It was in 1996 when Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco won a silver medal in the boxing competitions of the quadrennial meet in Atlanta in United States (US).
After that, it was all downhill.
In the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, the Philippines had 20 competitors in nine disciplines but failed to win a single medal. Filipinos also did not get a single medal in succeeding games — in 2004 in Athens, Greece with 16 athletes in six sports, in 2008 in Beijing, China with 15 athletes in eight sports, and in 2012 in London, England with 11 athletes in eight sports.
According to former senator Nikki Coseteng, such poor showing was a result of lack of foreign exposures and inadequate training because of insufficient budget compounded by the long-time bickering of sports officials.
When asked to describe the current state of Philippine sports, Coseteng quickly replied “messy, magulo!”
“I think it is messy because our structures for the development of Philippine sports are very weak, in some areas invisible, in some areas underdeveloped and in some other areas, very well supported, in other fields almost, even totally unavailable. That’s one of the reasons why it’s messy,” she said.
The Philippines has yet to win a gold medal since joining the Games in 1924. It has nine medals overall, two silvers (from boxing) and seven bronzes (three from boxing, two each in athletics and swimming).
Among Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines is ranked fourth in terms of medal production in the Olympics.
Thailand has already secured seven golds, six silvers and 11 bronzes while Indonesia got six golds, 10 silvers and 11 bronzes, and Malaysia earned three silvers and three bronzes.
Singapore claimed two silvers and two bronzes while Vietnam had two silvers. Brunei, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and East Timor never won a single medal.
“I don’t think the Philippine government knows exactly or understands or appreciates the need for a logical, well-funded and corruption free, politics-free sports development program,” Coseteng said.
In the Southeast Asian Games, the Philippines made history by winning its first-ever overall championship title when it hosted the 2005 edition. The Filipinos won a total of 112 golds, 84 silvers and 94 bronzes.
However, they saw their plinth crumbling as the Philippines dropped to a horrible sixth-place finish with a measly 41-gold, 91-silver and 96-bronze medal output in the 2007 Thailand Games, then placed fifth in the 2009 Laos Games (38-gold, 35-silver, 51-bronze) and sixth anew in the 2011 Indonesia Games (36-gold, 56-silver, 77-bronze).
Lack of government support
Coseteng said the government, through the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), must create a strong and well-funded sports development program as part of the long-term goal towards achieving sports excellence in the future.
“Why is it that the government funding resource is coming from casino money to support sports? Unang-una, sabi natin sa mga tao huwag kayo magsusugal kasi kapag nalubog kayo sa sugal kayamanan ninyo mauubos. Kung wala nang magsusugal, wala nang pondo para sa training ng mga atleta? There’s already something initially wrong with that,” she said.
Coseteng stressed the need for a massive grassroots development in collaboration with other government units such as the Commission on Higher Education and the Department of Education and other sectors.
Among them are the annual Palarong Pambansa, the University Athletic Association of the Philippines and the National Collegiate Athletic Association not to mention other regional competitions taking place in some rural areas.
Lack of facilities
She also mentioned the urgency to create sports facilities, stadiums and athletes and coaches’ quarters.
Thailand has 68 stadiums with the National Stadium in Bangkok as the biggest that can accommodate 65,000 people. It also has stadiums with 30,000 seating capacities and 12 with 20,000 to 25,000 seating capacities.
Vietnam has 37 stadiums like the 40,000-seater My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi and 13 more with 20,000 to 28,000 seating capacities while in Singapore, there are 21 stadiums including the 55,000-seater National Stadium and the 30,000-seater Marina Bay Floating Platform.
“Another problem of Philippine sports is the facilities. From the time I was born up to today, ‘yung Rizal Memorial Sports Complex pa rin ang ginagamit. Gumagawa ng settlements sa Cogeo, Montalban pero walang sports complex. How do the athletes, coaches and trainers’ quarters look?” Coseteng said.
The Rizal Memorial Stadium was built in 1934 and was used in hosting the 1954 Asian Games and the 1981, 1991 and 2005 Southeast Asian Games. It can accommodate a maximum of 20,000 people.
The Mall of Asia Arena and the Araneta Coliseum are the other notable venues in the Philippines. In Bocaue, Bulacan, the Philippine Arena and a sports complex, owned by religious group, Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC), are under construction. The INC earlier announced that the complex will be open to any public concerts and sports gatherings.
“We have to have our own training facilities for athletes, yung talagang maituturing na para talaga sa mga atleta, para sa training nila,” Coseteng said.
In 2010, the PSC envisioned to create a training center for some 600 members of the national pool in the sprawling government-owned lot at the Clark Development Zone in Angeles City as the 10-hectare Rizal Memorial Sports Complex is already congested and is not suitable for the training of the athletes. Budgetary constraints remain the main problem in making such plan a reality.
The former lawmaker also underscored the need to involve and educate parents and coaches as a springboard to honing young potential athletes.
“Sports is often trivialized. From the way the parents think ‘ay yung mga pumapasok sa sports mahihina utak nyan eh,’ ganun kaagad ang iniisip ng tao. Unless Manny Pacquiao ka. Hindi na pinag-uusapan ang utak dito. Bakit hindi? Kung Manny Pacquiao ka, utak pa rin ang pinag-uusapan. Bakit? Matindi yung utak niya eh. Kasi kung hindi ka marunong paano ka iiwas sa mga suntok ng kalaban eh one fraction of a second kung mag-iisip ka pa kasi mahina utak mo, durog na ang bungo mo, durog na mukha mo.”
Coseteng said corruption is a serious matter in sports. In fact, a number of sports officials have pending cases in the Office of the Ombudsman including swimming official Mark Joseph, former Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation chief Efraim Genuino and former Philippine Sports Commission chairman Butch Ramirez for allegedly misusing some P30 million government fund.
“We filed [a case against Mark Joseph and Genuino]in June of 2011 I think. It’s already July 2013 and we are hoping that it can be now elevated so that they will face these charges. We want a healthy citizenry but a big chunk of the money going to sports is going to the pockets of sports officials. That’s very disheartening,” she said.
The justice system plays a major role in, at least, minimizing corruption in the country.
The wheel of justice must turn fast and efficiently so that people will know that it is serious. And to protect government funds, the authorities must implement strict guidelines in giving financial support, she added.
“You can address corruption in two ways. One, use the law so that justice is going to be served at the soonest possible time. Two, choose the right people. Sports authorities in the Philippines are busy trying to protect their turfs, remain in office like kapit-linta, even when we are pinupulot sa kangkungan [in international tournaments],” she stressed.
Section 8 of the PSC Law states that the commission should be composed of a chairman and four commissioners, all of whom should be appointed by the President of the nation while the other officials including those from the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and National Sports Association (NSA) are to be selected based on their respective elections. The POC is mandated to have an election every Olympic year while the NSA’s schedule of election is based on the association’s constitution and by-laws.
Coseteng cited the Philippine Tae Kwon Do Association led by its president Sun Chong Hong as a good example of an NSA.
“Disenteng patakbo lang ang ginagawa ni Mr. Hong. Tae kwon do is one of a kind. There’s no other NSA like tae kwon do because he is running it the way a sports association should be ran. He can raise the money himself, he’s decent,” she said.
The national tae kwon do team has been a constant medal producer in some international competitions including the World Championships, Asian Games and the Southeast Asian Games. Mary Antoinette Rivero reached the semi-finals of the 2004 Athens Olympics but, unfortunately, absorbed a heartbreaking 2-3 loss to hometown bet Elisavet Mystakidou.
Support from private sectors is also important. It would have been enough to encourage the athletes to give their best in winning medals.
“As an organization, we really need funding especially from the private sectors.
Government must also be able to recognize who are contributing to the good of sports and who are only there because they want to get rich.
“Malaki rin ang part ng media parang chicken and egg situation yan e. Kinokober ng media ang basketball, lahat ng mga negosyante nagbibigay ng pera para sa basketball, kasi nandun ang media coverage. Bihira naman ang negosyante or bihira ang tao na gagastos ng pera tapos konti lang ang coverage.
“Sana mabuksan na ang mga mata ng mga negosyante, malalaking business para lalo nilang payamanin yung mga nasa baba tulad ng athletics, track and field, archery, yung mga sports na hindi kailangang maging seven-footer.”
Basketball, being the sport predominantly loved by millions of Filipinos, has the most number of air time as well as those sports with good-looking, head-turner players like football and volleyball.
The government must pour in a huge chunk of its resources for this undertaking. It includes the training of athletes as well as sending them to various overseas stints for exposures. But then, there is still the equally important grassroots program.
The PSC has revived the Philippine National Games, Batang Pinoy and other sporting events in an effort to discover fresh talents.
Coseteng said the training of an athlete must start as early as possible. “You are going to be
competing against athletes who started sports training at the age of two or three.
Kailangan habang bata tinututukan na.”
She named combat sports as the possible source of medal in the Olympics.
“Dapat dun tayo magfocus sa mga sports na may weight category like tae kwon do, boxing, meron ka talagang malaking chance dyan,” Coseteng said.
The PSC has named 10 focus sports which enjoy full support from the government. They are boxing, tae kwon do, athletics, swimming, wushu, archery, wrestling, bowling, weightlifting and billiards. Only billiards, bowling and wushu are the non-Olympic sports in the list.
Athletes from the 10 focus sports will be trained abroad. In line with this, the government sports agency renewed its agreement with the sports ministries of China, Australia and other European countries. The US has also been tapped to provide assistance and technology to the Filipino athletes.