Gov’t must put priority on sports
By: Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star)

MANILA, Philippines - Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) commissioner Jolly Gomez recently submitted a paper to Sen. Bam Aquino outlining what could be done to improve the state of sports in the country and a major suggestion is to revive the effort in creating a Department of Sports to chart a course for sports development with a nationwide reach.

Gomez called the analytical paper “a good start” and shared it with PSC chairman Richie Garcia and POC president Jose Cojuangco Jr. Reflecting on the country’s performance at the last Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar, Gomez noted that 63.8 percent of Filipino athletes returned home with a medal and excluding team sports, the rate was even higher at 66.3 percent. The rate was 55 percent in 2011 even as the country bagged seven less golds last year. Gomez related the stats to the “lean and mean” delegation that the Philippines sent to Myanmar.

Although Gomez recognized the need for private sector support in sports development, he said the main catalyst for change is government. “It is the government that has the funds, infrastructure, resources, manpower and network to make the changes happen to solve many of the problems in Philippine sports,” he said. “Laws need to be urgently passed to increase funding for sports programs, even just bringing back the five percent PAGCOR share, to create a Department of Sports and to establish a new training facility for national athletes.”

Gomez said the government needs to view sports as a way of nation-building and see how youth and sports can be created into a Department that actively participates in the national policies and mobilization of government resources. “The general public needs to support sports programs by engaging in sports,” he added. “Sponsors and the media will come when they see a lot of people playing a sport, buying equipment and watching game. It is up to parents, teachers and influencers to bring kids back to the playing fields by playing the games themselves.”

Gomez said the PSC is the only sports entity in Southeast Asia that is not a department or ministry or cabinet-level. “All other countries have a Ministry of Youth and Sports or Sports and Culture or Sports, Culture and Tourism,” he said. “The PSC is simply a funding agency for elite athletes with very little funds allocated to youth, sports or the grassroots. This is why athletes are old and stay for a long time, too much money is invested in their training and no money is spent to develop replacements. There is no program for athletes after college and many athletes who graduate simply join the workforce. The handful that remain and are lucky to be part of the national team hang on to their jobs at all costs. We have the highest average age of all athletes in the SEA Games.”

What appears to be hampering the push for a Department of Sports is funding. “There are bills passed by Congress and Senate to create a Department of Sports,” said Gomez. “But there is a reluctance by the President because of the amount of money creating another Department will entail. Sports Ministries in other countries handle school sports from elementary to college. Most of their former athletes are coaches in the schools. The training programs are uniform and talent identification is more systematic. The Ministries have offices all over the country to properly monitor programs and maintain training centers. The PSC is only in Manila with a small three-man office in Cebu and one employee in Davao.”

Without a Department of Sports, local government units are left to organize sports activities on limited funds usually under the supervision of a sports-minded councilor of Board Member in charge of youth development, said Gomez. Baguio, Laguna, Pangasinan, Bacolod, Panabo, Bago City, Misamis Oriental, Cebu and Leyte are a few hubs where sports thrives. Gomez, however, said the problem is that changes in administration sometimes put an end to the programs.

“If the PSC budget is small, one can only begin to imagine how much smaller the budget of the LGU is for sports,” he said. “During my trips around the country for Batang Pinoy and other projects, I was surprised with the budget allocated for sports in LGUs despite the fact that there is a mandated appropriation for sports. Sometimes, this fund is used for the town fiesta instead and local government officials justify the use of funds by paying for uniforms of a basketball tournament. All over the country, you will see the same sports played: basketball, volleyball, boxing, badminton and a fun run. You hardly see competitions for the sports that add to the medal count in the SEA Games.”

As for the country’s recent performance in the SEA Games, Gomez said the Philippine delegation was deliberately trimmed to pinpoint potential medal winners. The delegation of 210 included 44 athletes in team sports. Of the 166 athletes in individual sports, 110 took medals which was the highest percentage among SEA countries. “We could have won 34 golds but there were several controversial losses, including five lost gold medals in swimming with Jasmine Alkahaldi, boxing with Nesthy Petecio and Willy Lopez, muay thai with Philip Delarmino and poomsae with Vidal Marvin Gabriel,” he said.

Gomez said what is more important in a country’s sports program is the health of the people than the development of champion athletes. “The US is a perennial winner in the Olympics yet 49 out of 50 states have a majority of their population that is obese,” he said. “China produces winners in some sports that people do not play or know. What victory in sports should translate is to inspiring young people to play sports. One of the alarming numbers in the Philippines today is that only five percent of school kids play a sport because the focus of the Department of Education is in a myriad of other things that demand more time, space, resources and funds. In some schools, PE is only once a week and there is an option to take Music and Arts instead of sports. There are no teachers for sports in some schools and so we make do with substandard sports education.”