San Mateo, Rizal
December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas to one and all. This is probably the best way to start this blog on the eve of Christmas Day, if its not already. Technically, this is not a blog but a re-posting of a piece recently written by Manila Bulletin sports editor Ding Marcelo, one of the best in the sportswriting business. You see, sir Ding wrote exactly what I really fell. He titled it a “A disturbing end.” My title? Someone suggested it when I popped the question on Twitter what word best describes the Philippines’ just concluded campaign in the 27th Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar. I also said its somewhere in between a debacle or catastrophe. Sir Ding wrote it exactly what I fell.
And here it goes:

A disturbing trend
by Ding Marcelo
December 24, 2013 (updated)
Surely, we must examine ourselves if we find joy in finishing seventh place overall in the Southeast Asian Games.

The SEA Games are the inter-barangay league of multi-event international competitions. It has no world-class athlete, no Asian Games level results, really nothing but a showcase of the Asean region’s best runners, jumpers, paddlers and ball handlers who will probably not make it past the preliminaries of the Asian Games, much less the Olympic Games.

With our population and with our budget, we are supposed to at least finish in the top three. But that’s more like a pipe dream. Even before our team left, sports officials, like Philippine Sports Commission chairman Ricardo Garcia, already predicted that we’d be lucky to place sixth overall or finish with 30 gold medals.

He was right on both counts. The Philippines finished seventh and grabbed just 29 gold medals—a record low for the country which joined the league in 1977.

Yet our sportswriters and sports officials are hailing this performance as though we finished seventh overall in the Olympics. Days before, reporters sent to Myanmar got busy chronicling our battle for sixth place as though that was a career best and must be achieved at all cost.

Here are samplers of reports from Myanmar: “That’s not to say Team Philippines has anything to be ashamed of.” “The Filipinos’ impending 101-medal harvest far surpassed expectations of a lean 208-athete contingent handicapped by token participations in some events and non-participation in such medal-rich sports as petanque, vovinam, traditional boat race and chinlone and other events.”

Chief of mission Jeff Tamayo announced: “I’m proud of our athletes. They showed heart despite the odds being stacked against us from the start and made us all proud.”

The Bulletin reported: “The Philippines will finish the Southeast Asian Games with 29 gold medals, an impressive performance from a team that was doomed to fail. Yet, the athletes fought through adversities to bring home 100 (total) medals.”

Either these reporters are blind or so numbed by our despondent sports scene that they have begun hallucinating, extolling our performance as “nothing to be ashamed of” and “impressive.”

What’s impressive and what’s not embarrassing about 29 gold medals, when the top three placers had a combined total of 266 golds?

What’s impressive about our output compared to the haul of Singapore, a country with a population of just 5 million (against our 97 million), yet grabbed 34 gold medals (against our 29)? How do we compare with Malaysia, with a population of 30 million and a gold haul of 42?

The reason we did not send as many athletes as we should is that there are not enough athletes with skills to compete with honor. The 200 plus athletes in Myanmar were our best.

We should also stop complaining about Myanmar loading the games in its favor. That country performed well. It may have won 16 gold medals in the indigenous sports events (an event that every host country loads up in its favor), but it won, fair and square, winning 70 golds in other disciplines.

On the other hand, the Philippines won just six gold medals in the combined sport of swimming and athletics, which had nearly 90 gold medals to offer. Athletics, by the way, won all six.

Only in the Philippines can sports officials find the positive in what in many other countries will be called a debacle. Had our country been Japan, some of our officials would perhaps commit harakiri in light of this sporting disaster.

Only in the Philippines can top sports officials see no difference between a gold, a silver, and a bronze, saying they’re all medals, with only the color being different.

The Philippines actually had it coming.

The past SEA Games have already shown the Philippines’ gold medal standing on a slow decline. In 2011, we won 36 golds to finish 6th, in 2009, we won 38 golds to finish 5th, in 2007, we won 41 golds in finishing 6th.

But despite this disturbing trend, sports officials—both those in the supervisory level (Philippine Olympic Committee and PSC) and those on the ground (those belonging to national sports associations)—were more busy cutting each other’s throats than planning for the athletic wars ahead.

Our sports pages are filled with protests, complaints, financial shenanigans, cries of favoritism, and partisan warfare, but very few about grassroots development, promotion of athletes, or skills upgrade for coaches.

So another SEA Games is over. And, as usual, the blame will go to the lack of financial support, the shortcomings of the NSAs, government’s insensitivity to sports development, and the never-ending power struggle within many sports associations.

And, as usual, officials will vow to do better next time, promise to prepare early, and avoid partisan and internecine squabbles.

Exactly what they said in 2011, in 2009, and in the years before that.


Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar
(Sir Ding’s column came from the Manila Bulletin’s sports pages and photo courtesy of The Philippine Star)


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