The late great Nelson Mandela once said: “Sports has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else can. Sports can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”
Indeed, this statement articulates best the significance and the very essence of sports. Used properly, sports has the ability to unite people. It develops professionalism, leadership, character, discipline, pride and nurtures the values of fair play and respect for your fellow competitors. It helps develop social cohesion and teamwork, and serves to promote better understanding and communication among men.
Our national leaders must then take inspiration from South Africa’s most prominent son. Mandela’s political genius showed us that sports indeed has the power to change, not just individual lives, but the world in general. In hosting the 1995 Rugby World Cup, South Africa unified its people widely fragmented between the warring majority blacks and the minority white Afrikaners then. In World War I, it is said that on one blessed Christmas Day, war-weary troops from both the French and German trenches called a short truce to play a game of football between the battle lines. Now more than ever, sports could be of great significance to the American public with the ongoing social unrest. Hence the added impetus to restart the suspended NBA season. Here in the Philippines, it could also be used to diffuse the continuing political polarization that threatens to divide our people today, particularly with the economic woes brought forth by the COVID crisis.
Years ago, we witnessed with great pride the overachieving ways of the Gilas ‘Puso’ Team. Decades back, we marveled at the exploits of the winsome duo of Lydia De Vega and Elma Muros; we were dazzled by the magical shots of Efren ‘Bata’ Reyes, and we delighted in Flash Elorde’s glorious 7-year run as boxing’s lightweight champion of the world. And then we had other Filipino athletes who made our country proud as well. More recently, we roared with approval and rejoiced as one when Manny Pacquiao conquered the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and Ricky Hatton. In fact, the crime index would plummet to almost nil everytime Manny entered the ring, demonstrating the power of Manny’s magic. Manny’s skills may have slowly waned with age, but his recent victorious bouts against young and dangerous fighters like Lucas Matthysse and Keith Thurman clearly show that he still maintains a profound influence over the Filipino community. To us, these events are not just sporting spectacles, but country unifiers, providing inspiration to our youth, pushing them to dream, to break sweat, and to discipline themselves in order to be victorious in their own endeavors.
It is encouraging to note that our present crop of sports leaders are now more aware of sports’ noble role in society. We have seen that with the exhilarating results of the recent SouthEast Asian Games. Of course, the fact that we hosted the event clearly helped our position in clinching the championship. But the winning ways, coupled with the state of morale of our athletes and sports bodies today, are indications of a clearer path ahead for Philippine Sports, and a developing society that is now mentally, physically and psychologically more mature.
We hope that the days of sports decadence, and corrupt and selfish leadership will soon be totally eradicated. Hopefully, our national sports leaders today will truly appreciate the role of sports as a country unifier and as a catalyst for national development and nation building. Our present government has provided full support to our athletes and our overall national sports program, and this has resulted in the golden results in the recent South East Asian Games. Hence, it is up to our sports leaders now to take the cue. Review the performance of each NSAs. Evaluate their respective sports programs. Put an end to the old boys’ club which has promoted nothing but mediocrity in Philippine Sports during the past decade. Get all NSAs to conduct an honest-to-goodness election of officers, not one where the present leaders are infinitely favored. Enough of the excuses and the lies. We need positive results and clear progress. We need transparency in all transactions. Infuse new blood, which in turn will provide the dynamism, the new ideas, the fresh drive and the motivation to aspire for even higher goals and better records. (Pls read: The Birth of a Movement to Reform Philippine Sports)
Sports provides endless opportunities for the future of our country. It should never be allowed to be used for personal fame or monetary gain. Sports must not just promote fun and laughter, it must be used to develop our youth into disciplined professionals and goal-oriented people who value relationships and are mindful of their role in the world. Mandela imparted poignant lessons on his brand of humanity through sports. Perhaps it is time for us to sit back and learn our lessons from this great icon. Harness the power of sports properly, and you build a new society of able and hardy citizens.
May the force be with those among us who seek to reform Philippine Sports.
Cover pic courtesy of: Rappler.com. Other pics courtesy of: Philippine Star, Tiebreaker Times, PSC/POC Media Group, GMA Network, Philippine News Agency, CNN Philippines, Rappler.com, The Filipino Connection, ABS-CBN Sports, ESPN, Spin.ph, Pinoy Athletics, Inquirer Sports, and Manila Bulletin Sports, Alchetron, Istoryaniremigia, Scotdir.com, Venngage, Sagisag, Al Jazeera and The Denver Post. For a closer look, just click on the pics.