I was a young kid when my father called me up one night to watch a boxing match. That fight was the 1996 Sidney Olympics Gold Medal bout between Mansueto ‘Onyok’ Velasco and Bulgaria’s Daniel Petrov, and if Onyok had won, it would have been the first ever Gold Medal by a Filipino in the Olympics. Of course, we all knew what happened during that fight. After making a lot of telling blows, Onyok somehow lost. My dad and I were crestfallen and I found myself crying. Even if I was not even remotely interested in boxing back then (or sports for that matter), this left something inside of my heart that I wished I would see just once in my lifetime – an Olympic Gold Medal hanging on the neck of a Filipino athlete and our national anthem playing in the background.
Since then I have been randomly fanboying over various Filipino Olympians. I stayed up late up at night just to watch Romeo Brin fight. I fell in love and got my heart broken by Tshomlee Go and Marie Antoinette Rivera. And yes, I woke up at five am in the morning just to watch Hidilyn Diaz win a silver medal in Women’s Weightlifting.
I am not alone in this obsession. Sports has this effect on Filipinos. It inflames our passions and captures our imagination.
Also, nothing unites us better than sports. When Manny Pacquiao fights, the Philippines stands still, and for a moment, we forget all our petty differences and we become one nation hoping and dreaming at the same time. When Gilas went out there and fought tooth and nail against the giants of the world, we ceased to be Ginebra fans or San Miguel fans or Talk and Text Fans. Collectively as one nation, we were shouting “PUSO!” at the top of our lungs. Sports has the capacity to unite this deeply fractured and divided nation.
However, despite the enormous good that an effective sports program can do to our country, it has not received the help it desperately needs. Athletes train and practice in substandard facilities. I once saw Hidilyn Diaz use cement weights for practicing her front squat. My own gym has better equipment than what Hidilyn uses to practice. Even our performance in the Asian and South East Asian Games is faltering.
It is baffling that at the world’s biggest stage, we are undeserving our athletes. Imagine the effect that an Olympic Gold Medal can give our country. Imagine the euphoria. Imagine that for one single moment, we forget all our competing interests and unite as one nation. Imagine that.
But that will not happen if there is no change in the Philppine Olympic Committee (POC) . The POC is something of a relic, beholden to the past and rife with politics and nepotism. As it stands, the current leadership of the POC is weighing down the development of the country’s athletes, shackles that limit our brave men and women’s ability to compete.
The POC needs change. It needs new ideas and new blood. It needs a new direction and a new philosophy. This needs to be done at soonest possible time for the sake of our athletes.
And maybe just maybe, I’ll call my son or daughter, and we will watch a Filipino stand tall on the gold medal podium. Then we will sing the National Anthem together with the whole country.