I had the chance of accompanying my swimmers to their Batang Pinoy meet in Iba, Zambales (somewhere North way past Subic). This was my second year to come as a coach and I’ve had enough time to observe of what is really the status of sports here in the Philippines, not just in swimming but in general.
I’ve had my fair share of limelight when I was a national swimmer. I had been to these kinds of national meets and I must say there is not much difference from where I took off 14 years ago. Well, here are some of my insights from my recent travel to Zambales:
1. Sports facilities are the least prioritized projects by the local government.
How many 50m pools can you use in Quezon city alone? I can only think of 2, one is even private. On my recent trip to Singapore, I noticed that there is at least 1 pool within a kilometre of radius…to think that Quezon city is bigger than Singapore!
In Zambales, we were lucky that the place we were resting during the competition is the same venue where they held the other disciplines such as Wrestling, Wushu, and Dancesport. It was a very dusty basketball court and two sports had to share that whole court. One half did Wushu, the other did Wrestling all at the same time. I pitied those doing the Wushu which gave the athletes hard time focusing in their routines because the loud noise from the other half of the court that distracted them. The mats used for Wrestling were made of huge tarpaulin print outs place on top of foam puzzles (the one used for kiddie gyms).
The swimming pool did not have spectators’ area so most parents and swimmers crowded the sheltered basketball court. There was no control area, not enough shower facilities, no touch pad, nothing. The ready bench was muddy and hot at the same time because of the unpredictable weather there. There were not enough tents for the meet officials also.
A lot of people criticized this event over the social media but I really don’t blame the local government of Zambales for the poor facilities. I am thankful for their efforts of hosting this event because it would just be the same if it were in another province. The only thing I want to point out is that local governments do not prioritize sports in the country (well at least except for basketball). They have enough money to fund and build a sports complex that is at par with the other countries and yet they settle for waiting sheds, foot bridges, and more waiting sheds.
Sports facilities are also considered tourist attractions most especially here in the Philippines where you will rarely see an all-in-one stadium where all sports are catered. I really do hope our politicians prioritize these kinds of projects.
2. If you want to compete, shoulder your own expenses all the while representing your place of residency.
Before my swimmers can join, they had to request a permit from the Quezon City hall to endorse them to compete for this Batang Pinoy. In our case, we directed to their respective barangays to get endorsements. The same process goes for the rest of the participants and their respective LGUs(Local Government Unit). Then what? Athletes from QC were at least fortunate to get a shirt, a mat (with the name of a politician on the mat), and food allowance. Many got monetary allowance too if you directed your endorsement to the proper person from the city hall. Other athletes received nothing. After requesting for endorsements, the people from the city hall quickly said, ‘Wala po kaming budget diyan, ha?’(We do not have any budget for that okay?) Most swimmers that I know came from well-to-do families to it wasn’t really big for them to spend for the hotel, food, and transportation. But what about the others? It’s as if you have to compete at your own risk. I know some athletes were not able to compete because they did not have extra money to spend for travel and lodging. There were no uniforms bearing the seals of their LGUs.
3. Athletes compete for love and passion rather than fame and money.
It’s the same observation last year. Many, maybe more than 50%, athletes came from the underprivileged class and yet they came to compete. I was watching the wrestling matches and was very humbled that one team had only one uniform to use for all the athletes. After one athlete’s round, he had to immediately take off his uniform for his teammate to use. Some teams didn’t even have the proper uniform. Some just wore boxer shorts and the one girl just wore her Hello Kitty shirt and an old pair of cycling shorts. Track and field athletes competed barefoot under the scorching heat. But all of them had one goal, they competed to win. You can see in their eyes that they wanted that gold medal. They fiercely fought to their best efforts without any monetary compensation.
Meanwhile, here I am in a sport where branding is really everything. Each race means a new pair of shoes, new tires for the wheels, fuel gels, a new pair of shades, new helmet, and all that jazz. Some compete to win but many also compete to show off their new bling-blings.
Being able to experience world-class events such as the 70.3 in Cebu and 51.50s in Subic and observing at the Batang Pinoy meet made me realize the true essence of training and competing. I don’t need new gadgets or toys to drive me to train, I just need me, myself, and I and lots of confidence and prayers to be able to achieve my goals and dreams.