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Editorial Opinion

Greedy for gold

On July 26, President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his final State of the Nation Address—but that was hardly the most momentous thing that happened that day.

About an hour later, an ocean away, Lupang Hinirang blared through the Tokyo International Forum for the first time in Olympic history. Hidilyn Diaz, with her hand over her brow in salute to the Philippine flag, had just accomplished what many thought was impossible for almost a century: she snagged the country’s first Olympic gold.

By the end of the entire event, Nesthy Petecio, Carlo Paalam, and Eumir Marcial would bring home another two silvers and a bronze, pulling the overall medal tally up to four. They performed so well that they were showered with a myriad of merits, from millions of pesos in cash incentives to free airline flights granted by both the government and the private sector. Though these prizes are very much well-deserved, they are also well past their due.

The government was nevertheless quick to congratulate the athletes—but not without taking credit for it. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque claimed that it was no coincidence that the country’s best showing in the Olympics happened under the Duterte administration and even cited figures that proved how their investments in athletes increased in the past years. “May direct correlation talaga ang pag-invest ng Presidente sa performance ng ating mga atleta,” Roque proudly said. Ironic, given that a day after Diaz’s historic win, Roque himself admitted that the funds were still insufficient.

(There really is a direct correlation between our athletes’ performance and our President’s investments.)

The sad reality is many of our contenders have had to deal with underfunded Olympic campaigns. Diaz, for one, struggled to find donors for her Olympic bid and publicly canvassed for private sponsorships back in 2019. Marcial also took to social media to air his grievances on getting only a minuscule monthly allowance from the government. Many other Olympians, like Irish Magno and Alex Eala, have spoken up in the past about how difficult it was to get their government stipends at all.

This disturbing pattern has long been sustained by a severe underfunding of sports in the Philippines, compelling some of our athletes to look for better opportunities abroad. For years, we have lagged behind countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Hong Kong in budget allocations for sports development; add to that the Philippine Sports Commission’s notoriety for corruption and mishandling of funds. The picture now could not be more clearer: athletes are left to fend for themselves—juggling financial burdens and the pressures of going for the gold.

It is nothing short of ridiculous, then, that a government that has long neglected in supporting its people is now taking credit for their victories. At any rate, the glory attained by our Olympians is theirs to claim alone, and those who have turned a blind eye to their repeated requests for aid have no reason to piggyback off of their success.

The road to gold—or just securing a coveted spot on the world’s biggest sports stage—is a long and difficult one. But the challenge should not lie in acquiring the resources and financing needed to represent one’s country; it should come from competing in the sport itself.

Filipino excellence in sports is not something to be taken for granted. The national team’s performance in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is not a mere lucky blip; we have always had the potential for top podium finishes. But if the government continues to shortchange our world-class competitors, then it might take another lifetime before we again see success.

With Olympic gold now in the books, the Philippines should all the more take this as a reminder that support for our athletes should come during their climb to success—not after their rise to the top.

By The LaSallian

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