97 Years – What Tokyo So Long?

We need a Department of Sports

By Charles Lim

“The Olympic Games must not be an end in itself, they must be a means of creating a vast program of physical education and sports competitions for all young people.” Avery Brundage, former President of the International Olympic Committee

Highest salutations to our 19 Filipino Olympians. Win or medal-less you did the nation proud. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be scripted in gold in our sports annals. For 97 years the country waited for this moment – the glorious moments of winning one gold, two silvers and one bronze at this Olympiad. Come face to face with these athletes or in any virtual form, congratulate them and you will surely shed a tear of two. It’s instinctive as we are proud and passionate Filipinos.

The golden tales of Hidilyn Diaz, Nesthy Petecio, Carlo Paalam and Eumir Marcial will be fabled until the next Olympics in Paris in 2024. Many will aspire to be the country’s heroes again. One rarely wins a medal in his or her first Olympic. Winners do not appear overnight neither do world champions become automatic gold medalists. Ask Naomi Osaka (Tennis) and world’s number one, Novak Djokovic (Tennis). Simone Biles of the US, with 31 Olympic and world gymnastic titles, withdrew after the qualifiers citing mental health reasons and fear of injury. Me wonder if the Chinese team will ever allow any of its gymnasts to return to China unpunished with such an excuse.

The Olympics have always provided a level playing field. Qualifying to participate is lifetime dream with a four-year vigorous process. As we rejoice and celebrate our victories and heartwarming performances, I would not be surprised if Chairman William “Butch” Ramirez of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and his team are already preparing the training plans and budgets for the coming year, leading to the next Olympics in Paris in 2024.

It was ultimately unpleasant (to put it mildly) to learn that Hidilyn Diaz was only given an allowance of P45,000.00 per month to train and prepare for her golden quest. Her amiable Chinese coach, Kaiwen Gao received only $2,500.00 per month when he could be receiving as high as $10,000.00 monthly if coaching in a more affluent country.

All our athletes have tales to tell of the sacrifices they had made in reaching Tokyo. We recognize and we appreciate them. Paramount to this, we also appreciate the struggles and exasperation of the PSC in managing their affairs with the limited resources allotted to the commission.

Being the overall champions first in 2015 and then in 2019 SEA Games, both times under the care of Chairman Butch, our feat in Tokyo confirms our superiority over our ASEAN neighbors. 2015 and 2019 were no flukes. We finished 49th amongst 206 countries in the Tokyo medal standing and the Chairman is now all the more intent to develop sports in the Philippines in a dexterous blue print up to 2024.

However, it was not to be as the dreaded Corona virus took it spoils and devastated the world. PSC, which is dependent on PAGCOR through its vast casino operations, experienced a tragic drop in revenues as casinos were closed for long spells from 2020. Naturally, there may have been some instances when the athletes received their allowances late like in many companies not prepared for this prolonged pandemic.

Training schedules were disrupted as most camps were forced to close. Many went home to their provinces as Hidilyn stayed stranded in Malacca, Malaysia, unable to return home. Ironically, the postponement of the Tokyo Olympiad turned out better for most of our athletes, allowing them to recoup and allowing PSC to make all provisions available.

Months ago, I wrote and it was widely supported, that the bill creating the Department of Sports should be passed in Congress without any delay. Chairman Butch and his ever-illustrious commissioners – Ramon S Fernandez, Charles A Maxey, Celia H Kiram and Arnold G Augustin – should be empowered with ministerial authority and leadership and with a working budget to be derived yearly from the national treasury and not dependent on dole outs from other agencies.

Congrats again Hidilyn Diaz, Nesthy Pretecio, Carlos Paalam, Eumir Marcial, EJ Obiena, Carlos Yulo, Irish Magno, Cris Nievarez, Kurt Barbosa, Margielyn Didal. Elreen Ando, Jayson Valdez, Juvic Pagunsan, Kiyomi Watanabe, Kristina Knott, Yuka Saso, Bianca Pagdanganan, Luke Gebbie and Remedy Rule.

Let’s march on, lift and box our way to Congress. They must listen to us NOW! We need a Department of Sports (and Youth) if we wish to enjoy the euphoria and dynamics of a sporting country Sports unites a nation. More on this in my next column.