‘Lives made extraordinary through sports’
SPORTS FOR ALL - Philip Ella Juico (The Philippine Star) - January 15, 2014 - 12:00am

We had a very interesting conversation over coffee the other day with former Philippine Amateur Fencing Association (PAFA) president Victor (Toto) Africa, a long-time friend even before we assumed the chairmanship of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) in 1995 during the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos.

Africa, a highly successful practicing lawyer before he retired some years ago, is now taking his doctorate in Philippine Studies at the University of the Philippines (UP), his alma mater for his law degree. The doctorate comes in the heels of obtaining a master’s degree in Kinetics and Human Movement, also at the State University. Asked about his obvious leaning towards the academe now that he’s in his ‘60’s with a number of lovable grandchildren to brag about, Africa said that “doing these things had always been my obsession but my law practice and my involvement in PAFA keep from fulfilling my so-called bucket list”.  Africa adds that the academe has always fascinated him and doing the voluminous readings required in the pursuit of a doctorate is truly enjoyable although time-consuming.

In the course of our discussion, Africa talked of his possible topics of his dissertation, the successful completion of which is requirement to be granted the doctorate. He mentioned a number of possibilities, most of which are linked to sports, recreation and wellness. Whatever it will ultimately be, he insists that the focus will be on the athlete and the so-called ingredients for success or factors that make for a successful athlete.

As the conversation progressed, Africa drew from his bag, a book entitled “Game for Life – Lives Made Extraordinary Through Sport; 25 Journeys”. The book is about 25 Singaporeans whose lives changed because of sports. Africa is using the book as reference material for his dissertation and forms part of the obligatory literature review in any doctoral dissertation. Africa says that similar literature is available in the country courtesy of a dissertation done by Dr Marissa Guinto-Adviento, also from the UP. Africa says, Adviento’s work looks at the lives of the following five Filipino athletes, a limited number compared to the Singaporean version with 25 personalities: former world billiard champion Efren (Bata) Reyes; world billiard title-holder, Django Bustamante; multi-medallist bowler, Bong Coo; world bowling champion who’s in the Guinness record books, Paeng Nepomuceno; and Asia’s first grandmaster, Eugene Torre.

The book’s Introduction points out one outstanding feature of Singapore sports planning and administration (and other countries which are taken seriously in the international sports community and which are truly serious about sports as an instrument of national development and not just a never-ending series of games to be played out). As stated in the intro, “The Singapore Sports Council (SSC)-led (the equivalent of our PSC) Vision 2030 exploration into the value of sports for the nation began with a simple question to people: Ho can sport help you live better? From July 2011 to May 2012, the SSC Vision 2030 Team sought ideas, opinions and feedback from all walks of life.

Through the face-to-face conversations with 500 people and suggestions posted on social media, the Vision 2030 Team produced 20 recommendations on how Singapore can use sport to better serve the national priorities in the coming years.

Among the key Vision 2030 recommendations was the creation of a curriculum to develop leadership and character through sports. Vision 2030 posited that deliberate, well-designed sports programs would develop the characteristics needed by Singaporeans to rise to the increasingly complex challenges of our rapidly changing world. In the past year, as stated in the intro, this themes has been carried by SSC CEO Lim Teck Yin in presentations to government agencies, corporate Singapore and our educational institutions.

“Game for Life is the foundation of the new curriculum developed by SSC’s Leadership Development Departments. Designed for coaches, educators and sports trainers, the Leadership and Character Toolkit comprises the “Game for Life” book as well as an accompanying resource guide for coaches, educators and sports trainers. It was launched on May 27, 2013 at the inaugural Leadership9 Symposium 2013 – Inspiring Future Leaders, jointly organized by SSC and Singapore Management University (SMU) and held at SMU.

The book features 25 Singaporeans from business, academia, government and sports. Although they lead different lives, these 25 individuals share a common thread. Their life stories illustrate the transformational power of sport to inspire the Singapore spirit. Through sport, they are able to live extraordinary lives.

The Singaporeans know what they want, have a vision of what they want to achieve and marshal resources to attain the objective. One has to note that they go to their private corporate sector with well laid out plans and present their vision and not just a calendar of games. In short, they just don’t depend on government. They use innovation and creativity to get what they need just from government (which has other priorities) but also from private industry. Singapore, a tiny country of three million, was sixth place over-all in the Myanmar SEA Games. Thailand was first over-all, despite the turbulence then and now in the country, and perhaps shows that the country has institutionalized its sports programs and is now, in the words of a highly respected columnist, “on auto pilot”.

Next week, we feature some of these 25 outstanding individuals.

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