Long before the 210-strong Philippine delegation paraded at the opening ceremonies of the 27th Southeast Asian Games in Nay Pyi Taw in Myanmar, our sports officials were pumped up with optimism. They were supremely confident they had put together a strong contingent that could improve on the Philippines’ sixth place finish two years ago in Palembang, Indonesia.
The hopes for a better showing in Nay Pyi Taw quickly eroded as the Burmese raced to the top of the medal standings, boosted by victories in the indigenous sports.
That’s the hometown edge every host country enjoys. It can play around with the Games’ program, striking out traditional Olympic events where it has a minimal chance of winning and replacing them with local sports that could produce a bounty of medals.
It was no surprise therefore that Burma did away with baseball, bowling, bridge, fin swimming, fencing, softball, sport climbing, tennis, soft tennis and some events in billiards and wushu, which gave the Philippines 15 gold medals in 2011.
In their place, the Burmese put in home-grown sports like vovinam, kempo and chinlone. Talk about stacking the odds in the host country’s favor.
Still, Burma’s stint at the top of the medal board was short-lived, as the athletes from Thailand, the region’s sports giant, began to hit their stride.
When the Games came to a close on Sunday, Thailand had an unassailable lead over Burma, harvesting 282 medals, 107 of the gold.
And where was the Philippines? In seventh place, with a paltry 29 golds. Not exactly what our sports leaders hoped for.
Nay Pyi Taw was in fact the worst showing for the Philippines in the Southeast Asian Games.
Since joining the biennial event in 1977, we were Games champion only once. That was when we hosted in Games in 2005, when our athletes went on a medal romp of 113 golds, 84 silvers and 94 bronzes.
The Philippines finished second twice, in 1991 in Manila and in 1983 in Singapore. We finished sixth twice—in 2007 in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand and 2011 in Palembang, Indonesia. But we won more golds then, 41 in Nakhon Ratchasima and 36 in Palembang.
That doesn’t mean that Filipino athletes did not give their all in Nay Pyi Taw. We had golden moments in athletics, taekwondo, wushu and boxing. There were emotional episodes as well. Jasmine Alkhaldi won the gold in the women’s 100-meter freestyle, only to lose it following a protest. She had to return to the pool for a re-swim, and finished third.
Questionable scores robbed at least three of our boxers of the gold.
A clutch of questions confronts sports leaders following the debacle in Burma.
What went wrong? What were the factors that pulled down our athletes’ performance? Did the government provide them with adequate support? Did politics and infighting among sports officials creep into picture?
The people deserve to know.
In the past 50 years or so, the Philippines has slowly lost its stature as a dominant force in Asian sports. We were once at par with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan. Now we have been overshadowed by Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.
It is time to stop the slide.