Master plan
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - August 29, 2016 - 12:00am

The Philippine Sports Commission has invited representatives from the various stakeholders in sports to a special conclave on Sept. 1-2. Called a “Top-Level Consultative Meeting on the Proposed Master Plan for Philippine Sports and Set-Up of the Philippine Sports Institute”, the multi-purpose event aims to pick the brains and experience of experts and the experienced in different fields from sports, education, media and other sectors to hammer out a permanent solution to the shortcomings of Philippine sports, particularly the very public failings in international multi-sports competitions like the Olympics, Asian Games and Southeast Asian Games, not to mention put up infrastructure for grassroots sports development.

Of course, this has been tried before. In the early 1990’s, under the Ramos administration, the first Philippine Sports Summit was held in Teachers Camp in Baguio. Hundreds of delegates from all over the country, including athletes, coaches, trainers, sports scientists, educators, legislators and other government officials spent four days and nights hammering out 32 provisions that would change Philippine sports for the better. It was called the Magna Carta for Philippine Sports. Needless to say, nothing really fruitful came out of all that brainwork, and two succeeding summits did not include many original attendees, and did not refer to the original provisions at all. There certainly are copies gathering dust in some office or library somewhere. The material can still be helpful today.

What should make us optimistic about this new effort by the PSC? Firstly, the new board has time on its hands. Six years, though not an eternity, is a lot of time to put systems into place and see the initial fruits. The board is an interesting mix of long-time sports personalities and public servants. True, some of the faces on the board are not high-profile, but that actually helps in this case, because when you read up on the plan, their work speaks for them. Also, this new PSC board has the support of a very determined president, one who does not waste time in making decisions and saying what can and cannot be done. Some of the red tape and political problems that had beset previous PSC management have been taken out of the way, leaving a clearer path. More resources have been promised the new PSC, so there is cause to be hopeful.

As an aside, one of those resources is a stream of warm bodies to put on the playing fields. One of the most productive sources of manpower for Philippine teams past and present has been the armed forces. President Duterte has made increasing salaries and increasing the numbers of the military and police a priority. Strategically, this is a wise move in that it gives him a more stable power base. And a strong relationship with law enforcement is always useful in times of natural or man-made problems. But there is a welcome side effect to this. It will also give the country more soldiers to pull into the different national teams. As evidenced by the last quarter of a century, many of our greatest athletes in weightlifting, running, boxing, dragonboat racing and others have come from the branches of the AFP. Making them stronger will trickle down to the Philippine teams.

There are many things to be discussed at the Top-Level Consultative Meeting. There are, of course, the smaller things that have a big impact like athletes’ allowances, living conditions, recruitment, travel, training, and so on. But the aim is to make systemic corrections in a system that has been left behind by the times. Laws put the PSC in place, but luckily, laws are not needed to make improvements. The athletes are the priority, but they are not the only priority. The mission of the PSC is two-fold:  elite athlete training and grassroots development. And with the removal of sports from the Department of Education years ago, the PSC has been carrying most of the burden on its own.

The spearhead for the efforts of the commission will be the establishment of the Philippine Sports Institute, which has suffered from a lack of continuity for almost two decades. An encompassing entity that will be able to work hand in hand with foreign government sports agencies, it will be a permanent institution that can address many of the ills in sports. A firm believer in education and a widely read coach himself, PSC chairman Butch Ramirez sees the Institute as a strong tool to broaden the resources available to the athletes and the PSC itself. With it, the commission will be able to cast a wider net and get more funding, books, equipment, training and other needs for the athletes in terms of grants and quid- pro-quo arrangements with other governments.

There are also other matters that may help the PSC rally support in the short-term. One of them is public perception. Granted that there is a very active PSC-POC media group, but it consists almost entirely of print media. In terms of urgency and impact, it would be helpful for the agency to forge alliances with more broadcast and online sports news agencies. Though each newspaper has an online arm, they are often separate entities within the company. Also, no major television newscast has a daily sports segment, which is quite curious. If the PSC had the means to disseminate its achievements regularly in a manner that would make it easier for the broadcast networks, it would get more mileage. How many unheralded athletes are out there? With the number of national sports associations, we send athletes to competitions overseas almost every other week.

One ticklish issue will be allocation of resources. How do we prioritize sports the government will support? Will it be based on practicality or popularity? Will we concentrate on individual sports or team sports? Will certain sports be left out by their private sponsors? What about non-Olympic sports? What about sports like arnis, which is,  according to law, is even meant to be integrated into the PSC logo? Which sports should be encouraged for inclusion in the SEA Games? (Billiards and bowling come to mind.)

And this is just the beginning. Each of the stakeholders to the summit will have his own agenda, hoping for something to take away that will help their sport or organization. There will also be other topics that will come up. Two meetings may not be enough. But thankfully, the will to make things better is there.

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