In 2005, William ‘Butch’ Ramirez was the newly-designated Chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) when the country surprised its Southeast Asian neighbors by ruling the bi-annual South East Asian (SEA) Games. Dominated previously by the Indonesians, the Thais and the Vietnamese, the 2005 SEA Games came alive when the country’s athletes snatched the top slot in the medal leaderboard over their favored rivals. Never before had the Philippines emerge as champions in this regional sports spectacle.
In 2016, Butch was once again designated Chairman of the PSC. And once again, he would deliver, as the country’s athletes rose to the occasion to rule the 2019 SEA Games. (Please read: How the Philippines Clinched the SEA Games Overall Crown) It was the 2nd time for him to serve as the country’s sports chief; and it was also only the second time for the country to capture the SEA Games medal championship. It will be noted that prior to 2019, the Philippines had languished in 5th or 6th spot in the SEA Games, and even once reached a miserable 7th in the leaderboard in the 2013 Myanmar Games.
In 1996, the Philippines rejoiced over a silver medal win in the Summer Olympics courtesy of boxer Onyok Velasco. Sadly, that would be the last Olympic medal for our athletes for 2 decades, as the country would suffer a medal drought from then on. Twenty years later in 2016, as Butch returned to the PSC, Hidilyn Diaz would capture a silver in women’s weightlifting, opening the door for the country to rejoin the podium finishers once again. This would be followed strongly in 2020 with the country’s first-ever gold courtesy of Hidilyn herself, plus 2 silvers and a bronze in boxing, making the 2020 Tokyo Olympics the biggest bonanza haul ever for the country. (Pls read: Analyzing the Philippines’Performance in the Tokyo Summer Olympics.)
In both the regional SEA Games and the world Olympic Games, Butch has demonstrated an uncanny ability to over-achieve. No other sports official in the country can lay claim to that singular honor of playing a major role in these success stories. Indeed, he is a man with the Midas Touch.
The turn-around in 2016 was truly noteworthy, following more than a decade of botched results and humiliating outcomes. This year’s performance in the recently-concluded 31st SEA Games in Vietnam landed us in 4th place. (Pls read: How the Philippines Fared in the Latest SEA Games in Vietnam.) It was a respectable finish that showed a significant improvement from the days of the 2007 Thailand SEA Games to the 2017 Malaysia SEA Games when we would be topped by lesser-populated Malaysia and Singapore, or even the cash-strapped Myanmar. As one sports official would quip, our athletes are no longer the bane of jokes in South East Asia.
What makes Butch tick? How did he engineer this performance? In a candid interview with Chairman Butch, he would talk about these last 6 years – as he returned to a disorganized PSC, to his challenges, his counter-actions and finally, his dreams for Philippine Sports as he prepares to relinquish his duties in the PSC to the new team.
In the interview, Chairman Butch expressed his sincere appreciation for the opportunity to be of service to the country. He believes he was just lucky to have been thrust in a position in which 1) he was passionate about; and 2) he had past experience; and finally, 3) he had the know-how to make positive changes. He talked about his first moves upon rejoining the PSC. He looked at the structure, the organization, its strengths and weaknesses. He singled out internal controls as a key function that he needed to work on as a priority. “How can you go out and fight a war if your house is not in order, not ready for the challenges ahead?” He wanted to make sure he was leading a group who would really be true to their mandate, while looking out for the welfare of the athletes and sports in general.
He also immediately charted a grassroots sports program which he identified as the biggest failure of the PSC for the past 32 years. He noted that there was no genuine strategic and unified approach to grassroots development. He stressed that without a comprehensive grassroots development program, there can never be an elite sports program that will supposedly identify and elevate the best from the grassroots. He acknowledged the importance of the participation of the LGUs, the DepEd and the private sector in the development of the base of the program.
Chairman Butch noted that this was the reason most National Sports Associations (NSAs) were taking the shortcut of identifying Fil-foreigners to represent the country, seeing that there were very few talents being discovered from the local ranks. While he recognized the efforts of Fil-foreigners who have been able to bring home sports honors, he deplored the fact that the development of local talents was not being given priority focus.
Chairman Butch also noted the challenge of dealing with the privately-run NSAs under the umbrella organization of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC). He noted that he needed to be humble and forgiving, yet strong and firm in dealing with the sports politics that mired the organization. He noted the balancing act he needed to deal with to ensure better collaboration between the different organizations. He expressed his reservations on how it was in the past, when there were some NSA heads who did not even know the nuisances in their particular sport, nor did they know their top athletes and their concerns. He emphasized the need for the NSAs to be professional with their fiscal responsibilities as well.
Chairman Butch is recommending that, to further streamline the PSC – POC/NSAs relationship, the PSC should set its focus on managing grassrooots development, while the POC and the NSAs handle the development of the elite athletes. PSC can set aside a fixed fund for the different NSAs, but the NSAs will have to collaborate with private sector in developing their crafts further. Big business will be very glad to finance our sports talents, but only if they are successful and providing pride and glory for the country. The NSAs should strive to get the needed private sector support then. It should never be for the PSC to fund the NSAs all the time.
Chairman Butch also discussed the specific higher education needed for those passionate in sports. This, he stressed, was what prepared him for the grind in sports management at the highest level.
Among his most memorable moments, he proudly mentioned the creation of the Indigenous Games, which was recognized by UNESCO as a unique and noble approach to get the most under-served population more support. He also referred to the Philippine Sports Institute (PSI), his effort to help further strengthen the development of the elite athletes.
He stressed the main ingredients needed for success in Philippine Sports. First, the resources to support the needs of elite athletes and the grassroots program. Pagcor, for one, is mandated to provide 5% of its total revenues to bankroll the PSC’s mandate in the country’s sports development initiatives. Second, the organization – meaning, the harmonious collaboration of the PSC with the POC, the NSAs, the LGUs, the other stakeholders. Third, the leadership – meaning a professional group that will have the passion and the know-how to manage Philippine Sports. In the same vein, he also talked about the need for a sports ombudsman to run after those scoundrels who have taken undue advantage of the sports coffers and have given sports management a bad name.
Chairman Butch has undoubtedly been the principal reason behind the great turn-around in Philippine Sports. Whoever takes the role of PSC Chairman after the successful stint of Chairman Butch will have big shoes to fill. We hope that the next Chairman will heed the recommendations of the outgoing Chairman. We hope too that he will be blessed with the same passion, the same dedication for the athlete, and the same vision for sports development and nation-building as a whole.
To Chairman Butch, you will be remembered and greatly revered. We could not have asked for more. Our salute to you.
For a closer view, just click on the pics. Cover Photo courtesy of Philippine News Agency. Other pics courtesy of PNA, Abante TNT, Manila Standard, GMA Network, Business World Online.