Gold is not all that glitters. This warped mutation of the popular saying can come only from the cynical minds of those who have made an art out of making excuses for the Philippines’ misadventures in international sports competitions.
The latest excuse, which came midway through the recent 27th Southeast Asian Games in Burma (Myanmar), beats everything else they’ve invented for its shamelessness. When it became apparent that the biennial meet was not going to be the gold mine that it once was for the Philippines, the country’s top sports leader came up with the ridiculous idea that silver and bronze were just as good as gold. He seemed to think everyone else was stupid enough to believe in alchemy—that one can turn less precious metals like silver and bronze into gold. This science, popular in medieval times, is charlatanism today.
When the curtain mercifully rang down on still another disappointing show in the SEA Games a week ago, the Philippine team found itself in seventh place—its worst showing since it joined the regional competition in 1977. And if everyone else in Southeast Asia were as naive and as color-blind as our sports leaders and added up all the silver and bronze medals as if these were gold, the result would be as bad.
How can the powerhouse host of the 2005 Games sink so low in just eight years?
In the past eight years, veteran politician Jose “Peping” Cojuangco was at the helm of Philippine sports as president of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC). In the eight years since the Philippines’ total domination of the Games as the 2005 host, Cojuangco presided over the country’s worst performance ever in the Olympic Games and the SEA Games.
The free fall started soon after the victorious team of 2005, hailed by the Inquirer as the collective Filipino of the Year, got done partying. From first at the medal table, the Philippines plunged to sixth in the 2007 Games in Thailand, climbed a notch up to emerge fifth in 2009 in Laos, and dropped to sixth again in 2011 in Indonesia. And just when we thought we had hit rock-bottom, the 2013 Games dug us deeper into the hole. How did we get to this abysmal point?
All too often, sports officials whine about lack of funds, about bum officiating, about how host countries of the SEA Games are allowed by the rules to stack the odds in their favor. But these excuses will not hold water if we examine why it is so easy for politicians to control sports in the Philippines.
The POC, as the local arm of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is in charge of screening and accrediting national athletes for international competitions like the Olympics and the SEA Games. The Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), on the other hand, is the government agency tasked with developing and carrying out a comprehensive sports development program and providing funds for the national sports associations (NSAs). It is the NSAs that elect the president of the POC.
The POC and PSC are supposed to be independent of each other. While the IOC strictly prohibits government interference in the affairs of the national Olympic committees like the POC, it looks the other way when these national committees meddle in the affairs of government agencies like the PSC. Given his status as an uncle of President Aquino, Cojuangco got to recommend the chair and four commissioners of the PSC.
It is this loophole that allows Cojuangco to control the PSC and the NSAs. This is the kind of patronage politics that traditional politicians like Cojuangco play to maintain themselves as sports overlords.
And the illicit relationship between the POC and the PSC is a major part and parcel of what is wrong with Philippine sports. Far from being a unifying factor, Cojuangco’s leadership has been the most divisive that Philippine sports has seen. The past eight years have been tumultuous for many NSAs, particularly those which refused to toe the POC line, including sports associations in swimming, chess, billiards, cycling, table tennis, karate, wushu, volleyball, dragon boat racing, and even Cojuangco’s turf, equestrian.
The biggest victims here are the athletes who put their lives on hold, forsaking family, friends, studies and their youth while their leaders bicker. It will be in our athletes’ best interest if politicians, particularly the myopic and the color-blind, step down and give way to professional managers and inspiring leaders with a clear vision of the future of Philippine sports.
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