DON'T rant, came her quick and curt response.
That’s what she said when I told her what the topic of my next blog was. After living with me for close to a quarter of a century, the missus can almost second-guess what I’m about to say, or how I’m going to react to certain situations.
I don’t rant, was my defense. I critique.
While I began my conscious existence as an eternal optimist, numerous life experiences have contributed to my shift to a guarded one, haltingly evolving into the present day’s jaded pragmatist. The ranting I learned from being around people whose lives depended on whining and complaining about how awful things turned out for them, and who just couldn’t sit still for more than a few minutes without finding fault in other people, the system, or life itself. But in the middle of the cacophony of whimpering, simpering, and pillorying, I learned to still see the practical good in things. Always look on the bright side of life, goes the Monty Python ditty.
But I also have my limits. So here I present my personal observations on what people in sports have fussed over, but have done little or nothing to correct, or perhaps just might not possess the will or power to change.
Where do I want to go today? I imagine that’s the question some Philippine sports leaders ask themselves when they wake up each morning like landed gentry, eat their leisurely breakfasts, board their chauffeured limousines, and embark on whatever flights of fancy that pique their interest for the day. This may sound harsh and a tad hyperbolic, but looking at how the country has performed in recent international contests should give us pause to look into what ails Philippine sports. Here’s my Top 10 list.
1. The Tired-and-Tested.
Try talking to young physical therapists or newly minted strength/conditioning coaches about sports science and psychology, and their enthusiasm bubbles to the surface, it’s almost palpable. They’ve learned new approaches to pain management, human kinetics, group motivation, and athlete psychology that could improve an athlete’s performance, lengthen his career or train her to stay focused during tense endgame situations. However, old-timers who occupy senior positions and insist on the old ways that have worked since the Wright brothers discovered flight quash their verve like a Godzilla stomping on fleeing humans. I’ve learned of programs and technologies introduced by foreign and local groups that could have hastened recovery or avoided furthering injury to players and teams, but were cast aside in favor of antiquated approaches that the old boys espoused, or due to lack of understanding due to limited comprehension or attention span.
2. Big Fish In A Small Pond.
When my eldest child made it through the admissions of a public high school known for culling as many as 10,000 annual applicants to a freshman class of 300 students, parents were invited to attend the orientation day given by the school director. Paraphrasing his opening remarks, here’s what he said: ‘Dear parents, your child was probably the cream of the crop in his or her former school, and has come a long way through a most stringent admission process to become a student here. Our school is known for academically accomplished students who are considered among the best in the country, so your child will have to be truly exceptional to stand out from among the crowd of over-achievers. As once being big fishes in a small pond, to each one of them we say, Welcome to the ocean.’ That jolt of reality gave all of us in attendance something to take back for us parents, as well as our sons and daughters to digest. It was something we would all understand once the school term began, all the way to graduation four years later.
Stepping out of your home court to play on the world stage can be daunting, but it’s something that needs to be done if you want to see how you stack up against the big boys and girls. Yes, we have produced a Manny Pacquiao and an Efren ‘Bata’ Reyes, and have come close to putting other Filipino athletes at world-beater status, but those are very few and far between. When our athletes are disallowed by local and national governing bodies from participating in international competition for the sake of saving face or budgetary constraints, we deprive our country of learning from the best levels of competition and discovering how near or far we are from being the best that we can possibly be.
3. All Sizzle and No Steak.
During a state visit to the US, then Pres. Arroyo, who had just met with the American press together with her cabinet, proceeded to her next appointment, leaving select cabinet members and Philippine businessmen to field questions. Shooting as straight as any media denizen would, a member of the press observed, “The Philippines is probably the most eloquent among Asian countries in presenting plans and projects intended for nation-building and development. Yet, there is a yawing gap between what is presented and what is actually accomplished. Your other Asian neighbors may not be as articulate, but they get the job done.” You could hear a race bib safety pin drop.
Most of us are familiar with that Filipino trait called yabang. Its English translation is not pride — it’s arrogance and boastfulness, of which we have so much. Why, we’d soon be out of debt if yabang were convertible to hard currency. We talk big, and pitifully speak English to those who we know will have difficulty in responding, just to show we are above them. We use big words to describe our plans and dreams, but fall flat when it’s time to deliver. There’s always something to be mayabang about, but when it comes to putting money where your mouth is, a lot of pockets turn up empty.
4. Everyone’s An Expert.
Ever sit around with your friends discussing last night’s game or last week’s race? The Monday morning quarterbacks and the pub stool pundits come out every time. Might as well bring up the economy, urban planning, and public education while you’re at it, because everyone and his uncle is going to give you their expert opinion on the matter. Oh, we know EVERYTHING. So try sharing your opinion with higher ups without getting your head shot off or chewed up and spat out. In many venues, it isn’t unusual to discover that everyone wants to lead, while hardly anyone wants to follow. Aside from that, most want the credit but few will take the blame.
5. What’s In It For Me?
Translated to political jargon as 'where’s my cut?' I’d be wasting a lot of everyone’s time if I had to explain this point.
6. Well-Connected But Highly Inept.
Six degrees of separation? In this country, that number can go down to as low as three degrees between the president of the republic and a janitor at the local high school. And because of the vast network of interconnections among former classmates, in-laws, business contacts, and lovers past and present, it often comes down to whom you know than what you know. Having your network of contacts and connections does speed things up and gets things moving, but that also leaves a lot of room for Nincompoops Inc. to occupy various positions of influence that can hurt the organization, with their dated policies and pea-brained logic. No, ma’am, I wasn’t alluding to the POC or the PSC at all.
7. For The Benefit Of Much Doubt.
Where’s the money for equipment? It’s in business class, with the relatives of the fat cats who are getting free rides to this and that international tourney. What about the food and living allowance for the athletes? Now see here: you can’t expect to fly business class and later simply dine at Mickey D’s or shop at Wal-Mart do you? Talk about elasticity of income! And the rest of the poor, unknowing public wonders why we can’t send our athletes to foreign competitions, much less pay for their living expenses and equipment.
8. The Kaingin System.
Slash-and-Burn, the timesaving but destructive farming system that allows the proponents to quickly clear the land by cutting down vegetation and/or burning them in order reintroduce new crop. It’s highly efficient, but unsustainable since the nutrient-rich soil is immediately compromised and continues to be depleted under aggressive planting and harvest. Eventually, the land is rendered inutile, which defeats the purpose of sustaining life in the area through crop farming and also poses environmental hazards due to soil erosion. It’s the same method employed by government and sports agencies in dealing with previous administrations and programs regardless of their effectiveness or efficiency. Maybe we need something similar to China’s Communist Party, where they stick to the plan regardless of who is on top.
9. Priorities, Priorities.
Aside from our fascination and obsession with basketball, a sport most countries have already passed us on the skill and fundamentals ladder, there’s also the matter of lack of focus on sports in general. Stronger people mean a stronger country. A study covering all the countries in the European Community on the effect of sports on economics showed that the more developed sports programs and employment opportunities that a country possessed or had in place contributed to its economic well-being. Logically, you’ll have people who are physically fit, mentally tough, and behaviorally disciplined, just to name a few of the benefits of sports. So when the country ends up with its worst finish in the SEA Games ever, and with the national sports bodies’ intention of further paring the number of athletes to the Asian Games, you just know where this road trip is going to end.
10. No Love Left In The Room.
The people who love this country and who do want to make a difference are nowhere near positions of influence. If they were, they don’t have the numbers to accomplish their task — because someone is always out to grab credit or drag them down (see #4 above). Just like government, I have observed that not enough people in their positions of power love the country enough to set aside their petty differences and their personal interests to make the changes necessary to get us on the straight and narrow. It pains me to meet people from other countries who express their patriotism so passionately and who will believably die in defense of their country.
Does this picture look all too familiar? It should, because the list could apply just as well to government or private enterprise, and such negatives can really eat at the core of these organizations. This may not be the best way to start the year, when convention prods us to look to the future with bright prospects and glowing expectations; yet the dawn of a new day (or year, in this case) also gives us a chance to remake ourselves, take stock of what needs to be jettisoned or retained, and move forward with a clearer perspective.
Is this diatribe helping? Perhaps not. So what am I still doing here? Part of me wants to see the good people of Philippine sports come to the fore and make a difference. That same part of me wants to be there when that sliver of hope starts to show signs of growing into a stronger thread that will bind the athletes (and, yes, leadership too) into a fabric of unity and sustaining positive efforts that will bring about the change needed to bring Philippine sports where it rightfully belongs.
Tell me what the real plan is, where the money will go, and who’s going to hang if the shit hits the fan. THEN, I’ll shut up.
One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than fifty preaching it.
- Knute Rockne (1888-1931) American football coach