Out of the shadows
Tomorrow, the highly industrialized Korean coastal city of Incheon will lift the curtains off the 17th Asian Games.
The Philippines is sending 150 athletes to Asia’s version of the Olympics in the hope of bettering the 3-4-9 gold-silver-bronze haul of the 2010 edition in Guangzhou. But of these 150 athletes, much attention will be focused on Gilas Pilipinas, the collection of millionaire superstars who captured the world with a stirring performance in the recent Fiba World Cup.
Despite the Filipinos’ 1-4 record in basketball’s world championship in Spain, they were profusely lauded for their scrappy defense against the world’s best teams. Yes, they fought with an oversized heart to gain a huge measure of respect from fans and pundits. Yes, it was an admirably epic effort. But on the way to wooing the world, Gilas Pilipinas left other Filipino athletes languishing in the shadows, like the equally heroic and grossly underfunded dragon boat rowers who won two gold medals in their own world championship in Ravenna, Italy.
Such is the perverse way the spotlight is played on Philippine sports. Basketball practically bakes in the glare, while the rest have to be content with whatever shine bounces off the hoops.
When the action heats up in the Asian Games, basketball will again hog the attention. Heck, barely had the Philippine delegation set foot on Korean shores than the news was dripping with Gilas Pilipinas headlines, all because naturalized Filipino Andray Blatche was thumbed down by the Incheon Asian Games Organizing Committee and the Olympic Council of Asia for failing to meet eligibility requirements.
The drama was well played out in the news—from the initial questions raised by the organizers, to the response of the Philippines’ basketball federation, to the eventual rejection of Blatche, to the appeal of local sports officials, to yet another rejection, to yet another appeal, to yet another rejection… Rinse and repeat.
Meanwhile, wave after wave of athletes have begun flying to Incheon, some taking back-stiffening, layover-heavy trips from faraway countries where they spent months preparing for the Asian Games. And yet the latest we know of the competition is that Marcus Douthit has been approved as Blatche’s replacement on the Gilas Pilipinas roster. Everyone is so wrapped up in cheering for the squad as it seeks to vindicate itself after feeling targeted by the Blatche issue and validate its strong showing in the World Cup.
Sure, we have now heard that a 24-year-old surfer dude named Geylord Coveta—a world champion, if we may add—is part of the Philippine delegation to Incheon. Half the reason we know that is he will carry the flag during the opening ceremonies. The other half? He will perform the flag-bearing duty because Gilas Pilipinas beanpole Japeth Aguilar, the original choice, won’t be able to do the honors as the basketball team will leave for Incheon the day after the Asiad officially opens.
But let’s be clear. This is not an attempt to rouse some form of Gilas Pilipinas envy. This is just a gentle nudge, a post-it reminder, that the basketball team isn’t the entire Team Philippines in Incheon. Our boxers, led by Charly Suarez, and taekwondo jins, spearheaded by John Paul Lizardo, are gold-medal prospects. Wushu, cycling, archery, golf and bowling are also in the hunt.
With the Incheon Asian Games Organizing Committee striking out billiards, chess, dancesport and dragon boat—a gold mine for the Philippines in international meets—our athletes need us to back them all the way, even if backing them means merely pulling off TV all-nighters over beer and chips.
That’s what we did for Gilas Pilipinas during the World Cup anyway, and what we’d likely be doing for our basketball team in Incheon. Sure, our basketball heroes deserve our support. After all, they have been away from their families, training and competing in faraway gyms for validity and vindication, for gold and glory, for flag and country.
But the country’s adored basketball stars do not have the lock on such sacrifices, for such goals. Guys like Hermie Macaranas, John Harold Madrigal and Edgar Ilas have also committed as much time, effort and, yes, heart to contribute to the Philippines’ Asiad gold hunt. Let’s get them out of the shadows and into the spotlight, too.
Hermie, John and Edgar who? Our point exactly.
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