It’s the end of the year and it’s the time for us to sit back and take stock of what happened the past year. It is an important ritual among sports buffs and sports fans alike, as it provides us vital lessons to prepare us for the year ahead, even as it allows us to reminisce the highlights of the closing year.
So what stories stood out from this year’s sports calendar? What were the key drivers that should give us a glimpse of what to expect for 2016? Finally, what should we do this 2016? From the ‘feel-glad’ stories of inspiration and heroic triumphs, to the ‘feel-bad’ tales of heartbreak losses, to the outright ‘feel-mad’ nightmares of boners and dysfunctions, here are the top sports stories of the year:
The Gilas Surprise at the FIBA Asia 2015 Championship in China
Easily standing out among the year’s sports headlines would be the Gilas Team’s heroic campaign at the FIBA Asia Olympic Qualifier in China. They were given up for dead after an underachieving stint in the Asian Games in 2014 that led to the ouster of then-coach Chot Reyes. They endured the pull-out of some key players at the start of the tryouts and had to contend with a relatively lightweight line-up. Then they had to contend with a radically shorter preparation time. They then proceeded to choke on their very first game in the tournament, absorbing a heartbreak loss against a Palestinian team that was not even fancied as a contender for the crown.
Everyone thought that this team was going down with a whimper. But no, this spunky group of international remakes and energized rookies had travelled to China with a serious intention of giving everyone, most especially overwhelming favorite and host, China, a run for their hard-earned yuan.
In the absence of marquee behemoths Jun Mar Fajardo, Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar, Coach Tab Baldwin had rebooted the 42-year-old vet, Asi Taulava, and Sonny Thoss to back-up Andray Blatche at the paint. Without deadly perimeter gunslingers and team leaders Jimmy Alapag, LA Tenorio, Paul Lee and Jeff Chan, we had rookie internationalists Terrence Romeo, Matt Ganuelas, JC Intal, Calvin Abueva and another old reliable, Dondon Hontiveros. Those who remained to provide stability and continuity for the Gilas culture were super-guard Jayson Castro, Gabe Norwood, Ranidel De Ocampo and Marc Pingris. Still, the Gilas 2015 model was clearly no revved-up sedan compared to what it could have and should have been.
No matter!!! Despite the would’ve, the could’ve, and the should’ve beens that just didn’t work out for them, this Gilas model roared off and zoomed to the finish line to a dramatic 2nd place finish against a too-big, too-strong Chinese juggernaut in a too-hostile, too-partisan local environment that produced a too-biased, too-ridiculous hometown decision.
Kudos to coach Tab and the Gilas Team! For a brief period of time, you gave the country something rare nowadays, something to be truly proud of. And you showed our trying-too-hard leaders how hard-earned victories can bring the country to unite and work as one. Clearly, you are worth emulating.
What needs to be done now is to prepare for the 2016 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament. With a heavyweight line-up that should include Jun Mar Fajardo, Greg Slaughter, Japeth Aguilar among others. With Fajardo and Slaughter beefing up the middle, our Gilas team should have a better chance of competing for that coveted slot in the Olympics.
The Pacquiao-Mayweather Non-Fight of the Century
Billed as the biggest fight ever in the history of boxing, the hyped-up match between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather failed to live up to expectations and simply fizzled out. Mayweather danced his way to an exquisite unanimous decision win, demonstrating superb skills in counter-punching and evasive action.
It was not so much the loss that Manny absorbed, but the lack of drama and decisive fistic action in the ring that made the fight a ho-hum downer to many fight fans. Adding more controversy to that sleeper-of-a-match, it would later be revealed that Manny had an injured shoulder, but had decided against postponing the mega-fight. Be that as it may, the bout was a big win for Las Vegas business, with gate receipts and pay-per-view records reaching previously unheard-of highs.
After the non-event, Manny had his shoulder fixed. Now, he seems more focused on a possible seat in the Senate than on the boxing career that had lifted him to iconic status. Manny is poised to announce his last fight soon, to be unveiled before the May elections.
What needs to be done now is to prepare for Philippine boxing’s post-Pacquiao era. With Manny getting ready to move on full-time to the political arena, will Nonito Donaire, Donnie Nietes and the Pagara brothers be ready to take the cudgels for Philippine professional boxing?
Women’s Volleyball on the Rise
The year saw the popularity of women’s volleyball soar even higher. With the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry spilling into the volleyball court, and the likes of poster girls Alyssa Valdez, Rachel Ann Daquis, Michelle Gumabao, Gretchen Ho, the Santiago sisters Jaja and Dindin, plus a bevy of lookers parading the courts, women’s volleyball never had it so good.
Credit goes to the UAAP and Shakey’s for engineering the resurgence of the sport. Through the years, the school rivalries in the collegiate leagues have provided traction in developing a loyal volleyball fan base. Shakey’s would later respond to the call with regular tournament offerings to give our lady players hope for a career after college ball. With the popularity of women’s ball reaching the roof, a new league – the Philippine Super Liga (PSL) – has since followed suit. And with exciting beach volleyball tourneys driving interest further, there’s nowhere else to go but up. Today, women’s volleyball has towed its men’s counterpart, and appears to have overtaken football as the second most popular sport in the country.
What’s needed now is a coordinated schedule of tournaments so that players are not pulled in different directions, and ensure that fan appetite is maintained. With conflicting tournament schedules, fans get confused to the point that some even give up on the sport. There has to be a higher body that will regulate and pace the schedule of tournaments. There has to be a steady group of teams that fans can identify with, so they can grow their loyalties slowly. That said, players should refrain from jumping from one team to another, as it hinders the development of a solid fan base which is vital in nurturing the sport.
The SEA Games Debacle in Singapore
No matter how the PSC and the POC try to sugar-coat their performance in the latest SEA Games in Singapore, the country’s haul of 29 gold medals was way short of its modest target of 41 to 50 golds. This can only be classified as another dismal performance and another failed mission. The country fell flat at 6th overall; last among the original 5 countries (Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia), and even overtaken by a relative newcomer, Vietnam.
In 2005, we were SEA Games champions, although this was obviously helped by the fact that the Games were held in the Philippines then. By 2013 however, we had tumbled down to 7th place, the first time we had gone so low in the medal tally. In this year’s SEA Games episode in Singapore, we improved slightly to 6th place, overtaking Myanmar.
There are traditional parameters with which we can gauge a country’s sports potential and relative strength. There’s population size (the bigger the population, the more the potential); and economic capacity (the richer the country, the more potential). But then, Singapore’s population pales in comparison to that of the Philippines. So with Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. Vietnam’s economy is not as robust as that of the Philippines. In 2013, cash-strapped Myanmar even overtook the Philippines in the medal standings.
Something is clearly wrong with the country’s sports direction, and if the PSC and POC continue to cover up our mediocre performance and heap false praises, then that complacency will only lead to bigger embarrassments in the future. There is a problem in our national sports program, and our sports leader are simply blind or refuse to see it for what it truly is. What is obvious right now is that it is not just the lack of economic resources that is clearly hampering our sporting bodies.
What needs to be done is an honest-to-goodness performance evaluation of all National Sports Associations (NSAs), to be made by an outside unit not affiliated with the POC and the PSC. The leadership of all non-performing NSAs will have to be relieved. As they have been found sleeping on post, they must be replaced by young, dynamic sportsmen who could bring in better ideas to get us on the right track. So with the PSC and POC. Both are peopled by senior citizens with antiquated senior ideas and frequent senior moments. The sad fact is that many of our athletes harbor the impression that the present leadership is more concerned with perpetuating themselves in power rather than in genuinely developing the country’s sports talents. This has spawned a growing insensitivity among athletes and a lack of trust among would-be donors and corporate sponsors. Clearly, in order to get us out of that quicksand of failures and mediocre standards, there is a need to infuse new ideas, new direction and a new drive – in short, a new leadership – in both the POC and PSC.
Azkals’ Brief Fling with Glory
Our souped-up Azkals took a fast 2-win, 1-draw start; beating Yemen, upsetting Bahrain and drawing against a strong North Korean squad; to get everyone excited over the prospect of advancing in the 2018 World Cup Qualifying Round. But hopes for a grand entrance to the next round were dashed when the Azkals suffered consecutive losses to Uzbekistan, Yemen and North Korea.
Still, the international seasoning has definitely elevated the game of our local booters. Previously suppressed by the POC, this international experience will bear fruit in the years to come. If only for that, football’s development in the country is slowly being achieved.
What needs to be done now is to infuse more grass roots development for football. While it is good to spot Fil-Euro talents to beef up the Azkals’ line-up, the development of home-grown talents will have an even bigger long-term effect on the country’s football program.
Triumphs and Debacles
There were other feel-glad stories that provided our athletes and kids golden opportunities to shine. The PBA continues to grow, with its wonderful outreach programs that have endeared the league with the masses. Following the footsteps of former top big men from the south, Mon Fernandez and Abet Guidaben, the duo of Jun Mar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter are ready to provide an exciting rivalry in the PBA. Eric Cray and Kayla Richardson were the fastest man and woman in the SEA Games. Thrilling championship series placed the FEU Tamaraws and the Letran Knights on top of the UAAP and NCAA cage kingdoms. The Philippine Volcanoes also made waves in the recent SEA Games. Nikko Huelgas and Claire Adorna ruled the SEA Games men’s and women’s triathlon. Our Boxing Team regained its spot as boxing’s best in the region. The UAAP and NCAA games are bringing in more interest in the Philippine sporting arenas.
But there too were stories that surfaced other emotions. The lost bid to host the FIBA World 2019 was one such feel-bad number. The controversial win by NU in the UAAP cheerdance competition brought in mixed reactions. The shortfalls in such sports as dragon boating, where our crews have always been considered as world-class; or swimming, rowing, canoeing and sailing, with our vast expanse of seas; or other medal-rich sports such as taekwondo, shooting and gymnastics; it is such a pity and a mystery that we cannot cash in on such events. Which is why, not a few sports buffs say that our sports leaders have not really been paying too much attention on charting a course for the future of Philippine sports.
As 2015 draws to a close, we pray that ‘The Force Awakens’ soon so that a clear focus, and sincere and deliberate steps are made to finally bring us back to the correct path to sports advancement.
Happy New Year, everyone, and may the Force be with us this year!