Regulating amateur sports
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - August 10, 2020 - 12:00am

How feasible is it to regulate amateur (particularly collegiate) sports in the Philippines? We’re not talking about community or barangay leagues that only play through the summer, although they are worth looking at later on. We’re talking about established high school and college leagues, and commercial leagues involving student athletes. There are many issues any potential regulatory bodies could be facing.

Verifying age. The first challenge will be a unified policy on age. Outside of major urban centers, parents don’t send their children to prep or Grade 7 to save money. Thus, children from the provinces are often significantly younger than their city counterparts when they move up to the next level. This may pose a hazard to them as athletes, since their bodies may not have gone through the growth spurts needed for more strenuous training. On the other hand, many small towns do not have town halls that issue birth certificates, thus making it difficulty to confirm a student-athlete’s true age. This opens the door for overaged, fully-developed athletes to unfairly compete against youngsters. Remember the NCAA member university whose high school player used a younger brother’s birth certificate to assume his identity and play basketball for the school?

True identity. When a foreign student-athlete arrives in the Philippines, it is very difficult to verify their identity (and thus, their age), should one even bother to. This happens even in professional sports. In 2012, Rey “Boom Boom” Bautista was scheduled to fight a multiple former world champion in his home province of Bohol. Instead, the fighter who showed up was a short, fat, washed up namesake, a ringer. How much easier could it be to give an unknown athlete from a poor country a new identity and send him to the Philippines? And what if the deception is discovered midway through – or worse – at the end of the season?

Subjects and grades. There are easier and harder courses in college, just as there are easier and harder schools. What is the minimum standard course for an athlete? Should their status give them special privileges? Should they be treated better than academic scholars who likewise do extra work outside class hours in lieu of paying tuition? Does any outside agency get a peek at their test results and grades? Do they really participate in class? Do they even go to class? Or are they getting a free pass because they’re athletes? Don’t get me wrong. Some teachers are actually harder on athletes. But in general, they are treated with kid gloves because it is assumed that athletic work is somehow intrinsically more valuable than actual school work.

Play for pay. When an athlete starts playing commercially, whether they are still in school or not, they are going to get compensated, generally in cash. Even if they are 18 or over, and can legally sign contracts without parental consent, if they are still students, they still fall under amateur regulations as such. In other countries, this covers all forms of compensation: honoraria, appearance fees, sponsorships, and anything that brings in actual physical goods or cash. In the early 1900’s, Jim Thorpe was asked to return his two Olympic gold medals simply because it was later discovered that he had received a measly one-time payment for an exhibition game. Can we be that strict in the Philippines?

The question now is who becomes the regulatory body for amateur sports, particularly school sports? There are a few possible answers for this, given the needed infrastructure and budget.

The Department of Education (DepEd) through the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) would seem a logical choice. Sports was once under DepEd, anyway. They have regional offices all over the country, and the Secretary of Education is a member of the Cabinet, and thus can access additional resources needed. As long as their officials do not come from any league’s member schools, there will be no conflict of interest. Furthermore, since any athlete in question may simply be following orders from a school official, it is the institution that will be penalized.

Then again, to ensure that there will be no collusion of any kind, perhaps a new bureau, attached to either the Games and Amusements Board (GAB) or the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) might suffice.

Why the GAB? It has the responsibility of ensuring that laws governing professional athletes are not being skirted. In the last 20 years, GAB has added sports like ballroom dancing and motocross under its umbrella. The former may seem unorganized, but money does change hands, and dance instructors do make a living from it. And while the latter appears seasonal, even five year old riders receive prize money. Both are therefore professional sports, however loosely it is defined.

Why the PSC? All amateur athletes may be considered to fall under the commission’s grassroots development program. Those who excel, for their part, would then fall under the agency’s other mandate: elite sports. Either way, the PSC would be protecting the athletes’ amateur status, since not all international sports are open like basketball, tennis and boxing. Also, the PSC already has an existing working relationship with the DepEd.

It’s about time we take student sports seriously, and perhaps decide if they should be allowed to earn or not. If we decide they shouldn’t yet, we should then protect them from being corrupted by a world that defines their value only in points scored, records set and trophies won, and puts a price tag on them for it. They will get there some day. But for now, let us first allow them to define their principles and values, so that they may be better equipped to make such life-changing decisions.

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