Greater priority for sports–LopezBy Ted S. Melendres
Philippine Daily Inquirer
LONDON—The country’s chief of mission at the 30th London Olympics here believes it’s about time the government gave sports greater priority by making it a way of life for the Filipinos so it could arrest the country’s distressing decline in the international stage.
Manny Lopez, who is also the vice president of the Philippine Olympic Committee, said Sunday he is completely flustered that the country again failed to land an Olympic medal when its neighbors made inroads even in sports that were not usually Southeast Asia’s forte.
“We are lagging way, way behind in terms of performance not only in the world level but also in the Southeast Asian level,” said Lopez, whose 11-athlete contingent extended the country’s medal drought to four Summer Games.
“The best way forward now is to make the government realize that it has to give more to sports. You know very well that sports is not a priority of the government, even of the private sector.”
Lopez said the government could start by fully integrating sports in school curriculums and by setting up sports institutes that will train and develop athletes for international competitions.
He cited as example the programs in China and Australia and tiny Singapore, where he said the government budget for sports—about P14 billion in 2011—dwarfs that of the Philippines.
The Philippine Sports Commission, the agency that funds the training and participation of Filipino athletes overseas, worked on a budget of about P500 million.
“In Australia, it’s the people’s way of life to indulge in sports,” said Lopez, also the former national boxing chief. “There are also excellent sports institutions in China and Singapore, why can’t we also make sports a way of life for us?
“This is where the government can really help, but first it has to make sports a priority.”
He said the country’s SEA Games rivals Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore managed to win medals because these countries treat their athletes better in terms of training, international stints and funding.
“There is no easy way to sports excellence,” said Lopez. “We all know about the problems in sports. I can speak only for myself, but politics is one of them. Hindi mo maiwasan na magkaroon ng bad image ang POC at PSC dahil maraming away sa mga NSAs (The POC and PSC cannot avoid having a bad image because many national sports associations are embroiled in disputes).
“But then you cannot discount politics, it’s part and parcel of sports. What we should avoid is politicking to win favors and dirty politics.”
Lopez said it pained him to see the Filipino athletes, one after another, bow out of the London Games to round out a campaign that was second only to Beijing 2008 in terms of futility.
Only light flyweight boxer Mark Anthony Barriga made it past the first round here, a small improvement on the country’s debacle in Beijing, where no athlete won a match or qualified to the next round.
“It’s sad that there are 95 million Filipinos and yet we only have 11 athletes here,” said the 50-year-old Lopez. “Nakakalungkot na dala-dala ng mga atleta ang bandera natin tapos wala tayong maipakita (It pains us to see our national athletes compete and fail to deliver). If other small countries can win, why not us?”
As a parting shot, Lopez said the country’s sports leaders should have the political will to step aside if they believe other people can do a better job.
“Again, I can only speak for myself. I had the political will to turn over the baton of Abap (Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines), I am sure many other sports leaders will do the same if they think it’s the right thing to do.”