participants, instead designating a representative to read his message, that about summed up the national effort and interest in what many people consider as the most prestigious sporting event in the world.
Several years ago, I recall an incident that happened at a farewell rally for our athletes who were leaving for the XII Asian Games in Hiroshima, Japan. When it was time to sing the National Anthem, they apparently did so in a lukewarm manner which got them a public scolding from President Fidel V. Ramos who said: “What’s the matter with you? You will represent the country in another land and you cannot even sing the National Anthem properly.” An attempt to recover lost ground was cut off with a curt “Don’t bother. You should have done that earlier.”
Reading accounts of the meeting left me with a feeling of sadness. Here were the top athletes of the nation bidding goodbye to the Chief Executive, and somehow they couldn’t belt out the National Anthem with enthusiasm and spirit. It is possible many of them were not familiar with the words and were just going through with the motions of moving their lips. Maybe they were slouching instead of standing erect, head held high and full of pride in being sent to represent their country in such an important and prestigious athletic event. They were also probably not too familiar or accustomed with the practice of placing their right hand over the left breast while singing the anthem.
Whatever it was, the President was unhappy and his sharp tongue put them on notice that he expected much more from the young people assembled before him, our representatives to an international meet abroad.
Somehow I was not surprised that something like this would happen. It is symptomatic of how we carry on in many of the activities that we undertake in our daily lives from the way we behave in traffic situations, to our inability to set aside partisan interests for the national good. We have taken too many things for granted, and placed individual concerns over and above community interests.
Somehow the system does not seem to be doing enough to inculcate basic values like respect for the Flag, the National Anthem, discipline, civic duties and responsibilities. So much depends on the educational system. It is in the classrooms and schools where our children start to learn about the history of our country, where they develop respect for the Flag and Anthem, and where discipline can be instilled while preparing them for useful roles in the community.
Perhaps, just as important is the role played by the national leadership. In Singapore, energetic campaigns for simple things, like courtesy toward others for no smoking in many public facilities, led by the highest levels of the national leadership, have inevitably turned out to be huge successes.
At one time I wrote that one of the things that impressed me most during my stint in Indonesia was the sense of nationalism of its people. For one thing, there were no endless queues of people at the Dutch or US embassies applying for immigrant visas. Their athletes being sent abroad, always returned home, unlike some of ours who disappeared after the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. Perhaps part of the explanation stems from the fact that Indonesia has a national ideology known as the Pancasila, or Five Principles. These principles which form the nation’s political philosophy are:
1. Belief in God, regardless of religion
2. A just and civilized humanity
3. Nationalism, or love of country
4. Sovereignty of the people
5. Social Justice
Since the independence of Indonesia in August 1945, this national ideology has been drummed into the mind of every Indonesian child, from early school years all the way to adulthood, and all these years, there has been no change, no letup, in its emphasis and dissemination. I remember that many of the official programs which the Indonesian president attended would start with the recitation of the Pancasila, and this would set the tone of the rest of the day’s activities.
Incidentally, last Friday, Indonesia marked the 67th anniversary of its independence. The outlook for the country continues to remain bright and progressive with Indonesia touted as one of the next 11 big emerging markets and one of the 15 largest economies by 2020. Already, the country is part of the G-20, a collection of some of the biggest major economies in the world.
But going back to our participation in the London Olympic Games, there are some of the usual reasons being given for our disastrous performance—too much politics, lack of consistent funding, the need for reforms, particularly at the grassroots level. We all know these reasons but nothing is going to change in time for the next Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. By 2016, we will be engaged in another electoral exercise for the presidency, which means that very little of our attention or efforts would be devoted to preparing adequately for Rio de Janeiro. It is very likely that we will be sending perhaps the same number of athletes, with very little chance of winning any medals. Perhaps, we should be looking way past Rio de Janeiro to 2020. At this point, the site for the XXXII Olympic Games has not yet been decided.
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