(un)JUST PUSO: On the Plight of Philippine National Athletes
… Or why the heart is not enough to heal the ailing system of sports development in the Philippines
By Kristian Gerard A. Bruel
Filipinos are naturally in love with the idea of sports. In fact, we are very passionate about it. A perfect example is that of basketball. In almost every street in the Philippines, you will see a basketball court filled with kids and adults just enjoying the beauty of the game. Most of them are dreaming to be the next Jimmy Alapag of the country and be that person who will represent the country and make his countrymen scream for the glory of the Philippines in sports.
Filipinos are very blessed in terms of the competitive spirit, drive, and motivation to excel in sports. Needless to say, we’ve got very talented athletes who are pouring their hearts out in the sport they fell in love with. And as what their motto implies: LABAN PILIPINAS! PUSO! However, heart is not enough. The Philippine national athletes are not being given enough assistance by the government. Some even pay for their own training, food, and fare, in order to represent the country in international competitions. Take for example Michael Martinez, a figure-skater who turned out to be the only athlete to represent the Philippines in the 2014 Winter Olympics. He trained on his lonesome and solicited money from his friends, colleagues, and private entities just to get enough money for the fare and allowance in the Olympics.
As a sports-minded individual that shares the same passion for Philippine Sports as other Filipinos do, I decided to conduct a thesis on the plight of the Philippine National Athletes. My study is entitled: (un) JUST PUSO: Why the Heart is Not Enough to Heal the Ailing System of Sports Development in the Philippines A Study on the Plight Of Philippine National Athletes. This thesis focused on the level of sports development that the country has reached and the current state of our national athletes.
Upon the rigorous data gathering procedures conducted, including key-informant interviews, surveys, and case studies, I came to find things that are very shocking and unacceptable as an advocate for Philippine sports. Based on the conducted interviews with experts, such as heads of National Sports Associations (NSAs), coaches, national athletes, government officials, and Philippine Sports officials, they testified that there was no significant improvement in the sports development of the country in many years. There was no upgrade in the facilities and equipment for the preparation of athletes in international competitions.
Also, the rights of the national athletes are taken for granted. They don’t get to exercise their right and get the right benefits they are entitled to. What is worse is that some national athletes who continue to sacrifice not only their time but their entire life are being harassed and are being used as means to other sports officials’ ends of corruption and politicking. Such case was experienced by the Philippine Dragon Boat Team that brought the country pride and honor by winning various international competitions, and yet they became victims of politicking and corruption of sports institutions that should have primarily been taking care of them.
To cite another example of politicking in the industry…
“I cannot say specifically, pero there is such a thing as hometown decision. ‘Di ba merong ganun ever since before, like a home court decision. It’s not something bad, kumbaga may home court advantage. We cannot deny that there are- maski saang insititution siguro- there is politics. Hindi mo matatanggal yan, but it should not prevail, because sports is genuine human effort out of blood sweat and tears ng isang tao, kapag pinasukan mo ng politics then all of that is parang set aside eh, which is unfair. Siyempre sports talks about fairness, sportsmanship.”
–National Team Training Director
Overall, factors such as funding, corruption, politicking, lack of better management and leadership, lack of focus, and geography have been the main culprits of the slow development of sports in the country.
On a more positive note, I conducted a survey among Filipino people and the result was a true testament to how much the Filipinos love our national athletes. Most of the respondents said that they were more than willing to support our national athletes no matter how they perform, win or lose. They also know that national athletes deserve more benefits and incentives in order for them to succeed and get better in representing the Philippines. The survey results proved that the support system national athletes get from their fellow Filipinos matters. As what the athletes said during my interviews with them, the pain of training and hardships they encounter all vanish once they hear their fellow Filipinos cheer for them.
In conclusion, I recommended the integration of the PSC and POC and the construction of an entirely separate government institution—a Department for Sports. This shall increase sports development in the country in various facets. As for the uplifting of the national athletes, I recommend having Sports Regional Training Centers (SRTCs) and the full implementation of the Philippine Academy of Sports (PHAS) in order to train the youth that has the potential of bringing home the elusive Olympic gold for the country.
But before implementing all these, the Philippine government must first appreciate the effort national athletes put into training and competing for the country. It is their role to provide them benefits and incentives that they are entitled to.
“Stop being corrupt.”
-National Athlete, Tennis
“Please be Fair.”
-National Athlete, Women’s Basketball
“Giving more support won’t hurt you.”
-National Athlete, Swimming
“Please continue to support us athletes, and also please improved the facilities because not just us will make use of those facilities but also the younger and next future athletes/pride of our country.”
-National Athlete, Triathlon
“I think support should be divided equally to sports that have the same potential. Attention is just mainly focused on basketball, soccer and boxing and there is so much politics going on between the government officials which affects or hinders the overall development of the athletes.”
-National Athlete, Tennis
“Dapat dagdagan (suporta ng gobyerno). Saka dapat dagdagan ang allowance ng mga athlete, kasi minsan bitin allowance ng mga athlete, eh yung iba magagaling umuuwi o nagaabroad kasi mas malaki yung bigayan doon so nawawalan tayo ng ibang atleta.”
-Former National Athlete and Silver Medalist
After finishing the entire study, I can’t hide how deeply disappointed I am of the current state of Philippine Sports. By conducting this study, I have found out that in the past administration, the Philippine government does not see sports as a tool for development. In fact, sports is not prioritized. This study also went beyond knowing the current plight of national athletes but also provided an in depth analysis of the athletes’ welfare in terms of funding, government assistance, PSC and POC management, and other factors. It also proved that sports has a direct link with development and that it could be a vital tool towards promoting unity and “belongingness.” However, this is not being considered by those in power. In short, sports development in the country is nowhere to be found and that national athletes who are supposed to be taken care of as part of the core of Philippine sports are being marginalized in various extents.
As a longtime supporter and as a Filipino, I certainly hope that this study helps our national athletes in advancing all their concerns. The heart is not enough indeed, but our heart is what triggers us to change what we know is not right. That’s why I call each Filipino to support our national athletes and help them fight for their rights. They are not just national athletes that carry the name of our country in every international competition they compete in, but they are also heroes that decided to give up their life for the glory of Philippines in the arena of sports.
Kristian Gerard A. Bruel is an advocate of Philippine Sports Development and uplifting the situation of National Athletes. He graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelors Degree on Development Studies from the University of the Philippines, Manila. He looks forward to helping the country in improving its sports development programs and making a difference in the lives of the national athletes that continues to be his idols in terms of the passion, perseverance, and heart they put into representing the country. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for inquiries.