With a haul of only 29 gold, 34 silver, and 37 bronze medals, the Philippine contingent to the 27th Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) comes home with the dubious distinction of having garnered the worst finish ever for the country since the SEA Games competition started in 1977. The medal harvest relegated the Philippines to 7th place behind regional champion Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, tiny Singapore, and host Myanmar!
Before this, the Philippines’ worst-ever finish was in the 26th edition of the SEA Games in Indonesia last 2011. Yeah, man, that was a mere two f!#?&$# years ago! Instead of gaining ground from the lessons learned in Indonesia, we sink further in the quicksand of sports mediocrity. Here is how the Philippines has fared during the last 4 SEA Games:
2007 (6th place) – 41 G, 91 S, 96 B
2009 (5th place) – 38 G, 35 S, 51 B
2011 (6th place) – 36 G, 56 S, 77 B
2013 (7th place) – 29 G, 34 S, 37 B
The PSC and POC have been quick to justify that our medal haul was affected by the non-inclusion of sports considered as Philippine strongholds; such as gymnastics, lawn tennis and bowling. They had this ready excuse long before our athletes were sent off to do battle in Myanmar. Be that as it may, there were certainly other sports where we could have somehow improved on. That is, if we had put our heads and hearts to it.
But no, there is decadence, there is no sense of urgency, no national pride in evidence in the way our sports leaders are running their affairs. So that even with their embarrassingly-toned down target of a measly 30 golds, they still fell short. Clearly, the trend above shows us that the country’s sports program is another national disaster!
A sports analyst ventured that the secret to the success of other countries lie in their focus on medal-rich sports. There’s athletics with 46 golds, aquatics with 41 golds, plus the combat disciplines (such as boxing, taekwondo, wushu, wrestling, karate-do, muay thai, etc). There’s also shooting, weightlifting and canoeing which are also medal-rich sports. The simple formula is to focus on these sports, and a country could easily be in contention for the overall championship.
Unfortunately for us, we never had an overall strategy, nor did we even care to identify which sports to focus on. Take the case of dragon boating, another medal-rich sport. The Philippines is currently the world record holder in the 200-meter open standard category with a time of 40.02 seconds, recorded in 2009. Our paddlers also hold the world record in the 200-meter mixed standard category with a time of 43.50 seconds. This tells us that our paddlers are among the best in the world. But instead of getting focused support from our leaders, our paddlers are now mired in a stupid game called sports politics.
We have also been unable to develop talent consistently. There is no system to find new faces for the different disciplines. Instead, we are more dependent on the passion and commitment each individual athlete to bring home sports glory. There is something drastically wrong with our national sports development program. Ideally, a systematic grassroots development program will identify and nurture the talents from our huge 95-million population base. Instead, we delight in importing standouts from among Pinoys in foreign land. It seems that ‘mining’ for gold prospects abroad seems more inviting than developing diamonds in the rough from within.
The deterioration of the country’s overall sports program needs to be arrested soon. An assessment on the SEAG results must be made by an independent body. The results of the past 2 SEA Games confront us and cries to ask the question why. And the sports leadership – from the POC, the PSC and the different NSAs – must be ready to step down so that more dynamic and creative sportsmen can turn the tide, and finally bring back a sense of pride and dignity in our country.