Flashback: Tampa, July 2011.
A hastily-organized team is sent to honor a commitment to compete in the 10th IDBF World Dragon Boat Championship in Tampa, Florida. The Philippines is a founding member of the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF), and a proud stalwart of the Games, having been a perennial medalist and former record holder for the 200-meter open category. That said, the Philippines’ stature in International Dragon Boating is well-known and well-revered.
However, with no support and no funding from the government, no one gives the team a chinaman’s chance to win a medal in what is considered the most prestigious Dragon Boat competition in the world. The team barely makes it to Tampa, with just enough funds to cover their air travel, but not enough funds for hotel accommodations for the crew. The team is lucky to have the Tampa mayor take care of their hotel accommodations, while well-meaning Pinoys in Tampa mobilize to provide food, food supplements, rehydrating liquids, and other items to support our orphaned representatives. Here’s a video of the outpouring of support given by our compatriots in Tampa: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXzwNAd5Bxc
As if this was not enough, back in the Philippines, they are ridiculed by our very own Philippine Olympic Committee (POC). A POC official rubs it in by calling them a team of has-beens, comparing them to the ‘ampaw’, a local delicacy that is hollow in the middle. ‘Nothing but air’.
Amid these distractions and anxieties however, the team takes inspiration from the outpouring of support from the Pinoy faithfuls in Tampa. The ‘ampaw’ team rises to the occasion and surprises everyone with a harvest of 5 gold and 2 silver medals in the 7 events they compete in! Stunning an appreciative Tampa crowd. Wowing a country in need of modern-day heroes. Making our people proud! Not bad for an ‘ampaw’ team of has-beens. Another video from Tampa: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ki70nG4tD5U
Picture this, if you will. The team had minimal preparation time. It had limited support, provided by well-meaning sponsors such as Cobra and PAL, plus media partners such as MBC, ABS-CBN and GMA7. The trip itself was in danger of being cancelled many times over. The team was not even sure of a place to stay before leaving. With all these challenges, one wonders how our athletes could focus – and much more so – win in that highly competitive scenario.
But they would not be denied. They come home as champions. To an adoring people. And a silenced POC.
No less than the President recognizes their feat and invites them to Malacanang. And as he congratulates the crew, he mutters: “Sana wala nang politiko.” And the players hang on to this statement with the fervent hope that – for the sake of Philippine Dragon Boating – ‘sana nga, sir, wala nang politiko sa sport na ito.’
Fast Forward: Manila, Today.
It has been 2 years since that sensational performance by a group of orphaned athletes in the largest stage in International Dragon Boating. Once again, a World Championship is in the offing. This time, the venue is in far-away Hungary, where we cannot expect a large Pinoy community to support our team.
And once again, our athletes are preparing to defend their crown – and Philippine pride – without any support from government. Three years have passed since our beloved PNoy expressed his desire to make Dragon Boating free from politics. Yet, nothing has been done about it. Sadly, we still haven’t learned.
To better prepare the squad, PDBF President Marcia Cristobal ordered a general tryout for the top paddlers from the different clubs. The nucleus of the selection will be coming from the powerhouse Army Team. Veteran internationalist Ruperto Sabijon, the designated overall coach, is expected to whip up the boys to championship form.
As always, Cobra leads the list of private sponsors who have demonstrated solidarity with this team. We shall forever be indebted to Jinky Sebastian and the bighearted Cobra management for having so much trust and confidence in the team. The Manila Water has been kind enough to provide the practice venue at the La Mesa Dam. View: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151720841861948&set=vb.138184842924193&type=2&theater. Still, we need more support for the team.
For indeed, this is a sport that we Filipinos can excel in. And yes, our dragonistas are not only world-class, they are treated like rock stars wherever dragon boat jousts are held. We – as a nation – can benefit from all this. The challenge right now is for our paddlers to continue to reap recognition and success in prestigious international competitions such as the upcoming World Championship in Hungary. We have seen how their successes have united our people in the past. We have to rally behind them, so that they may in return come home bringing more honor and inspiration for the Filipino people.
As I have said in a previous post, Dragon Boating can be a country unifier. But this can only happen if we continue to win in international competitions. The benefits will be immense. It will be seen in the sports and youth development program of the country. It will also provide a boost to local as well as foreign tourism. But beyond that, there is the long-term effects of developing discipline and professionalism among our players and advocates. All these will no doubt provide a positive influence for the future of our land.
I ask everyone to rally behind our team now. Let us send them off with positive vibes. Let them draw strength from our collective prayers, so that they in turn may bring back more honor and prestige. Share this among your friends, reblog this. We need more people to be aware of their plight, for they need – and rightfully deserve – all the support they can get. Pinoy Dragon Warriors, paddles up!!!