Focus on the athletes
Lost in the snapshots of sporting highlights and low points in 2014 was a forum where tearful volleyball athletes begged that they be spared from the divisiveness that was threatening to undo the gains their sport had been collecting in the past few years.
It was a key moment, however overlooked, in a roller-coaster year for sports if only for the revelation it put forward: that the field of sports in 2014 was both amazing and frustrating.
Certainly we won’t apply both descriptions in equal measure, for we choose to cast an optimistic eye on the performance of the Philippines’ athletic heroes: From a dominant, guess-who’s-back triumph by a revered boxing icon, to a first Youth Olympics gold medal courtesy of a promising archer, to a breathtaking golden ride by an oft-questioned cyclist, to a heart-melting performance by a skater on ice, Filipino athletes proved that they belonged among the world’s best. Even those who ventured out and earned nothing from their efforts were heroes in their own right, if only for the grit and aplomb with which they tried to bring glory to the motherland.
So where did the frustration come from? From officials, mostly. If there’s anything that was made apparent in 2014, it’s this: Things are far better off when focus is trained solely on the athletes.
Take cycling. In the Asian Games, the cycling leadership complained that it was largely neglected by the powers that be of the Philippine Olympic Committee and Philippine Sports Commission, and that the neglect smacked of politics. The team members arrived in Incheon and felt snubbed, with no one bothering to check on them at the airport.
Instead of sounding off, as many a sports official is wont to do, the team members buckled down to preparing for the BMX event. While they were doing so, “experts” from the PSC and POC began questioning rider Daniel Caluag’s fitness. Was he in competitive form? Why had he skipped so many races? Caluag responded with a performance to remember on the track, winning the Philippines’ only gold medal in the Asiad.
It was only one event, but it provided a clue to the direction that Philippine sports need to take in the future.
In basketball, when athletes are the showcase, we get amazing performances like Jimmy Alapag’s heroics in the Fiba World Cup, where the Philippines deserved all the moral victories it was credited with. Officials, on the other hand, produce botched eligibility statuses and underhanded ploys, like shooting at an opponent’s basket.
In volleyball, the poster girls of the sport did us proud, and their popularity skyrocketed to live-TV-coverage levels. To provide these athletes more platforms to showcase their talent, rival leagues came out with a unified stand that would, hopefully soon, iron out scheduling conflicts that leave the girls with no choice but to miss a few games here and there.
The popularity expectedly reeled in officials hoping to hitch a quick ride to newspaper headlines. A squabble for the top post in the national volleyball federation left the sport’s athletes wondering, in between sobs: Why now? To the credit of the highly political POC, the local Olympic body formed a de facto group to oversee the sport while the crisis is being ironed out.
This being the holiday season, we are holding on to the hope that the POC’s intentions are pro-athlete, pro-sport.
But it seems that every time officials try to worm their way into the limelight, trouble follows. And thus the inescapable conclusion: In 2015, it will be best to leave sports to the athletes.
Maybe it is time for corporations or moneyed individuals to invest in athletes, not in organizations or federations. When you pour resources into organizations, you either win or lose. When you invest in the Filipino athlete, you can only win. There can be no greater return for an investment than for one made in heroism.
Maybe it is time for officials to back off from trying to make the news and instead push for the development of young athletes—a task that is actually listed in their job descriptions. Maybe it is also time for members of the media to quit being mouthpieces of these officials and leave them to do their posturing in the dark. Maybe then, officials will quit clinging to their posts and surrender these to those better qualified, those who will put the athletes’ agenda ahead of everything else.
Then maybe we can have a year of pure highlights and of smiling, satisfied athletes.
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