The case of Bruce McTavish
The case of Bruce McTavish
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - January 20, 2014 - 12:00am

We often throw around words like selflessness, dignity, professionalism, passion, excellence and patriotism. But when you use them to describe respected international boxing referee Bruce McTavish, the words seem tailor-fit for him, in the classic sense.

Last November, McTavish was honored at the World Boxing Council’s 41st Annual Convention in Thailand as the 2013 WBC Referee of the Year, now named McTavish’s mentor, the legendary Arthur Mercante. McTavish inherited Mercante’s role as lecturer at WBC seminars for referees and officials over a decade ago.

“I’m thrilled to receive this recognition, but it’s for the country,” said the delighted veteran third man in the ring. “This is the first time the award is being given to the Philippines.”

McTavish was on New Zealand’s national basketball team and was a professional rugby player before coming to the Philippines. From the age of 9 until his early 20’s, Bruce also boxed. When he came to the country almost five decades ago, his first job was as field office manager in Clark, Pampanga for an American automotive manufacturer. About a decade later, he decided to become a boxing referee, and after that, established the first travel agency in Angeles City.

Bruce’s profession has taken him from the Philippines to England, the US, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, China, Thailand, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, and even North Korea and Siberia. He has refereed several fights of eight-time world champion Manny Pacquiao, and is known to be a no-nonsense official inside the ring. McTavish has been assigned to the most controversial and most dangerous places in the world. In 2007, he refereed the first women’s world title fight in the infamous “Bangkok Hilton,” Klong Prem Central Prison in Thailand, and was featured in the National Geographic Channel documentary “The Black Rose of Thailand” about the winner of the bout, Siriporn Taweesuk.

“It was one of the few times I was genuinely concerned I wouldn’t make it out alive if the crowd didn’t like how I did,” laughs McTavish, who was the only foreigner aside from Siriporn’s Japanese opponent Ayaka Miyano to be involved in the fight.

But wherever his frequent travels take him, McTavish calls the Philippines his home. Since he first decided to make Pampanga his home, he has devoted his personal life to serving the community. 

During his term as president of the Rotary Club of Mabalacat from 1983 to 1984, he introduced the world’s first Polio Plus Project, the pilot program that became the template for Rotario International’s successful drive for the eradication of polio throughout most of the world. The club approached then-First Lady Imelda Marcos, forming one of the first private entity partnerships with a government agency. Because of lack of awareness, members had to go door to door to get parents to have their children inoculated, saving over 500 children from the crippling disease. Bruce even brought his two daughters, Jean and Michelle to give the drops so that the children being vaccinated would feel more at ease. This remarkable accomplishment struck this writer, since my grandfather Jose, was a polio victim himself. Bruce and his gracious wife Carmen share a family culture of selflessness, but first and foremost to them is the care for the children of the country they both love.

Bruce is vice-chairman of the World Boxing Council of Referees. He is also the first non-Filipino director of the Metro Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the first non-Filipino president of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Pampanga, the first non-Filipino president of the St. James Cursillo, and the first non-Filipino president of the Rotary Clubs of Mabalacat and Clark Centennial. Bruce is currently the chair of the board of trustees of the Bahay Bata Foundation, a residence center for street children in Angeles City and a project of Rotary Club of Clark Centennial. The Foundation houses and schools the children, and even raises funds for their medical needs. Next door, the foundation even built a world-class junior baseball field. McTavish is so passionate about helping the children that he even violently objects to the use of fireworks during celebrations like New Year, believing that the money being burned would be of much better use helping streetchildren.

Given all his accomplishments and his overriding desire to become a Filipino, it is a wonder why the WBC accolade was met with deafening silence by the local sports press. From congress to the various sports media fraternities, not a single acknowledgment came McTavish’s way. The start of the year is awards season even in Philippine sports, but Bruce has been overlooked. The singular honor and the consistent excellence he has brought and dedicated to the country has been largely ignored, which is a great shame.

But this is not the first time McTavish has been snubbed. In 2010, Rep. Carmelo Lazatin of the first district of Pampanga filed House Bill No. 1445 for McTavish’s naturalization as a Filipino. To this date, it has not been ratified. It took this session of congress weeks to give Gilas Pilipinas center Marcus Douthit his citizenship, and with all due respect, McTavish has done much more for future generations of this nation. Ironically, many prominent Filipinos ask for and are granted American citizenship due to their exceptional talent and/or contributions to society. Bruce McTavish goes above and beyond mere celebrity. He has made an impact on this country’s future.



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