In search of the new Lydia De Vega, Et Al.
For more than two decades, the country has had a fruitless time tracking down the next Lydia de Vega, the future Eric Buhain, the successor to Paeng Nepomuceno, and the heir apparent to Efren “Bata” Reyes. There have been a few hopefuls but no one has come close to the stature of the four Filipino sports heroes.
The continent toasted De Vega as its sprint queen for several years in the 1980s, Buhain bagged the most number of gold medals by a Filipino in the Southeast Asian Games in the early 1990s, the evergreen Nepomuceno captured four World Cup titles, and Reyes, well, no man has come close to snatching the wand of billiards’ one and only Magician.
The turnover of top athletes over the years has been excruciatingly slow, something not lost on the present leadership of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).
“We need to identify new talents and the best way to find them is to forge a strong relationship with local government units (LGUs),” says PSC Chair William “Butch” Ramirez. “For the past 27 years, there has never been a true grassroots program for sports. The cooperation between the PSC and the LGUs will serve as the foundation of our program.”
Ramirez says the directive from President Duterte was as clear as sunshine when, for the second time in a dozen years, he was picked to take the cudgels of the government sports agency: Take care of the athletes and build community sports.
The first task is in full swing. The sports agency has been spending to prepare national athletes for medal-winning feats in international competitions. As for the second objective, Ramirez says they are in for a real challenge.
Seeing the need to align the PSC’s program with those of sports stakeholders nationwide, Ramirez and his commissioners recently mounted a sports caravan to touch base with governors, mayors and their representatives (See photos below).
The first week of the promotions-cum-talent search saw sports caravan project director and PSC chief of staff Ronnel Abrenica and Philippine Sports Institute (PSI) national training director Marc Edward Velasco kicking off the project in the cities of Cebu and Davao.
With top LGU officials in the Visayas and Mindanao attending the directional meetings with Ramirez, Velasco and PSC Commissioners Ramon Fernandez and Charles Maxey, it was agreed that the LGUs would synchronize their grassroots sports programs with the agency.
PSC Commissioners Celia Kiram and Arnold Agustin encouraged officials in Bicol and Southern Tagalog during meetings in Naga City and Batangas City to identify at least five sports that can be given priority attention in their areas.
Not a few LGUs in Northern Luzon were surprised when the caravan stopped in Baguio City and offered to help them develop sports in their respective localities. The PSC group made its final stop at Shangri-La hotel in Makati where sports representatives from towns and cities in Metro Manila were asked how the agency can assist them in their efforts to promote sports in their communities.
Revival of Ramos EOs
“Our plan to strengthen the grassroots sports program will never succeed without the collaboration of the LGUs,” says Ramirez, adding the caravan also promoted the revival of Executive Orders 63 and 64, issued by former President Fidel V. Ramos, which called for the formation of a National Physical Fitness and Sports Development Council.
Abrenica says the sports council is encouraging all LGUs to create their own sports programs and to align them with the PSC’s programs in an overall effort to produce more talents for the national team. Once the LGUs have identified and nurtured their sports of choice, there will be more room for young athletes and the youth to get involved in sports.
“Just tell us what you need and we will make our best effort to help you,” Ramirez told the mayors during their Cebu sortie. “We’re setting up a genuine program that will benefit the national team for years to come.”
Velasco, who is in charge of identifying athletes from the provinces who will be enrolled in the sports institute, predicts that the talent pool will double in size in the next five years.
By that time, the next De Vega, Buhain, Nepomuceno and Reyes will have been found.
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