Government intervention

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - GAME NA Ni Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - July 20, 2019 - 12:00am

The government wants to have a more direct hand in the conduct of the Southeast Asian Games opening in late November. Earlier this week, presidential spokesman Atty. Salvador Panelo quoted President Duterte as saying he did not want the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC) handling the hosting of this year’s Games.

“He wants government agencies to handle it instead,” Panelo said at Tuesday’s media briefing at Malacañang Palace. “He said there’s a lot of corruption in the private sector that’s why their strategies are being disrupted.”

Originally used as a substitute for actual warfare, modern sport has become a political and economic statement for nations. In 1936, Adolph Hitler used the Berlin Olympics to show off Germany’s military might in a grand display of saber-rattling. Countries participating in the opening parade were instructed to give the Aryan salute as they passed him. Not everyone cooperated. Needless to say, Hitler was also disappointed when his athletes lost to many African-American and Jewish athletes. Hosting multi-sport, Olympic-style events shows that a country is safe, economically capable, and open to new business opportunities. They are also gigantic PR avenues.

In other countries, government intervention in sporting matters is not uncommon. In 1972, the US government introduced Title IX, which required educational institutions receiving government funds to give female students equal access to sports equipment and training. In 1998, Philippine senators started conducting hearings on fake Fil-Am pro basketball players. In 2005, the US Congress looked into allegations of steroid use in Major League Baseball. In 1997, mixed martial arts were banned from being broadcast live on American television. The football association in Great Britain has been trying to make changes to avoid intervention by Parliament. 

Overall, the Philippines is likely the only country in the world where sports is both public and private. The USA’s sports program is entirely private, while countries like China and Australia put sports under government supervision. In the Philippines, individual sports are under private national sports associations (NSAs), but the funding and deployment of national athletes is under the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC). This has caused many awkward situations in the past. It was only when the current administration came into power that the PSC started flexing its visitorial, supervisory and oversight powers over NSAs, to the consternation of the traditional politicians in them.

The magnitude of the SEA Games (a record 56 sports and 512 events) is no trifle. The country will be hosting tens of thousands of athletes, many more media, and hundreds of thousands of spectators. It is a golden chance to be seen as a great nation, but it also comes at great expense and great risk. The fact is that the country was not really slated to host until 2025, but circumstances (and the hubris of the previous Philippines Olympic Committee hierarchy) put the sports community in this position. So here we are.

Should the government more directly step in? There are laws that allow for the national authorities to extend their reach. Martial Law is an extreme example, where certain liberties are taken supposedly for the higher good. Eminent domain is another example; the government may appropriate private property at a fair market value if it is for the national interest. In this writer’s opinion, a successful, shining hosting of the SEA Games definitely counts as national interest. Filipinos do not want to fall on their faces, least of all at home. Incompetence and inconsistency are unacceptable at this level.

The government, through the PSC, controls the majority of sports facilities nationwide. The PSC is directly under the Office of the President. By extension, it commands the colossal resources needed for security, transport, hospitality, manpower and anything an event of this magnitude needs. They can deputize and mobilize the police, military and civic groups. All they need is technical instruction from individual NSAs. And given President Duterte’s direction, there will be minimal cheating and corruption. Or else.

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