What is the role of sports in society? One answer is, sports serve the nation by contributing, often in dramatic fashion, examples of excellence in teamwork and leadership.
For many years now under the present leadership, Philippine sports have been in the doldrums. There has not been much to cheer about except perhaps the victories of our professional boxers, Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire, in particular. We won one gold medal at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, another at the 2015 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Singapore. The medalists were Filipinos of mixed parentage who were trained abroad and cannot be considered as products of local or national sports development programs.
There has been much talk of developing a training facility somewhere in Pampanga, but it has been all talk and no action. And the press releases about these plans only surface after every disastrous participation in international competitions like the SEA Games. Incidentally, we placed seventh in the Burma (Myanmar) SEA Games held in 2013. In Singapore last year, we ended up in sixth place. The sad and awful part is that nobody seems to care nor give a damn.
Last week however, an event took place that somewhat lifted our spirits and gave us cause for comfort and delight.
It did not involve an international competition. It was purely a local event with some participants being of mixed parentage. As expected, the national sport, basketball, took center stage.
A miracle of sorts took place when San Miguel Beer rose from near death to win the Philippine Cup (All-Filipino) of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). In a historic Game 7 victory, San Miguel defeated Alaska after being down three games to nothing. Never in PBA history has a team come from so far behind to win the championship series. Last year, San Miguel also won the PBA Philippine Cup, beating the same opponent, Alaska, in another seven-game series. This win gave them back-to-back victories in the same tournament, a record that will be very difficult to match.
How did San Miguel accomplish what was once considered the impossible? What was the reason for their success? Most people would say they had the talent; the team had the fighting spirit and the determination to succeed, and many other attributes of a champion team.
Perhaps Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players in history, threw some light on the San Miguel miracle by citing his own personal experience. He said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost more than 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
San Miguel never gave up. When the Alaska balloons hanging in the rafters were set to be lowered on the crowd, the Beermen fought back as only desperate but determined men can fight; and without their star player Jun Mar Fajardo to lead them, they took the critical Game 4 into overtime to extend the series. As things turned out, Game 4 was the beginning of the end for the Alaska Aces.
San Miguel Beer coach Leo Austria. It has been said that coaching in any sport involves fighting for the hearts and souls of your players and getting them to believe in you. Coach Austria called on his men to believe that miracles can happen and they responded by delivering clutch hits when needed and holding fast when their opponents mounted rally after rally in a desperate attempt to finish them off.
As baseball great, Babe Ruth, once said: “You may have the greatest bunch of players in the world, but if they don’t play together, the team is not worth a dime.” And it takes a leader to make this happen.
Alaska coach Alex Compton. It is in defeat that true character is revealed. After Game 5, which Alaska lost, Compton had a few thoughts about the officiating that somehow favored San Miguel. He didn’t go into tantrums, name-calling, nor did he shout invectives to voice his feelings. He pointed out the huge discrepancy in free throws—35 for the Beermen, as against five for the Aces—as well as in fouls called, and calmly said, “I am just stating a fact.”
When the end came, he was more concerned about his players, saying, “I wish I could have done something them. I don’t know if I will ever coach a finer group of gentlemen.”
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Let me add another class act, this one not involving sports.
I refer to our student volunteers of the Kalayaan Atin Ito movement who visited Pagasa Island in December. In the face of “rough sea conditions” (to use the words of Presidential Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma) and government obstacles placed in their way, they did what President Aquino should have done. It was a class act worth emulating and we hope their sacrifices will serve as inspiration for our future leaders.
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Still on sports, former Gintong Alay project director Michael Keon had a few choice words about the recruitment of Filipinos of mixed parentage to represent the country in international sports competitions. In an interview with the Philippine Star’s Joaquin Henson, he called it “a cover-up for the absence of a real and meaningful long-term sports development program.” While he accepts that other countries carry out similar practices, the difference is that those countries use foreigners to “strengthen an existing and successful sports program.”
Keon goes on to say that “it seems incumbent sports officials have no national pride. Instead of doing the hard work of training local athletes, sports officials are just sitting back and casting their eyes worldwide, looking for Fil-foreigners who have grown up and become successful athletes in foreign countries under obviously superior foreign coaching systems.”
There is a lot of wisdom and common sense in the observations of Michael Keon. We need someone like him to overhaul and revitalize our sports programs. For as long as we keep in office the same characters who are now handling sports in our country, we shall never get out of our present rut. Unfortunately, it appears that we would need another San Miguel Beer-type miracle to change the system and the people involved.
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