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We need a game plan

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OF TREES AND FOREST

By MANNY VILLAR, JR.

Manny Villar

Manny Villar

Filipino athletes, just like our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), are modern-day heroes. Despite all the odds, they manage to bring pride to our country by their hard work and persistence. Amidst corruption and inefficiency, they manage to prove their professionalism and achieve excellence in their field.

The 335 athletes who represented the Philippines in the recent 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia brought home 4 gold medals, 2 silvers, and 15 bronzes, finishing 19th, which is an improvement on their 2014 performance.

On the face of it, finishing 19th out of 45 nations competing is not something to celebrate. But our athletes overcame very difficult circumstances in order to put on a valiant and decent showing at the Asian Games.

Special mention goes to the four gold medalists from the Philippine delegation. Hidilyn Diaz made us proud with a stellar performance in the 53-kilogram weightlifting competition. Yuka Saso, Bianca Pagdanganan, and Lois Kaye Go won the gold at women’s golf, with Saso adding to the haul with a win at the women’s individual event. Margielyn Didal got the country’s fourth gold after winning at roller sports.

Lack of government funding, mismanagement, squabbles in their associations, insufficient training facilities, lack of planning, and meager meal and living allowances are some of the hurdles they had to deal with. It’s amazing that they were able to make Filipinos proud, given the hand they were given.

As usual, after the country’s performance in any major sporting event, the blame game ensues. Right on cue, sports officials and politicians, who are quick to take credit for victories, are even quicker in pointing fingers when things do not go our way.

Some have blamed our excessive obsession with basketball. They say that there has been so much focus on basketball that other sports are being neglected. This is partly true. We are a basketball-obsessed country.

All around the country, there is always a basketball court (some fancy, others improvised) in every street corner. Filipino spectators go crazy during PBA and NBA finals. Basketball superstars are adored and paid the big bucks. So are we paying too much attention to basketball? Yes. But that is not the source of the problems in Philippine sports; rather it is an indication of a bigger problem.

We lack a unified, comprehensive sports development plan that would allow us to precisely develop other sports at the grassroots level. Track and field, boxing, football, tennis, weightlifting, and other sports that are not so popular should be developed.

The development of Philippine sports should begin at the grassroots level. We need to develop programs in public schools that would increase the interest of the young in other sports. This means that the Department of Education (DepEd), the Philippine Sports Commission, the National Sports Associations, and the private sector need to share resources in order to provide not just facilities but also technical support to public schools.

There is a reason basketball has sustained its popularity—Filipinos grow up playing and admiring the game. They can easily play the game on a makeshift court near their house. They play the game in school. They watch it on TV and learn about it on TV. That is the same strategy that has to be employed in order to develop the other sports.

Government needs to prioritize sports development because sports is not just about games and medals. It is a source of national pride and honor. Just imagine how our country was united by Manny Pacquiao, Elma Muros, Lydia De Vega, Paeng Nepomuceno, Efren Reyes, Hidilyn Diaz, and others who gave it their all for the flag.

Sports also develops healthy lifestyles and discipline. A good sports program at the barangay level can do wonders to support anti-obesity programs, develop leadership skills among the youth, and counter the spread of illegal drugs.

We have excellent athletes who love their country. We just need a game plan.

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