Halftime Thoughts: We can, despite

Despite the hurdles, women are more than capable of achieving glory within the world of sports.

Women should be encouraged to play the sport that they want. Young girls should be able to look at award-winning athletes and believe that they could reach that level of success, too. Ideally, women should be able to get opportunities and support that is as significant as that of their male counterparts without the disparity of gender.

But this is not the reality women in sports live in.

The problem we face

Discrimination is a huge factor as to why there are scarce opportunities for women in any sport. If given the already rare chances to excel or at least take the first step to establishing a career, they still have to prove themselves by winning championships and medals for them to earn more and have better training facilities than men. Even the pay that they receive is not enough to sustain themselves in the long run, leading them to retire early and to pursue another career path that can support themselves and their dependents. This shouldn’t be the reason why athletes retire early; they deserve a legacy to leave behind. They shouldn’t just end up as another waste of generational talent.

Apart from unequal pay, women don’t receive the same training and preparation for their professional development as male athletes. In the Philippines, only women who have access to international universities, scholarships, and training camps are able to succeed because of  the lack of support for the local grassroots programs. This also applies to women who are running sports clinics independently, as they cannot assure athletes of opportunities that they would be scouted by top universities and leagues. That alone leaves everything to luck.

But female athletes shouldn’t be relying on luck when it comes to support and opportunities when governing bodies and authorities have enough resources to fund them. This cycle has to end.

History makers

When Hidilyn Diaz bagged the Philippines’ first Olympic gold in the women’s weightlifting event in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, history was made. Alongside her were silver medalist boxer Nesthy Petecio, skateboarder Margielyn Didal, boxer Irish Magno, weightlifter Elreen Ando, sprinter Kristina Knott, judoka Kiyomi Watanabe, golfer Yuka Saso, and swimmer Remedy Rule—making it the first roster of Filipino Olympians to have 10 women on board.

With their participation alone, they proved to everyone that Filipino women are more than what society perceives them to be—that there are no limits to what women can do.

This Olympic feat broke decades-long boundaries, as it was done under a misogynistic and patriarchal regime. It serves as a wakeup call to the government and to the entire country that Filipino women can dominate in a sport that society deems as only for men.

Yet, there still is this imposed belief that one must possess “male-like” physical characteristics to even get a chance to excel. This is another hindrance to development in women’s sports—standards are based on men and male qualities.

But Filipinas are world-class competitors, as proven by the Gilas Pilipinas Women during their FIBA Asia Women’s Cup campaign. Dealing with their lack of size against the towering frontcourt of other countries, the fearless Gilas women made a statement by managing to stay in the Division A of the tournament—securing 43rd place in the latest FIBA world rankings.

The Philippine Women’s Football Team also made history last January 31 after securing the country’s first ever spot in the FIFA Women’s World Cup after winning against Chinese Taipei in an intense penalty shootout. This accomplishment alone serves as a giant leap for Philippine football. This feat gives a chance for every young Filipina to be inspired by the Malditas’ history-making run, hopefully paving the way for the next generation of football players.

Apart from success of our national teams, Filipinas continuously show their excellence in leagues abroad, such are volleyball superstar Jaja Santiago in Japan V League, golfer Bianca Pagdanganan in the LPGA, tennis prodigy and current Rafa Nadal Academy scholar Alex Eala, and karateka Junna Tsukii who currently ranks No. 4 worldwide in the women’s kumite.

These accomplishments were done amid all the disadvantages and difficulties of being a Filipina athlete, in spite of the unfair stigma, disparity, and political turmoil that exists in our country.

If given equal opportunities, contracts, budget, and investments as men’s sports, the next generation can surely continue the legacy that the history makers—women—have cemented in their respective sports.

These success stories and accomplishments are the start of recognizing what Filipinas can bring to the world stage. Although some sports programs still need more support in more ways than one, it is still a good start.

By breaking more barriers, we could be seeing athletes make history.

Just getting started

More than ever, representation for the younger generation is vital. The youth should be able to freely envision themselves being in the same place as their role models without being held back by their gender. With women at the forefront of glory and pride, it is also the time to give them—all women—a platform where they can share their struggles and experiences–instead of shining the spotlight on them only when they bag wins.

To give women’s sports a chance now means giving the next generation a better place for them to play, to develop, and to have enough support. Watching Filipinas give all they have to succeed in male-dominated sports is the inspiration and example we all need. We have to know that we can, despite.

Abante, babae!

(Women, let us move onward!)

Mikaela Vallesteros

By Mikaela Vallesteros

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