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Freeman Cebu Sports

Jealous of Eritrea

ALLEZ - JV Araneta - The Freeman

I bet most of you haven’t heard of Eritrea.

Last Saturday, the cycling universe probably punched their cellphones and googled where in the world Eritrea is. I did. It’s a small African country located in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea is a small country of 4 million people and has been ruled by a dictator since 1993. It is a poor country, poorer than the Philippines. In 2020, its GNP was just a mere 2.09USD while we had 3,330.36USD. But why am I jealous of Eritrea?

Well, last Saturday, during the World cycling championships in Belgium, Biniam Girmay won the bunch sprint and silver medal in the under-23 category for this African nation. You may say, “its not the men, it’s just against a bunch of boys!”, but, a silver medal is always a silver medal. On the other hand, here we are, we couldn’t even qualify or couldn’t even send a single rider to the Worlds. What gives?

Eritrea has a long tradition of cycling when Italy, its colonizer, held cycling races back in the first half of the 19th century. In fact, a local rider was able to beat the local Italians in one of the races back then. These days, it’s normal for the city to be closed for bike racing during the weekends. People don’t complain about the closed roads, in fact, they even look forward to it. (Hello, Cebu!) When the first Eritreans came home to become the first two to ride the Tour de France in 2015, they were treated as heroes when they came home.

While we have similarities to Eritrea, we couldn’t hold on to our culture. Yes, our colonizers brought baseball and basketball to our land, and we used to be good at it early on, but our physical gifts were not created to be basketball or baseball stars. Yet, we wanted to be what we will never be. We are made for sports that we could be equal physically with our opponents like boxing and billiards. And cycling, too! The Eritreans physique is perfect for cycling and the surrounding countryside is great for training.

Instead, what we have is a government (especially Cebu City), who are painting cyclists as a group that is misbehaving during this pandemic. Even people who have never ever ridden a bicycle, have bashed cycling over social media for its traffic sins like we are really that rogue traffic menace. How can an 8 kilo bicycle be a menace to traffic when the rider is maneuvering his two wheels against a swarm of machines weighing 1500 kilos?

For those pundits who think that we can send a cyclist to the Worlds or to the Tour de France, it’s not going to happen. That’s why we love to call Leyla Fernandez as Fil-Canadian, and one of our own when clearly she’s not. Or Coryn Rivera.

Let’s stop calling people our own when they have left and given up their citizenships. Let’s develop our own athletes instead. Eritrea could be our beacon.

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