Philippines sees balance of sporting triumph, trials in pandemic’s 2 years

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 15 2022 09:11 AM | Updated as of Mar 15 2022 11:45 AM

Victories by Hidilyn Diaz (center), Yuka Saso (left) and Caloy Yulo gave Filipino sports fans — and the entire country — reason to cheer in the middle of difficult, uncertain times. AFP/file
Victories by Hidilyn Diaz (center), Yuka Saso (left) and Caloy Yulo gave Filipino sports fans — and the entire country — reason to cheer in the middle of difficult, uncertain times. AFP/file

Not everything that happened during the 2 years of the pandemic was bad news. In Philippine sports, that was certainly the case. 

After the novel coronavirus and the consequent severe public restrictions shut down practically all activities in March 2020, nobody knew what the future would hold, including Filipino athletes who were forced into a health lockdown.

Then 2021 came along.

Here are the mostly ups and a few downs in the 24 months since government first imposed a nationwide quarantine on March 15, 2020.

ATHLETES TAKE WINNING WAYS OVERSEAS

First, the good news. With virtually every domestic in-person sports event cancelled, it was obvious that Filipino athletes would have to work their magic on the road to bring national pride to the country. And they did. In a big way. Thanks to victories by the likes of Yuka Saso at the US Open, Hidilyn Diaz at the Tokyo Olympics, and Caloy Yulo at the world championships in Japan, the Philippines showed it could beat international competition.

HIDILYN TRAINS IN MALAYSIA

What started out as a brief camp in December 2019, became a 20-month stay in the Malacca district of Jasin. Diaz said there were times she couldn't overcome homesickness, but she later acknowledged this time away from the comforts of home and the company of family proved vital in preparing her for the Tokyo Games, where she won the gold medal. 

Would the result have turned out differently if Diaz had trained in the Philippines instead? No one will ever know. But that secluded camp in Malaysia — a scenario that wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for the pandemic — worked wonders for her. 

LOCAL LEAGUES ON AND OFF

Because of the instability of the coronavirus, leagues such as the PBA and the PVL couldn't take off. Competitions would restart, yes, but were hastily finished. And unlike years past where there were multiple conferences in a season, leagues were fortunate to have one go through. The PBA hopes the stop-and-start episodes are over, as it holds the playoffs of the Governors’ Cup. The PVL, meanwhile, opens on March 16.

UAAP, NCAA CANCELLED

Not since the Second World War have the country's top varsity leagues been forced to suspend entire tournaments across all sports. The UAAP returns later this month. 

ATHLETES SHOW HUMANITARIAN SIDE

Even though they themselves were not sure about their futures, a number of sports people put in the effort to help different sectors severely hit by the pandemic. From charity auctions to rolling stores, players showed they were ready to dish out life-changing assists when called for.

THE PACQUIAO WHAT-IF

Had the pandemic not happened, it's reasonable to say that Manny Pacquiao would have fought in one, maybe two more fights. When he lost to Yordenis Ugas in August 2021, some wondered whether the outcome would have been different had he not been away from the ring for more than 2 years. 

THE ALDIN AYO SAGA

The promising career of the UST Growling Tigers head coach came crashing down after allegations he held a bubble training camp during the height of the virus lockdown when according to national task force rules he should not have. He resigned afterward, before the UAAP banned him indefinitely. He has returned to coaching, but in the 3x3 game.

THE RISE IN REGIONAL BASKETBALL LEAGUES

With the hard lockdowns often instituted in Metro Manila, it made sense conducting tournaments outside the Big City. And that’s where tournaments by geography-centered leagues such as the MPBL, the VisMin Cup and the FilBasket to name a few came in. At a time when there was a surplus in players but a shortage in opportunities, these organizations stepped up to fill the gap, despite a few controversies that arose.