LONDON – Former boxing chief and Team Philippines chef de mission Manny Lopez the other day called for radical concepts and strategies to bring Filipino athletes to Olympic standards because "we are lagging way, way behind."
Lopez voiced the urgent call following the zero performance of the 11-man Phl team that got clobbered, with the exception of boxer Mark Barriga, and finished among the last in the first round of competitions in the London Games.
"It is very saddening. We are a nation of 97 million and we are represented by only 11,"m said Lopez on the eve of the team's departure for Manila.
He said Jamaica, a small nation in the Pacific, over five times smaller than the Philippines, is represented by a big, select, gritty bunch of track superstars led by Usain Bolt. It has new talents in its massive assembly line that started with the now-infamous Ben Johnson in 1988.
Germany concentrated on cycling and swimming when the wall of Berlin divided two countries and in the unification period that followed turned to the military to train thousands of soldiers to become Olympic gold medalists.
In the Philippines we train the youth and the rich in a sport best suited for Marines.
Thailand, low in height but high in its Olympic dreams, found realistic possibilities in boxing and lured thousands of muay thai champions to become Olympic boxers for King and country. They have won gold medals from 1992 to 2008, their gold medal sweep halted only this year with their silver medal finish in the light flyweight category. They showed awesome stature in weightlifting, a good medal source which this year earned the country of 70 million its first silver of the Games.
Indonesia nurtured its shuttlers to perfection in a game for players averaged 5-7 in height and has since been a consistent Olympic gold medalist, from 1992 to 2004, its campaign this year ruined by China's sweep of all the five events. But its weightlifting team is of Olympic caliber, bringing in one silver and bronze from London.
Malaysia produced medalists in badminton while Singapore, a nation of two million, had bronze from table tennis. The Philippines has none since 2000.
"Our neighboring countries are also concerned with what is happening to the Philippines. Nakakalungkot ang nakita nating natatalo ang ating mga atleta (It's disheartening to see our athletes lose)," he added.
Lopez was only too glad the once low-profile nations of Vietnam and Myanmar didn't appear in the medal count of 204 participating countries.
The Philippines has since deteriorated after the boxing association, then headed by former Mayor Mel Lopez and later by his son Manny, produced three Olympic medalists in silver medal winner Onyok Velasco and bronze medalists Leopoldo Serrantes and Roel Velasco.
Volleyball still adheres to the old concept that the game is for homosexuals. We should now lure former tall basketball players to win the gold in the SEAG.
The old concept is to rely on foreign technology and coaches to train our athletes. The revolutionary concept is to let Filipino coaches train elite athletes. Now is the time to establish sports colleges that will train elite athletes and coaches, with international coaches to provide the initial training for coaches earning their bachelor's or master's degrees.
"It's about time we include sports where we are good in the curriculum of the DepEd," he said, mentioning diving, archery, boxing, sepak takraw and martial arts.
Academic training balanced with a good school sports program helps keep students away from computer games and drugs and develops leaders with the ruthless discipline of champions.
One nagging problem and frequent excuse in sports development is lack of government funding.
Let us change that concept, said Lopez.
"There are no problems in funding. Since we cannot rely entirely on government, we can look for other sources. The private sector is very much willing. In fact what the government spent for Team Philippines is very minimal," said Lopez. "The London organizers paid for the plane fare of the 28-member delegation and gave them free training a month before the games.
"If we don't make drastic changes in our system now, we won't progress, we will retrogress," he added.
Lopez advocated a holistic approach to Philippine sports, and suggested a long-range plan of six years to train athletes for the Olympics with the public and private sector involved in various capacities.
"We can't separate politics from sports but politics should be one that is tolerable, that is good and democratic and has the will to fight the mafia of sports," he added.
At the height of a controversy surrounding the loss of Harry Tañamor in Beijing, Lopez announced his resignation.
"At the expense of sacrificing my position, I turned over the baton of the ABAP to somebody who was deserving of a new mandate," he said. "That is political will."
He said he hoped other NSA leaders did the same.