Letters to the Editor

No way to treat our Dragon Boat champions

- Leonardo Q. Montemayor -

The dominating and soul-stirring performance of the Philippine Dragon Boat Federation (PDBF) team in the just concluded World Dragon Boat Racing Championships in Tampa Bay, Florida has drawn the admiration and support of Filipinos and sports enthusiasts around the globe.

Battling jet lag and the absence of alternates, our paddlers won five gold and two silver medals in seven grueling events – an accomplishment rate of 100% in terms of medals garnered vis-à-vis the number of races entered.

What made their accomplishment even more impressive, as well as dramatic and heart-tugging, was the fact that our athletes almost did not make it to Tampa. Only through the inspiring intervention of corporate sponsors like Philippine Airlines and Cobra Energy Drink and individual fans from all walks of life were our paddlers able to fly to the United States and secure accommodations near the racing venue.

Because their resources were still insufficient, our paddlers appealed to Filipinos in the US to lend them rice cookers, rice and even boiled eggs. In an outpouring of pride, from Tampa and across the US, our countrymen and women responded by sending our beleaguered athletes energy bars, Filipino food, bottled water and the like. They came out in droves to watch the actual races or flooded the internet with messages of congratulations and support.

 Sadly, however, no assistance was given to our defending world champion paddlers by the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC). The latter is mandated by law to provide funding for the training and maintenance of deserving Filipino athletes.

 Somewhat belatedly, Malacanang, through Presidential Deputy Spokesperson Abigail Valte, congratulated our paddlers for their outstanding showing and called upon all Filipinos to help the team.

Amidst all the euphoria and outburst of patriotism, the reaction of the POC has stuck out like a sore thumb. Through its spokesperson Mark Joseph, the POC leadership downplayed, if not belittled, the gold and silver medals earned by our world record-breaking paddlers. Joseph was quoted as saying that the PDBF only participated in the small boat (composed of 10 paddlers), but not in the premiere standard boat (20 paddlers), category.

Joseph was probably unaware that his statement was in fact pointing accusing fingers at his own organization. For the country’s failure to send a full complement of male and female paddlers to the standard boat competitions was, in fact, due to the POC’s own political machinations and the refusal of both the POC and the PSC to render assistance to our paddlers in Tampa.

Earlier in November 2010, the POC unceremoniously and without due process disapproved the participation of our top-seeded dragon boat men’s and women’s teams in the December Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. (Unfortunately, appeals to some sports enthusiasts and committee members in Congress also met tepid or no response.)

For the POC hierarchy, depriving our athletes and our country of Asian Games medals and national glory was not enough. They then stage-managed the removal of the PDBF as a national association affiliated to the POC, thus depriving the PDBF of funding subsidy from the PSC. This led to the splintering of the PDBF and forcing its paddlers to choose between joining the “POC leadership-friendly” Philippine Canoe-Kayak Federation (PCKF) and remaining in the now POC-ostracized PDBF.

With the withdrawal of PSC funding, the PDBF’s Tampa-bound paddlers lost their dormitory and food allowances. They had to appeal to friends and donors to help take up the slack. At times, after training, they dove into the polluted waters of Manila Bay to scrounge for tahong (mussels) for them and their families to eat. To top it all, they were ordered to vacate their boat docking and training area beside the Cultural Center of the Philippines grounds.

As for our paddlers who opted to be placed under the PCKF, word has it that they have been downgraded, despite their being rated as world-caliber athletes and the proximity of their dragon boat races at the Southeast Asian Games in Indonesia this November.

Hopefully, the recent outpouring of public enthusiasm and affection for our national paddlers will also generate a strong clamor for an immediate, thoroughgoing appraisal of the government’s development programs in dragon boat and other sports as well as the quality of the leadership of the POC, the PSC and our various national sports associations.

With this first step, a truly effective Public-Private Partnership in Sports can emerge and prepare a straight and level road for our athletes to travel on; instead of the tortuous, uphill path that our champion paddlers had to navigate, albeit with flying colors.

(Leonardo Montemayor is president, Federation of Free Farmers and ABA Party-list. He also served as a Sectoral/Party-list Representative in the 9th, 10th, 11th and 14th Congresses.)












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