Our national sports complex
CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren () - May 7, 2011 - 12:00am

This is a follow-up to the previous two pieces on the Azkals, and specifically the idea of hosting a major sporting event with a new sports complex — a national one — at the University of the Philippines campus.

I suggested the idea as a way to hit two birds with one stone. We need a new national sports complex since the Rizal Memorial is rundown, lacks capacity and is suffocated by city traffic. The UP is in dire need of student and staff housing, an adequate sports complex of its own, and infrastructure improvements campus-wide for which it lacks funding.

The two venues, the Rizal Memorial complex and UP Diliman, also have a previous shared history connected to sports. In May 1954, or 56 years ago, Manila hosted the second Asian Games. The venue was the Rizal Memorial complex, but the Asian Games village was the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

I found some details of this arrangement as well as pictures from a special edition of the Sports Page, a publication of the Philippine Sports Association.

The publication stated that Asian athletes were to be housed on the campus’s ideal “sprawling and hilly” site. A fee of P 4.50 (the exchange rate then of the peso to the dollar was 1:2) included “board, lodging plus sheets, pillow cases and others.” Apparently the trip from the cool elevation of Diliman to the bayside location of Rizal Memorial was a short one in the early 1950s (probably via Highway 54).

The coliseum was built originally for tennis but became a popular venue for basketball in the ’60s and ’70s.

Our Asian Games Record

The Philippines was a sports power in the region from the 1920s until the start of the Second World War. We won Olympic gold medals and lorded it over other Asian nations in almost all sports. After the war, it was downhill for us. We participated in the first Asian Games held in New Delhi in 1951, placing only fifth with 19 medals, of which five were gold.

We placed behind Japan, India, Iran, and Singapore (we actually had a higher medal haul than Singapore, but they won just one silver medal more than us). Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Indonesia, and Burma followed in the rankings. Our sports hero then was Andres Franco who won the gold in the men’s high jump. We also won bronzes in the track and field relays. India won the football gold in the finals against Iran. We won the gold in basketball.

Nineteen nations joined the Manila edition of the Asian Games in 1954 with close to a thousand athletes in competition. This time, because of the hometown advantage, we did much better. We won 45 medals with 14 golds. In football, the Philippines was put in Group A with the Republic of China (Taiwan) and South Vietnam. We put up a fight but lost against Vietnam 2-3, while we got clobbered by the Republic of China 0-4. The two losses eliminated us from the medal fight.

The Rizal Memorial Complex in 1953 was still surrounded by open space, which was intended to be Harrison Park, one of the city’s four large parks.

Our football team in 1954 was composed of goalkeepers Eddie Llamas, Freddie Campos and Victor Sison, fullbacks Rene Nieto, Carlos Rebullida, Carlos Calero and Benjamin Benito, halfbacks Julio Garcia, Fernando Alvarez, Ramon Gonzales, Jose Esteva, Manuel Dauden and Emmanuel Bravo, forwards Eduardo Pacheco, Benito Razon, Alberto Villareal, Ramon Petierra, Jose Estella, Alfredo de Jesus, Pocholo Manzano, Rafael Ortigas, Jr., and Angel Heredia. The coach was Dionisio “Chito” Calvo.

We won the basketball gold in the Asian games in 1951, 1954, 1958, and 1961. It was the heyday of Philippine basketball and served to fix the mindset of Filipinos for the next five decades. The national team then was composed of the likes of Caloy Loyzaga, Lauro Mumar, Rafael Hechanova, Francisco Rabat, and Mariano Tolentino, among others. We placed high in basketball in world tournaments, getting beaten only by the likes of the USA. Of course, this was before other countries discovered basketball.

We disappeared from the Asiad’s (Asian Games) upper standings from the late ‘60s onwards. We then had to lower our goals to competing with fewer nations in the Southeast Asian Games. We joined in the grouping in the late ‘70s, about the time when we regularly faced medal droughts in the Asiad. Since then, we have hosted the Southeast Asian Games three times, or about once every 10 years. We are slated to host the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.

A National Sports Complex At Up

Our scrappy national football team in 1954, when the term azkals was not even invented yet.

This leads me back to the subject of the venue. The magazine I mentioned above described the Rizal Memorial as a complete facility with world-class equipment. In 1954, the complex was only 20 years old, having been built in the mid-‘30s. The University of Life (UL) complex was built 40 years later in the mid-‘70s. Both venues are today lacking in amenities and parking, and both are hemmed in by urbanization, with no room for expansion. Moreover, the UL complex sits on the West Valley fault while the Rizal memorial is prone to floods.

Forty years after building the UL facilities, we are to host the SEA Games. We need a new venue, one that can accommodate more spectators, an expanded menu of sports, and housing for approximately 6,000 athletes.

The University of the Philippines needs to house approximately the same number of warm bodies and more, if you include housing for teaching and administrative staff. The last iteration of the UP’s master plan in 1994 actually identifies this and also indicates plans for a university sports complex in approximately the same area I suggested last week.

The National Sports Complex at UP, or NASCUP, can address the needs of the university, the city (Quezon City), and the nation. Funding can come from government sources that pay for those regular white elephants built for the Palarong Pambansa.

This open air coliseum is now gone, along with most of Harrison Park.

Additional funding, as I mentioned before, can come from the FIFA, which has been eager to help us build a world-class football pitch and stadium. The same is true for the world association that promotes baseball, while the PBA is reported to be planning a billion-peso stadium.

If you put all four initiatives together, it would cost us one-fourth the price of building all these four facilities separately. It would also save the metropolis at least 150 hectares in land compared to building the four facilities in separate locations.

Cheering For Ourselves

If we build the NASCUP, we will help shore up an institution in desperate need of essential facilities and hopefully bring it back to the high rankings it used to have in comparison to other Asian universities.

If we build the NASCUP, we will create a center of excellence to develop our youth, not just in terms of abilities of the mind, but also abilities of the body, combined hopefully to create young Filipinos who are also excellent in terms of spirit.

Club football was alive and well in the ’50s like this team that played for William Lines.

It is this spirit of healthy competitiveness we wish to build up in our young. Communal self-esteem will also be engendered when the goal is to play for club, school, city or country.

A national stadium is needed to provide an appropriate venue for the aspirations of a nation hungry for success, for victories palpable, for a future that promises not just medals of gold, but also a winning path for the perennial underdogs of Asia — the Filipino people.

* * *

Feedback is welcome. Please e-mail the writer at mailto:paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com.

The Rizal track oval and football field is close to 80 years old.

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