As the controversy with EJ Obiena and the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) drags on, the Philippine sports community is again in a frenzy. In another story of how one of our elite athletes is seemingly a victim of crab mentality—a Filipino trademark—he’s hindered from representing the Philippines and from pursuing his career goals. Our national leaders continue to become obstacles in the athletes’ ways while providing no support or encouragement. Yet, they want our country to be known as a breeding ground for champions—showing the dissonance between action and thought.
Seeing the problems
While our Filipino athletes thrive on unwavering moral support, they also need a nurturing environment, allowing them to focus mentally, emotionally, and physically to represent the country in international meets. Preparing for grand tournaments like the Southeast Asian Games and the Olympics requires rigorous training to attain excellence and consistency. This is why sports governing bodies such as PATAFA, the Philippine Olympic Committee, and the Philippine Sports Commission are crucial in handling our national athletes.
However, it is no secret that certain sports receive more funding and attention compared to their counterparts in other competitive sports. One example is Gilas Pilipinas, backed by Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas and tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan. The same cannot be said for individual sports facing financial indulgences. It is high time that a much better balance of attention and support be allotted to the other growing sports in the Philippines.
Last January, the Philippine women’s football team made history in dramatic fashion as they secured the country’s first ever berth in the FIFA 2023 World Cup. Their unbelievable achievement is the epitome of how giving the right regard toward growing sports can make a convincing impact. The ability to give such deserved attention to these sports in all of their potential and capacity can result in positive outcomes—those that all trend in the same direction, pushing the country’s athletes to new heights.
But the way our national sports associations handle our athletes has been a point of concern, especially in recent years. From a lack of funding to run-down training facilities, it has been an uphill battle for our tournament contenders to command the attention of higher authorities. Due to the plethora of contributing factors to these circumstances such as rampant corruption in the country, it is saddening that our modern-day heroes are greatly affected. Sports become affected—from the associations and teams to athletes’ overall performance—in a way that trust and joy in the sport erode.
Our national athletes deliver beyond awards; they bring home fame and honor to our country. They shouldn’t be left at the mercy of corrupt officials or the generosity of wealthy sponsors. Instead, national athletes should be treated well, from the grassroots of their journey up until their podium finish.
This is not the first time that the Philippines has faced a crisis concerning its athletes due to unfortunate controversies. Chess prodigy Wesley So traded in his Filipino citizenship to become an American citizen in 2014 and has been representing their flag since. So had undeniable potential to contribute to the sport and create a legendary path for aspiring chess players. Yet, he opted to leave because of the “lack of opportunities” in the Philippines. Meanwhile, world-ranked number 8 golfer Yuka Saso recently prioritized her Japanese citizenship for future tournaments. Saso’s strategic decision is seen as an encouraging opportunity as it will open the door to more lucrative sponsorship arrangements, saying that “it will be very helpful for her career.”
We cannot blame these athletes for choosing greener pastures as they continue to build on their illustrious careers. As for Obiena’s situation, this should act as a wake-up call for our governing bodies and sports authorities. Obiena has dedicated his hard-earned skill and talent to the country only for controversies to slander him and his coaches. The efforts to resolve the rift peacefully should be made a priority by those involved so that the image of the country’s athletes and sports culture will not be further tainted.
Making it right
Our government and sports commissions should make the necessary adjustments to address these issues regarding treatment toward athletes. Beyond learning from their past mistakes, having the right personnel steering our sports world into greater heights can surely motivate our athletes to pursue continuous success for the country. The great esteem in which sports and our national athletes are held today should not only assist in ensuring that winners receive promised awards and incentives. Rather, they must be respected as both sportspeople and as human beings.
Some people forget that apart from gaining unending support or experiencing harsh criticism, athletes are humans too. They face challenges both on and off the playing field, building their character and outlook in life. However, it is no easy task to handle the grueling preparations for competitions, let alone be charged with such a heavy accusation as that of Obiena.
Our athletes carry not only their names but also represent our country wherever they go. They bring with them the responsibility of being advocates of our nation’s identity and personalities of prestige and excitement. Obiena and the rest of our proud athletes should be managed with dignity and honesty.
Despite the circumstances, Obiena has made known his desire and willingness to keep on representing the Philippine flag. Although he fell short in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the 26-year old’s remarkable performance proved that he has a promising future ahead. Similar to other athletes, Obiena’s loyalty to the Philippines is a courageous and principled feat. Whether our country deserves his dedication or not, he’s made his choice; lucky for us.
Their remarkable journeys have the makings of a notable story that has the potential to astound, inspire, and unify our nation for generations to come. We may not provide a huge amount of monetary aid, but as a Filipino people, we have the ability to reward them with something far more valuable, if not priceless—our sincere appreciation. It is essential to make bold moves to redefine our country’s sporting identity and change for the better—putting our talented athletes on the track that they deserve.