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Good for fourth?

Here we go again. Our athletes are departing for the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, optimistic and full of hope. A grand, entertaining send-off Thursday was unlike others in the past. The Philippine Sports Commission has predicted between 50 to 60 gold medals, good enough for fourth overall, unless there are any major surprises from the other nine countries. Most of the athletes are well-prepared, a few are not. Most have been to overseas training, some have not. A lot has changed in the sports landscape just over the past year, and this may make a difference in the grand scheme of things. But once more, let’s be cautious about getting our hopes up. Better to celebrate after the fact than go in thinking it’s in the bag.

A year is not enough. Meanwhile, there are still reasons to be guarded about how things will go in the short term. After all, the government has only been in place for a year, the PSC board for even less time. A lot has been accomplished, true, but a lot still has to be done. A year is just the starting point, the planting season, the new beginning. Major issues like budget have been settled off the bat, a Philippine Sports Institute has been put in place, the people are getting their act together. But truly, it will be another few years before we really see these changes bear fruit. As of now, our sports program is akin to grafting old limbs onto a new, more vibrant tree trunk.

PSC newbies. It took weeks before PSC chair Butch Ramirez was surrounded with his four-person board, and all four are newcomers to sitting in this position. There is a learning curve to being in the  government. There was a lot of review, accounting, cataloguing, inventory, updates, site visits, consultation, and of course, the weekly board meetings. The board members, unlike before, were from outside Metro Manila, and had to learn on the job. There were also battles to fight, oversights to check on, and relationships to build with the Senate, Congress, PAGCOR, other agencies, and of course, the appointing power in Malacañang. All that, and they had to make sure all the sports were running smoothly while transitioning from the previous administration.

RMSC distraction. There was also the on-again, off-again issue of Rizal Memorial Sports Complex. Was it going to be sold or not? (Apparently, there was an issue with a supposed change in price.) Was it qualified as an important historical site? (It is.) Will there be construction of a new sports complex on a 100-hectare property in Clark, Pampanga? (Not yet.) The hullabaloo created by the planned sale stirred up the former athletes in the legislature, and they quickly came to the grand old dame’s aid. The new plan, as detailed in a previous column, is to renovate the ole gal. Of course, the PSC is one of the agencies leading this effort.

SEA Games politics. Unfairly, some major events which would have guaranteed additional medals – like women’s boxing – have become sacrificial lambs to the organizing country’s prerogative to pick and choose events to include. There will be six gold medals at stake now in men’s boxing. But beyond that, there is the standard, unfair practice of horse-trading and outright cheating to guarantee the host country of additional medals. The selective nature of this form of taxation always seems to cost the Philippines a few medals, often golds. Apparently, it has been standard practice for so long. And let’s not even get started on sports with judging in them.

Other priorities. The government prioritization of the war against illegal drugs, the terror attack on Marawi, finding funds for free tertiary education; these are just some of the important government programs that take precedence over sports. The PSC has also been heavily improving its grassroots development and sports for peace programs, which will inevitably help with some of these issues. But given the large-scale infrastructure needs, the sectors that must upgrade their salary structure (and gradually are) like the military, police and others like nurses and teachers, it will be natural for sports to wait in line. All of these are important, but the others are more urgent. If the hosting of the next Southeast Asian Games must wait two or four years, so be it. The games are a two-week showcase which will pass. The improvements in the benefits to all our unsung heroes are permanent.

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Entrenched NSAs. One year will not change a tradition, especially one that has not really been working for a while. There are deeply entrenched officials in some non-performing or under-performing NSAs, and this perpetuates a system wherein younger, innovative officials cannot rise to the top. With all these mutual back-scratching going on, who  is looking ahead? But in a peculiar situation like the Philippines, sports is divided between government and the private sector, and there is no Solomonic decision that will properly divide the responsibilities without causing turmoil or potential dismemberment. Time and time again, we have seen efforts to install new leadership repelled by the existing order. Unless something really big happens, nothing will change.

Traffic. Like it or not, there are too many motor vehicles in Metro Manila. In a way, the number coding program actually made things worse, as cheaper down payments motivated people to buy cars and enter them into ride-sharing services to make up for the one day of the week they were required to be carless. So the reverse happened: people put two cars on the road six days a week. This has disrupted the work flow of both private and public sectors, including sports.

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