True accountability
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - October 14, 2019 - 12:00am

A week ago, this column sounded the alarm regarding unnecessary delays in procuring equipment to be set up and used in the majority of venues for next month’s Southeast Asian Games. Three days later, a group of suppliers for certain sports reached out to this writer – on the condition of anonymity – to express their fear that their equipment might not make it all. They pointed out to delays caused by the casual attitude of some national sports association (NSA) officials. They added that the processing of orders also takes long at the Philippine end.

Time and time again, we keep hearing about abuses and ineptitude on the part of NSA heads. It has been repeated so much as to have become mind-numbing. And yet, almost nothing has changed in the more than three decades that this writer has been a journalist. What is the real problem?

NSA’s rarely have any form if accountability. And it will not change in the near future. And it is unlikely to change, ever.

Who do NSA’s report to? The usual answers are their IFs or international federations, the Philippine Olympic Committee and the Philippine Sports Commission. But these official relationships are, by nature, invested with deep personal relationships that make politics and favoritism inescapable. To rise up in a sport, one develops friendships to further one’s interests. The more powerful your allies are, the more successful one becomes. If you play your cards right, your IF sends you money and stays out of your way. And generally speaking, IFs do not meddle in their members’ internal affairs, except to take sides or arbitrate if there are two or more organizations laying claim to a territory. Remember the row between that Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP)? That took years to resolve, and caused FIBA to suspend the country, even during the 2005 Southeast Games which the Philippines hosted.

A body in motion tends to stay in motion. Sportsmen in power tend to stay in power. On paper, NSAs are democracies. In reality, many are glorified fiefdoms, closed kingdoms ruled in perpetuity by a few. Almost all have annual elections, wherein the same entrenched regional directors vote the same entrenched board members into power again and again. One NSA allegedly changed its constitution to dispense with the charade of elections altogether. That group was kicked out by the Philippine Olympic Committee. So there is some consolation.

The Philippine Sports Commission, meanwhile, has supervisory and oversight powers, primarily because it is responsible for disbursing public funds. In the past decades, conflict has arisen when the PSC tries to influence who NSAs select for national teams, and which competitions to send them to. In the Philippines, NSAs are private entities, one of very few countries where this dichotomy exists. But if an NSA manages to raise its own funds (or receives support from its IF) then the PSC doesn’t have much sway.

In essence, NSA boards are responsible for their own grassroots development (if any), training, selection, deployment and qualifications for international competitions. In the past, sports that did not qualify or were not included in two successive SEA Games were taken off PSC funding. This is one way the government sports agency regulates underperforming sports. But beyond that, there seem a lot of gray areas that the PSC may or may not have jurisdiction in.

Here’s what often happens. An athlete questions a policy or selection or an internal rule. In reaction, an NSA official punishes an athlete by removing him or her from the national pool or team, and campaigns for heftier punishment. The athlete is basically in purgatory, with only three options: change sports, compete for another country, or quit altogether. The vindictive NSA official, meanwhile, smugly goes on minus one thorn in the side.

And even when the NSA officials have done everything wrong, they can be saved by the sheer magnificence of an athlete’s transcendent performance. And should the athletes fail, well, the NSA heads can always throw them under the bus. After all, who is in power? Who receives monies from the IF, sponsors, donors and business partners and ticket sales? Who is the gatekeeper bigger than anyone?

And who benefits unfairly from a system that will never change?

TRUE ACCOUNTABILITY
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