I am devoting this corner to sports because of the ongoing Olympic Games, always an extraordinary international event, and the not-too-well known role of my favorite government institution, the Department of Foreign Affairs, in sports development.
As a quadrennial ritual promoting the essential unity and limitless potential of mankind, the Olympics is without peer. The Credo of the Olympics in part states: “The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” Still, its slogan suggests what the Olympics is very much about, citius, altius, fortius.
Faster, higher, stronger. What I find most amazing and thrilling with every Olympics is how champions set a new record and break even records that have stood for many Games. Proof that limits to the human potential are, like the horizon, illusory.
The Philippine contingent to Rio all deserves commendation for living up to the credo and slogan of the Olympics. They have all proved deserving to represent the country in the Games. While our neighbors Vietnam and Singapore earned their first gold medals, the silver medal won by Hidilyn Dizon is nothing to sneeze at, it was indeed a magnificent surprise, a splendid achievement.
The attitude revealed even by those who failed to make it to the finals augurs well for our future participation in the games. The long-jumper lamented the injury she accidentally incurred in the warmup because she saw she could beat the efforts of the others. Our hurdles-man attributed his failure to reach the semi-finals to it being his first time in the Games. He panicked when he saw the race was faster than the last and lost his rhythm as he saw his neighbor surge ahead of him. Both are sure they can do better the next time.
For all its merits, the country’s participation in the Rio Olympics leads one to wonder about its lean size. It is a matter for reflection why only 11 athletes represent a country of 100,000,000 people. In the first place, it is clear that the country should send athletes to the Games not only to win medals but to expose them to the Olympics experience.
Singapore won a gold medal in a multi-event sport that Filipinos should excel in. The Philippines is an archipelago whose territory is more water than land. Filipinos should excel not only in swimming but in all the water and beach sports. Rowing skills, moreover, must be in the DNA of Filipinos. Our ancestors had been rowing since the end of the Ice Age. This must be another example of how our country and people have failed to take advantage of their belonging to an archipelago.
The cheering competitions viewed on local TV, with their ample display of gymnastic and acrobatic skills, lead one to consider gymnastics another multi-event sport in which Filipinos should be winning medals.
If there should be no psychological barriers standing in the way of the country’s improved performance in the future, the importance of the availability of funding resources as a determining factor has been somehow debunked by the sensational rise of champions in track and field from developing countries in Africa and the Caribbean, some of which even newly ravaged by wars. It has been said that the runners honed their skills simply by rushing to their school or wherever they had to go and the jumpers by crossing the banks of rivers and similar daily exigencies.
It is timely to launch a national campaign to promote interest in sports especially in the young, even as the government is engaged in a no-nonsense anti-drugs campaign. As a complement to this campaign, the youth should be taught and encouraged to get their “high” from physical exertion and ability at sports.
Actually, the importance of sports is timeless. A national sports program should be anchored in schools because physical education is essential to the development of the whole man, strong in body and mind. The schools, hence, should be supported by the community, especially through the provision of sports infrastructure, such as a sports oval for track and field, marathon, football, baseball, rugby, and hockey and courts for basketball, volleyball, tennis, and table tennis.
Hitching the national sports program to stardom in the Olympics might help ensure its success. International recognition is an important motivating factor for Filipinos as demonstrated by the interest they show in setting preposterous Guinness records, or in rooting for their candidates in international beauty contests.
It is timely to launch a campaign to win Olympic medals because the next three Olympics will be held in Asia. With budget plane fares available in the region, sending a sizeable contingent, including players of team sports, should be less prohibitive than to previous Olympics.
The country has been so fixated on basketball that its youth know few of the sports represented in the Olympics. A campaign to perform better at the Olympics may require importing foreign coaches and trainors to acquaint our youth with these other sports. Given the prohibitive price tags on securing the services of these experts, the cultural exchange programs the Philippines has with other countries can come in handy.
The first coaches I recall that nurtured the Azcals came under such government-to-government programs. As Ambassador to Laos, I saw the Azkals perform in the first elimination rounds for the World Cup. They were soundly beaten by the Laotians, who play football from their infancy. But I was impressed by the dedication shown by the Japanese coach in their formation. The coach had the welcome dinner for the team I prepared cancelled because he had the team under a strict food regimen. The maturation of the Azcals into a team to contend with proves that the efforts of such coaches under cultural exchange programs can nicely bear fruit.