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The last time we won a medal in the Olympics was 1996. To give us a bit of a perspective on this, Fidel V. Ramos was the president and I was in my second term as congressman of Las Piñas.
This was the year the Ozone disco tragedy happened, Sarah Balabagan, the OFW, was freed, and a diminutive but proud Mansueto Velasco from Bago City outpointed Rafael Lozano of Spain, assuring the country of a silver medal. He would eventually lose on points to a Bulgarian boxer for the gold.
Twenty years later – a Mindanaoan is now President and I am retired from politics – weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz lifted 200 kilograms and the pride of an entire nation en route to winning a silver medal for the Philippines.
Hidilyn is only 4’ 10” and weighs 53 kilograms and yet she lifted the spirits of the Filipinos on her shoulders.
Stories like that of Onyok and Hidilyn are testaments not only to the talent of the Filipino but an argument for more investments in sports development.
Unfortunately, the inspiring stories of brave Filipino athletes are dampened by the disappointing overall state of Philippine sports.
Despite the best efforts of our athletes, we have been able to muster only 7 medals (2 silver and 5 bronze) in 92 years since we participated in the Olympics.
In addition, observers have pointed out the lack of overall direction in our sports program which is compounded by the lack of funds.
We spend about P800 million annually for our sports development. This is small change compared to Thailand’s P14-billion budget and Singapore’s P7-billion allocation.
It is disheartening to see the conditions of our athletes whose meager meal allowance deprive them of proper nutrition in order to become competitive. Our training facilities pale in comparison even to the countries in our region.
I am glad that President Duterte increased the allowance of our Olympic delegation from $1,000 to $3,000 during their courtesy call on him. We need to help our athletes so they can go and bring glory for us.
Sports, after all, is crucial to national development. It is not just important for individual health but also to the overall health of the nation. The United Nations has noted that sports development contributes to “health promotion and disease prevention, promotion of gender equality, social integration, and the development of social capital, peace building and conflict prevention, economic development, communication and social mobilization.”
Sports is also a powerful tool to inspire and unite a people. Just imagine how united and proud we become every time we witness Manny Pacquiao defeat an opponent. Or when the Azkals or Gilas Pilipinas hoist the Philippine flag in victory.
We need to improve the way we manage our sports program. The first step is to ensure accountability. One of the problems I notice is that after a defeat, sports officials point fingers on who is to blame for the debacle.
Related to this is the imperative to keep politics off sports. This means that sports associations and other organizations managing our sports development have to be free from patronage and corruption. Power struggles among our sports leaders need to give way to the welfare of our athletes.
We also need a strong public-private partnership in order to raise funds for sports development. And we need a sports development program that will tap grassroots potential.
President Duterte promised to do everything he can to increase funding to Philippine sports. I am confident that with his support we can slowly cure what ails our sports program.
Our athletes, just like our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), are modern-day Filipino heroes. But we need to start treating them as heroes. We need to invest in their well-being because of the tremendous contribution they give to our nation.
Congratulations Hidilyn and all the members of the Philippine Olympic delegation! Against the odds you have proven once again that the Filipinos, with sipag at tiyaga, can compete globally!
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(Senator Manny Villar)