Left out of awards
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - January 10, 2016 - 9:00am

January is sports awards season in the Philippines. While other countries generally celebrate sports-related achievements within the calendar year, in the Philippines, that’s not the case. Perhaps it is to let the Christmas season die down so as not to smother the awards, or perhaps it is to give time for sponsors to allocate fresh budget. Whatever, the end of Christmas marks the beginning of the awards calendar.

There are many arbitrary criteria for choosing awardees, and there are often questions when comparing the accomplishments of those who won and those who didn’t. Needless to say, almost all are worthy of the accolades they receive. For this writer, the parameters are simple. The nominee’s achievements should have been on the world or national scale, probable via independent sources, hard to replicate, and a source of pride to the country. Those seem to be sound, solid bases for selecting great achievement, even Sportsman of the Year, right?

But there is one name that has been consistently left out by all sports media award-giving bodies in the Philippines, despite his consistent, acknowledged world-class excellence. Bruce McTavish, the World Boxing Council Referee of the Year for 2015 and 2013. That omission leaves one scratching one’s head. McTavish has been an outstanding individual professionally, a pillar of his community, and a great contributor for social change not just in Pampanga, where he has lived for almost half a century, but in the world. Remember, the movement to eradicate polio throughout the world started in Pampanga, and McTavish was one of its proponents. Through his own efforts and those of his friends, he has supported orphaned children in the province. He has also helped start many of the businesses that have made Angeles City one of the most prosperous in Luzon. And we haven’t even added his boxing resumé.

Ironically, McTavish’s long-time allegiance to the Philippines has already impacted his career as the world’s best referee. Knowing how ferociously he values his ties to the country, the world’s boxing bodies have left him out of consideration for almost all (if not all) world title fights, including Filipinos. The thinking is that, despite his spotless reputation as fair and businesslike in the ring, McTavish is considered Filipino in heart and in spirit.

The last time a Filipino was the third man in the ring in a Manny Pacquiao fight, for example, was in December of 2004. When Pacquiao fought Fahsan 3K Battery in Taguig, Ferdie Estrella was the referee. In March of 2003, Ver Abainza mediated combat between Pacquiao and Serikzhan Yeshmagambetov at Rizal Park in Manila. When was the last time Bruce McTavish officially refereed a Pacquiao fight? 2002, when Pacquiao battled Fahprakorb Rakkiatgym at the Rizal Memorial Colleges (RMC) gym in Davao.

The story repeats itself with Nonito Donaire. The last time McTavish was in the ring with the Filipino Flash as an official was very early in the boxer’s career. It happened in Guam, when Donaire fought Kaichn Sor Vorapin for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific flyweight title. The last time a Filipino refereed a Donaire fight was two months later in Taguig, and that was Abainza once again. The last time McTavish or any Filipino refereed a title fight of any kind with Donnie Nietes in it was 2007, when Donnie fought Sengpetch Sor Sakulphan in Cebu for the WBO Asia Pacific minimumweight title. McTavish and other referees have manned Nietes fights since then, but only 10-round non-title bouts, usually the result of having a replacement opponent.

So if the world’s governing bodies have been avoiding having McTavish in the ring with Filipinos in world title fights despite his unquestionable professionalism, and still consider him the best referee in the world, what does that say? It simply says that, above all, McTavish is known to bleed Filipino, and still hold himself up to the highest of standards. Quite a paradox.

But citizenship isn’t even the question. Awards have been given to foreigners before, be they coaches or imports or those who have done charity work in the Philippines. Even given the two times when the PBA gave out its Mr. 100 Percent Award (which does not specify citizenship, just playing heart) it went to Norman Black and Sean Chambers, for their exemplary consistency as imports. It just goes to show that we do recognize greatness, no matter what passport it carries, as long as it shines within our shores.

McTavish, who considered the great Arthur Mercante Sr. his mentor, has further been recognized by boxing writers around the world. On the 2015 edition of his book “Who Was the Greatest?”, no less a boxing authority than Ray Dunbar includes a section in McTavish. Dunbar, who has been covering live boxing for 50 years and owns the largest boxing film library in the southern hemisphere, called McTavish inside and outside the ring “magnificent”. McTavish has also been supervisor of officials of the WBC for roughly a decade, and has refereed or judged over 2,000 fights, at least 160 of them world title fights. McTavish has refereed in dozens of countries, and refereed the first professional boxing match in New Delhi, India in 2015. He also refereed the first women’s world title fight in a prison, in Bangkok, Thailand.
Given such a hefty case in his favor, why isn’t McTavish on the radar for these Philippine sports media awards? Perhaps it is because he lives in Pampanga, away from all the newspapers and television networks. Perhaps it is because he does most of his work overseas (but then, don’t all our national teams do that, too?). Perhaps it is because he does not schmooze the press and is always very direct when he answers. Whatever the reason, it is patently unfair that he has not been recognized as a great contributor not just to Philippine boxing, but to Philippine sports, as well. He has shone a light on what it is to be a Filipino sportsman.

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