Over the past few years, it’s been evident that the level of play across all levels of Philippine sports has vastly improved. From the UAAP to the NCAA to the PBA, the quality showcased by each of these leagues, on a game to game basis, is getting closer and closer to reaching international standards. While good for us local fans, this, however, leads me to the question: Why does the level of local sports continue to improve yet the level of our national teams seems to go lower?
On the surface, the level of our local leagues and national teams should go hand in hand. Unfortunately for the country, though, it hasn’t. While the professional and collegiate leagues in the Philippines continue to thrive, Filipinos continue to pose no real threat when it comes to the overall world athletic stage. Though Hidilyn Diaz won the country its first Olympic medal since the days Fidel V. Ramos was president, I believe that our country’s athletes have so much more to offer if they were given better circumstances.
Looking at the issue a little bit harder, one will realize that the main reason for the discrepancy between our leagues and the national team is the overwhelming presence of Filipino-Americans (Fil-Ams) in today’s local teams. While it’s no surprise that they have come to the country more seasoned and prepared than many of our homegrown talents, it is still rather disappointing to think of what many of our local athletes could do if given better equipment, coaching, and facilities the same way those players had. Fil-Ams like Mark Caguioa and Erik Menk are well known for their success in the spotlight of the PBA, while many athletes in other sports have come here for a bigger chance to shine and a good education.
Luckily for the country, however, having to play these Fil-Ams has at least raised the level of play of some local players too. Surely, Jeron Teng improved after playing against guys like Jason Perkins and Julian Sargent at practice everyday, while other teams in the UAAP also have Fil-Ams like Jerrick Ahanmisi, Adrian Wong, and others to solidify their lineups. This also follows in the PBA where players like Matthew Wright and Chris Ross have taken the league by storm and have forced locals to up their game to keep up.
On the flip side, the reason our national teams suffer is that most of these Fil-Foreigners do not obtain the correct paperwork, by the correct time, to legally represent the country. While there are some that do, many of these athletes do not make the cut off age because they were not really thinking that far ahead when they were still kids growing up, probably having never even been or thought about going to Manila. So by the time their careers as professional or collegiate athletes start here, it is already too late for them to legally wear the nation’s colors.
With a population of over 100 million people, the country should have an easy time finding athletes to represent the flag in multiple international competitions. Instead, it is sad to see that the country continues to dwindle down world athletic rankings, even finishing in sixth place in the latest edition of the Southeast Asian games, which is the country’s worst finish in 18 years.
One thing some of our best local athletes have decided to do is to go abroad to further hone their skills instead of staying here. Guys like Kobe Paras, who now plays for California State University Northridge, Kiefer Ravena, who had a stint in the NBA G-League just like former NU standout, Bobby Ray Parks Jr., and others go overseas to improve before coming home. The worst place to be on is the treadmill of mediocrity, which the Philippines is on right now. Athletes like these have to up the pace to force others to keep up with them and not get left behind.
As time goes by, it seems the nation’s sports program continues to trend downward instead of th other way around.The only way for the Philippines to be able to become a consistent player on the world stage is through proper funding. While the Philippine Sports Commission’s budget has increased over the past few years, the amount is still a far cry from even nearby ASEAN neighbors, like Thailand and Singapore, who each give at least more than five times the amount the Philippine government gives to its athletes. Without monetary backing, our athletes can only do so much. Yes, talent is important but talent could become so much more if nurtured in the right environment.
Hopefully, one day, winning an Olympic Medal will no longer be a rare occurrence for a Filipino but instead, a celebration of the norm.