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Editorial

PH sports realities

/ 12:11 AM August 29, 2014

Luis Gabriel Moreno’s golden triumph in the recent Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, once again proved the Filipino athlete’s ability to provide the country with a celebratory mood across social, economic and even political lines.

Everyone rushed to proclaim Moreno’s feat in the mixed archery event of the Olympiad for young athletes as the Philippines’ first official Olympic gold medal. Sure, this was the Youth Olympics. But that did not stop Filipinos from all over the world from finally stringing the words “Olympic” and “gold medal” together without making it sound like a far-fetched dream.

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But Moreno’s victory also highlighted how unprepared this country is when it comes to rewarding the Filipino athlete.

As sports officials rushed in to provide the young archer with the required incentive for his feat, so spilled a curious truth: Republic Act No. 9064, also known as the Sports Incentives Act, does not provide much for achievers in the Youth Games.

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This truth further exposes yet another sad reality: The Filipino athlete is one of the most neglected citizens in the country.

Recently, a sports broadcaster, lamenting the fact that the centenary of the first Philippine delegation assembled for the purpose of competing internationally was passing by without anyone noticing, launched an event honoring sports heroes of the past. The event was supposed to be a celebration of glory, a commemoration of the kind of national pride only athletes are able to bring home. Instead, it yanked the curtains off the sad state of some of our forgotten heroes.

Heroes like Anthony Villanueva, one of only two Olympic silver medalists the country has produced, were discovered to be languishing in destitution, unable to pay for even the most basic of medical treatments. By the time the event commemorating his greatness came around, he had passed on.

It was the night’s most emotional moment—Villanueva’s tearful widow receiving his rightful honor on his behalf.

Sure, RA 9064 provides national athletes with incentives and benefits to help ease their financial needs. But the law is painfully handicapped in so many levels.

Lump sum rewards for an athlete’s achievement are limited to the Olympic, Asian and Southeast Asian Games. And even then, those incentives only offer a fleeting solution.

Villanueva certainly received his reward for his silver medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. But that did not stop his spiral into poverty. For a lot of athletes, receiving incentives even presents a new set of problems they have to confront: What do we do with the sudden windfall of wealth?

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Remember that the successful competitors from our pool of national athletes, the ones who notch victories deserving of cash incentives, spend their whole lives sharpening a specific skill set. Once their career ends, once they are no longer needed for international duty, they are set adrift on a crippling reality: They do not know what to do next.

Without a structured support system, those incentives can easily dry up.

RA 9064 does provide retirement benefits for national athletes, but even an official from the Philippine Sports Commission, which disburses these benefits, said the process of claiming these privileges goes through a lot of red tape. The official said the agency is pushing for several changes in the way the benefits are disbursed.

A simple ID card, the official said, certifying one as a national athlete should be enough for him or her to qualify for perks and discounts provided for by the law. The agency is still awaiting approval of these changes. To our politicians, these discounts and monthly pensions may be a drop in their money-deep bucket. But to our national athletes these could mean the difference between a life mired in poverty and one lived out decently and comfortably.

Perhaps there lies the root of the problem. Our athletes are hardly a government priority. How many State of the Nation Addresses have mentioned sports as a priority program?

That’s why some of our national athletes, heroes in their moment of glory, fall into neglect as time passes by. They are often only brought back into the spotlight when their plight helps sell a sports official’s PR narrative.

Sadly, while glory never fades over time, the memory of a glorious achievement can slip into oblivion.

Villanueva is just one example of the national athletes who have fallen on hard times after bringing honor to the country. And officials may argue that a majority of the country’s national athletes are already being taken care of.

But that’s exactly the point: One neglected athlete is one too many.

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TAGS: 1964 Tokyo Olympics, China, Filipino athlete, Luis Gabriel Moreno, Nanjing, Olympic Gold, Olympic Gold Medal, Sports Incentives Act, Youth Olympic Games
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