THE stunning result of the recent Southeast Asian Games that saw the Philippines win 149 gold medals and capture its first overall championship since 2005 may have changed Philippine sports forever. Because all those victories have shown us that sporting glory does not come cheap. That, if we want to keep reaping medal honors, the country has to spend — and spend big.
The figures coming from sports agencies and associations reveal that, in winning the overall championship, the Philippine Sports Commission spent P1.5 billion — yes, billion — for the training and preparation of our athletes. In contrast, the PSC allocated just P30 million — right, million — for the same training and preparation, plus transport, accommodations, and allowances, for the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.
Besides this year’s haul of 149 gold medals, the country also won 117 silvers and 121 bronzes for a total of 387 medals. Computing the P1.5 billion spent on our athletes’ training and preparation against medals won, we come to this: Each medal cost us P3.8 million.
The gold-medal production was a record, beating the 113 won in 2005 when we were also hosts. The overall tally was also a new mark, one the country has not enjoyed in the 42 years we have been part of the SEA Games. But, what we spent to get there was also one for the books.
The P1.5 billion expended for the 2019 SEAG does not even include the P7.5 billion that government handed to the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee Foundation (Phisgoc, Inc.) to run the competition, nor does it include the P1.5 billion also handed to Phisgoc for its organizational expenses.
Again, not included in the count is the P56 million spent on the cauldron (aka kaldero) that held the symbolic flames of the Games, and the tens of billions used in constructing the so-called state-of-the-art athletics stadium, aquatic center, and athletes’ quarters at the New Clark City in Pampanga. Still not included in the equation is the money provided by Pagcor to refurbish the Rizal Memorial Complex and the venues at the Ultra which reached P842 million.
Indeed, in prepping for and spending on hosting the SEA Games, the country dug deep into its coffers. It might be said that ink nearly ran out on the checkbooks of officials from various government departments.
For years, sports have been getting the short end of our priorities. But in this instance, government put it above such concerns as rebuilding Marawi City, strengthening sea defenses, improving traffic gridlock, and constructing more roads and bridges. It may also have put on hold money to battle climate change, build more classrooms, support farmers and fishermen, and inoculate Filipino children.
In the end, it would appear our government — in particular, our sports officials — achieved the goal. We captured bragging rights in the SEA Games, as hosts often do. We produced sports heroes, although it might be noted that not a single national record was established and none of our athletes’ performance ever came near to threatening Asian athletic standards.
Despite this, our officials regaled us about momentum, saying the future looks bright and that intense preparations will be made in order to carry the country’s victorious SEA Games campaign into the Olympics in Tokyo next year and the Asian Games two years after.
In fact, sports officials are now talking about how close the Philippines is to finally winning a gold medal at the Olympics, a sorry lack that has been an embarrassment for a country of more than 100 million people with not a single Olympic gold to speak of.
But with the SEA Games as its template, sports officials are now crowing that Tokyo will be a game changer. There will be no holding back in financial and other forms of support for athletes qualifying for the Olympics.
Sadly, however, only a few Filipino athletes will make it to Tokyo. Because, unlike the SEA Games where each country in the region can field as many athletes as it wants, the Olympics is a different animal. There is a standard to be met and eliminations to be overcome for every athlete that gains entry.
There also will be no arnis to cling to or dancesports to rely on, two events where the Philippines won 24 of its SEAG gold medals. This time, it will be the real thing. Filipino bets will have to run faster, jump higher, and beat a field of superior caliber.
Well, at least, there’s one thing going for our athletes this time: They will no longer have to beg, steal, or borrow as they go for that Olympic gold.