Cursed gatekeepers

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

For Jesus himself testified, that a prophet has no honor in his own country. – John 4:44

If you’ve been reading sports pages in the Philippines long enough, you will realize the fatal flaw in its culture: a sizable number of national sports association officials run their organizations as their own personal fiefdoms. They act as if they own their sports, and the welfare of independent and outspoken athletes be damned. If you don’t play by my rules, you’re in the doghouse, or out of your sport entirely. This writer has likened them to the security guards who man the gates of exclusive villages. You’ve got to go through me, so too bad for you.

This sickening stance has cost the country dearly. How many world champions, Olympians and other outstanding athletes have we lost to such petty politicking? Just look at chess supremo Wesley So and former US top 10 junior ice skater Melissa Bulanhagui as examples. Would you prefer them playing for you or against you?

There are times the supposed offenses of these athletes are laughable, like missing one appointment, refusing endorsements of their own sponsors’ competitors, declining equipment they feel is not what they need, going to competitions which have no value except as PR stunts, and generally doing things which are not part of their responsibilities as athletes.

In retribution, these are just some of the insensitive – and outright harmful – things NSA heads have done to qualified athletes in the past two decades: denied them funding, cut their scholarships abroad, favored less deserving players, attacked them in the press, insulted them in public, delayed support, left them out of important competitions, instructed them not to speak to media, and taken them off the national team altogether.

So why do some of our best athletes get offers of foreign citizenship (like So and many others) to compete for other countries? It’s simple: other countries see their value as athletes and as people. The big picture is simply that these Filipino athletes are on the brink of global greatness, and it seems that only those outside the country see it. This explains the growing exodus of athletes to other countries. They work hard all their lives to improve their future and prosper themselves. They know they’ve increased their value. Even if they love their country, why should they put up with nonsense from these cursed gatekeepers? The answer is they don’t need to.

If you see the big picture, this is the reason why the country has been going through a brain drain since after World War II, and why millions of people from war-torn countries seek refuge in nations like the US. They can get more value for their skills for the limited years they can compete. Athletes are the same as nurses, construction workers, domestic helpers, welders, seamen and many others, in that they are worth more outside their motherland. The petty, narrow-minded gatekeepers don’t see that. They are bleeding the country of generational or once-in-a-lifetime talent, and feel they answer to nobody. No punishment can ever make up for that.

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