What Hidilyn’s Gold Tells Us About Philippine Sports

Before anything else, I wish to to congratulate Hidilyn Diaz for her heroic victory in the ongoing Tokyo Olympics. Her triumph in the women’s weightlifting 55kg division not only gave the country its first-ever gold medal in its 97 long years of participation in the Olympics, it gave us a reason to rejoice for a brief moment, and forget about our daily worries on the COVID virus, the economy and politics. Finally!!! After decades of frustration, the Philippines has that monkey off its back.

Like Hidilyn, I cried unabashedly when the national anthem was played. After decades of waiting, we finally have our Olympic Gold. (thesun.co.uk)

Hidilyn’s feat has opened the door for more Filipinos to go for glory. Previously, the elusive gold had seemed like an impossibility, a distant dream that could never be realized. Now, that barrier has finally been breached. (The Philippines did win a gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but Arianne Cerdena’s gold feat was not counted since bowling was then a mere demonstration sport, not to be counted in the regular medal tally.)

Since the Philippines started competing in the Olympics in Paris, France in 1924, our athletes have garnered only 10 medals so far; 3 of which were silvers, while the 7 others were bronze. In fact, for a span of 20 years – since the 2000 Sydney Olympics to the 2004 Athens Olympics, the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics, the country’s best athletes could not buy a single medal.

Hidilyn set an Olympic record on her way to clinching the gold. (voanews.com)

It was only in the most recent 2016 Rio Olympics that we medalled again, with Hidilyn herself collecting a silver. This ended the 20-year jinx cast on our hapless Philippine athletes. Hidilyn’s victory this time makes her not just the first gold medal winner for the country, she is just the second repeat-medal performer for the country. The first twin medal performer was Teofilo Ildefonso who captured 2 bronzes in the men’s swimming 200m breaststroke event in 1928 and 1932.

More interesting trivia about Philippine Olympic medalists include: the only father-son medal winners – Jose and son Anthony Villanueva (boxing); the only brothers to have medalled – Roel and Mansueto Velasco (boxing). But we digress.

What does the Hidilyn gold medal really mean? At this halfway point in the Olympics, we are already assured of another sure medal finish in Lady Boxer Nesthy Petecio, with more strong hopefuls still in the thick of the fight. What does the uptrend in the country’s international sports victories tell us?

Our sports record will speak for itself. Philippine Sports’ performance started its dip during the reign of Peping Cojuangco as Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President. His reign was marred by rampant reports of bad governance, corruption, unethical meddling in sports association affairs, favoritism, and carried an odious stench of sports politics. Needless to say, development at the grassroots level was virtually non-existent; and support for the elite level sports was found lacking – in facilities, in training and exposure.

The Asian Games scorecard for the Philippines indicate a decline in performance from 2006 to 2014, during the incumbency of Peping Cojuangco as POC President.

In 2016, with the change in administration, fund support from the government’s Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) for the athletes and the different sports association started to trickle in. In 2017, a long-drawn court battle finally unseated Peping as POC President. The immediate results were: the 2016 Olympic silver medal (breaking the 20-year Olympic medal drought) and the 2018 resurgence of medal winners in the Asian Games. This year’s modest Olympic haul tells us that we are now on the right track, although certain quarters will still say that the fund support is lacking.

Thus, it is encouraging to see that the twin concerns of leadership and fund support are showing great strides here.

In the SEA Games, we went from 1st in 2005 to 6th in a span of 2 years, and have remained in 5th-7th place during Peping’s time.

On the leadership issue, Peping has been replaced by Bambol Tolentino. Bambol is not a saint himself, as he still has not been able to liquidate the expenses incurred during the hosting of the 2019 SEA Games. But he doesn’t carry a Mafia hellbent on perpetuating themselves in power; he doesn’t meddle with the sports associations; and there has been no reports of lavish trips abroad for POC officials. For the PSC, Butch Ramirez’ quiet, yet equitable stewardship of fund support for the training of elite athletes and for the construction of sports facilities has clearly resulted in the favorable competition results.

Hidilyn’s silver in the Rio Olympics broke a 20-year drought for Olympic medals. This time, she broke the drought for Olympic gold!

As for the fund support for the athletes as a whole, there can never be enough. Particularly starting last year when the pandemic caused the sports budget to be slashed drastically. To address this deficiency, the PSC has been greatly involved in finding private sponsors to help provide more funds for the athletes’ training and travel. Bottomline, it will be emphasized that the athletes’ budget since 2016 has been far better than before, resulting in better results. It started with Hidilyn’s silver in the 2016 Olympics, gold medals in the 2018 Asian Games, and now this olympic gold, with a possibility of more to come.

During the opening ceremony, the commentator voiced the country’s frustration when he described the Philippines as the country with the dubious distinction of having the most number of medals without a gold. Now, that can finally be erased! (inquirer.net)

After years in the doldrums, Philippine Sports is now slowly waking up. It is a most welcome respite, in the face of the stressful COVID – 19 crisis. It uplifts our spirits, and gives us hope for tomorrow. Thank you, Hidilyn! And thank you to all our other athlete-warriors who have stepped forward to take the challenge to to make our people proud.

Philippine Sports is not totally out of the woods yet. There remain a lot of reforms that need to be undertaken. There are still a lot of National Sports Associations (NSAs) that remain stagnant due to their jurassic leadership, with their antiquated ideas. There are still a lot of stubborn sports leaders who refuse to believe that there are younger, more dynamic, more aggressive sportsmen who can lead their respective sports associations. It will be a good idea to have a performance audit for each and every NSA for the last 15 – 20 years. It is time to reflect on our modest gains; and be inspired, and sustain the momentum to bring in more sports glory for the country.

Cover photo courtesy of gmanetwork.com.

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