Our athletes’ endless challenges

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - April 19, 2021 - 12:00am

The Filipino athlete faces so many challenges, it is difficult for laymen to understand. They have to be technically proficient, superbly conditioned, and must produce results, no matter what. When you get injured, you are downgraded, or even written off. If you get married while still competing, you’re told you’re going downhill. Past contributions don’t matter. What have you done for me lately?

In the course of the last few weeks, this writer has discovered that our best athletes have even more challenges that hold them back, and these have nothing to do with actual competition. Most of it is lack of leadership, direction and even competence from their bosses at their national sports associations. The pandemic has revealed the worst of it. For example, some athletes in a few sports have been selectively put in the freezer and have had no training, even though some of their teammates have been able to travel to improve their skills. The excuse given them was quarantine.

One athlete who has been overseas since the pandemic hit, wishes their entire team was there. This would include a nutritionist and sport psychologist. The athlete sees other countries providing such for their athletes, and says that, abroad, roughly $1 million is spent in pursuit of each Olympic medal, something the NSA concerned has not bothered to explain. Another athlete from a different sport has independently been driving long distances all over Metro Manila almost every day for months just to find an open place to train. This athlete claims to have been given no plans or direction by the national federation involved regarding plans for the Olympics and Southeast Asian Games since last year. The athlete, an Olympian competing in an individual event, is concentrating on getting better for calendared competition which keeps getting postponed.

Still other athletes gripe about being made to travel to countries that require quarantine, therefore throwing away all their training. Being idle in turn affects them mentally and emotionally. They worry about things back home, how safe their families are, and so on. Some take to social media to vent their anxieties, blaming everyone except the people who put them in that situation in the first place. They don’t see that they are simply being mismanaged.

Yet another athlete just past the prime years has discovered that the NSA of that sport is favoring younger teammates who are rivals for slots to international competition. It is a sad reality that the best are being eased out without their even knowing it. They are being treated as having had no value whatsoever. This writer recalls the case of figure skater Melissa Bulanhagui a few years ago. Bulanhagui gave up her sponsorships as a top 10 US junior skater to qualify for the Winter Olympics for the Philippines. Then a two-time defending national women’s champion, she learned that it was the juniors champion who was being sent to Olympic qualifiers, not her. When she publicly complained, she was taken off the national team and banned from even practicing or coaching.

This is the sad reality of many athletes who are governed by tribal leaders who prefer massaging their egos to breeding winners. And once an athlete is gone, they do it all over again.

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