WHAT a trivial, luckless sports nation we have become under President BS Aquino!
In Southeast Asia, where we came out No. 1 in the 2005 Southeast Asian Games under President Gloria Arroyo, we now rank in sixth place under BS.
In Asia, where we placed second to Japan in 1954 under President Magsaysay, we’re now so far down in the rankings, nobody gives our athletes the slightest chance in the 17th Asian Games that will take place in Incheon, Korea, from September 19 to October 4 this year. We may not even compete in those sports where we won gold medals the last time out.
In the Olympics, we’re such a long shot, it might as well be staged in outer space.
The situation is so dismal, even seemingly positive news is quickly followed by negative tidings.
Naturalization followed by immigration
Take last Wednesday’s strange sequence of news.
Earlier that day, national basketball team (and Gilas Filipinas) coach Chot Reyes excitedly announced and presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda confirmed that President Aquino signed Republic Act 10636, granting Filipino citizenship to NBA pro player Andre Blatche.
The Philippines finished second to Iran in last year’s FIBA Asia Championship in Manila, thus earning itself a berth in the FIBA World Cup in Spain on August 30-September 14.
Blatche is not the first naturalized player on the national squad. Another transplant is American Marcus Douthit, who was naturalized in 2011.
With his NBA bona fides (11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds a game), the 27-year-old Blatche is envisioned to play a leading role on the Philippine team at the World Cup.
Amazingly, on the same day that Andre Blatche became a Filipino, Filipino chess grandmaster Wesley So, one of the best players ever produced by this country and allegedly ranked 15th in the world, asked to be released from the national chess team so he can switch allegiance to the United States.
Blatche will cost the country millions (with Manny Pangilinan footing the bill).
So is valuable in his own way, having won his grandmaster status at the age of 14, and having recently won the gold medal in the World University Games. If he insists on saying goodbye Philippines, he will have to pay a ransom of over 50,000 euros to the Philippine chess federation, per the rules of the world chess federation when a player switches federations.
Since it takes years of training, planning, competition and support to develop players or athletes of So’s talent and caliber, it is, to say the least, incomprehensible that the country can lose such a talent so easily.
Conversely, it is also strange that in a sport (basketball) that is a national passion, the country has settled on the importation and naturalization of sports talent as its formula for coming up with a competitive team.
The fish rots from the head
The cases of So and Blatche are unique, yet if we sports fans are honest, we have to acknowledge that they are emblematic of the peculiar situation of Philippine sports today, and of its record of decline since 2010, the year of president Aquino’s accession to the presidency.
Whenever Filipino sports officials and sports journalists are confronted with the question of why the Philippine sports situation is so dismal, their immediate answer is invariably, lack of money. As though talking about the country’s infrastructure, they recite that the nation is just not spending enough for sports development – or at least, not in the numbers that sports powers and contenders do.
Yet this catch-all explanation hardly tells the whole story. It runs away from addressing the real problems, and pinpointing responsibility where it lies.
There is a famous, and nearly universal saying, “The fish rots from the head.”
The Spanish equivalent reads: “El pescado siempre se pudre por la cabeza.”
The saying is of imprecise origin, but its truth is recognized in every country wherever fish is prized and eaten. It means that when an organization or state fails, it’s the leadership that is the root cause. Whatever the language spoken, or in whatever culture, it’s the chief, or the governing authority who gets the blame.
Who heads Philippine sports?
So who’s the head of Philippine sports?
1. Is it President Aquino? — because ‘tis said he is the chief of everything in this country, including, yes, the pork barrel. It seems absurd to suggest, because the President is not known to play any sport, unless you can count his being seen playing billiards at Bahay Pangarap
2. Is it Jose “Peping” Cojuangco?, PNoy’s uncle and Tita Cory’s brother, the president of the Philippine Olympic Committee, who has sat on top of the nation’s sports since 2004.
3. Is it Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski, Peping’s daughter and PNoy’s cousin, who is the top representative of the International Olympic Committee in the country?
4. Is it Richie Garcia, the chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission, the main government body dealing with sports, the custodian of all government funding for sports?
5. Is it the board of PSC, because it is by law the official governing body.
6. Or does the responsibility lie collectively with the national sports associations, which in theory are individually autonomous and individually calls the shots in their respective sports.
National Sports Development Act
What can be stated with certainty is this:
The system of organization of Philippine sports is chaotic and unworkable. A simple look at how other countries organize their sports shows immediately that we do not have a clue about how to get it done.
Philippine sports urgently needs and awaits the drafting and adoption of a Philippine Sports Development Act that will establish a system for organizing sports in the country, create a program for sports development, and create the agency that will make it come alive.
The solutions adopted by other countries are worthy of study and emulation:
Few have adopted Senator Trillanes’ costly proposal of creating a separate Department of Sports. In some countries, sports and education have been combined under one department (which used to be our system in the past). Others, like the United Kingdom, believe it or not, combine media and sports under one roof.
What I will definitely endorse and recommend is the creation of sports schools in different regions of the country. This is the foundation and the secret of successful sports development in Russia and China. It has been adopted successfully in Australia.
Schools for the training and development of athletes is the way to go. This is where we should put our money.