Neglect so sport is a low-budget comedy

Miguel Tabuena of the Philippines hits a shot during a practice round prior to the US Open at Oakmont Country Club on June 15.
Miguel Tabuena of the Philippines hits a shot during a practice round prior to the US Open at Oakmont Country Club on June 15. PHOTO: AFP

PHILIPPINES' 2013 SPORTS BUDGET: 884 MILLION PESOS (S$25 MILLION)

MANILA • The Philippines, in over 20 Olympics since 1924, has won only nine medals (two silvers and seven bronzes) - a haul that is just one more than Thailand's eight in a single Games (2004).

In the past four editions, the country's athletes went home empty-handed.

The last time a Filipino stood on a podium was in 1996, when the light-flyweight boxer Mansueto Velasco won a silver, and the odds are getting higher.

In 2000, the Philippines had 20 athletes competing in Sydney. It was 16 in Athens 2004, 15 in Beijing 2008 and in London 2012, the cast had dwindled to 11.

  • Team Philippines

    While weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz will lead the charge for at least a medal in Rio, golfer Miguel Tabuena is also one to watch.

    The 21-year-old, named the joint recipient of the Sportsman of the Year for 2016 by the country's sportswriters association, is already a winner on the Asian Tour. Last month, he became just the second Filipino to compete in the major US Open last month.

    Woman table tennis player Ian Lariba is Team Philippines' flag-bearer.

    THE CONTINGENT

    12 athletes in seven sports (athletics, boxing, swimming, golf, table tennis, taekwondo and weightlifting).

The desire to win and the pool of talent are there. The money is not. In 2011, it spent about 962 million pesos (S$27.6 million) on sport. Thailand earmarked more than 14 times as much.

The budget shrank to 884 million pesos in 2013. Filipino boxing sensation Manny Pacquiao alone earned 6.8 billion pesos from his fight with Floyd Mayweather.

Simply, in a country where half the population consider themselves poor, sport is not a priority.

"We feel something should be done, but we always get nothing. We have been living with it for the past many years," Philippine Sports Commission chairman Richie Garcia said in an interview with GMA News.

For Francis Ochoa, assistant sports editor at the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the only real option is to make do with what is available.

"The problem is that we already have a small budget, and yet spread the money across several sports associations," he said.

"It should be pinpointed at sports - where we can really compete, the ones where it's measurable, where we don't fall at a disadvantage because of height, build or anything."

This means throwing more money at sports like boxing, judo, karate, taekwondo, wushu and weightlifting.

Incentives also matter. A gold in Rio de Janeiro is now worth 10 million pesos, thanks to a law passed last year. A silver is five million pesos and bronze, two million pesos.

 

For his silver in 1996, Velasco received cash gifts, a house, and a car. Later, he parlayed his fame as a sportsman into a moderately successful career as a comedian, which says a lot about the sad state of Philippine sports.

In a scathing assessment following an incident where Filipino divers earned zeros at last year's SEA Games, former Philippine Olympic Committee president Cristy Ramos said: "What a joke the Philippines has become in sports."

Raul Dancel

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 31, 2016, with the headline 'Neglect so sport is a low-budget comedy'. Print Edition | Subscribe