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DIPOLOG, Philippines – The Philippine University Games (UniGames) kicked off its week-long sports competitions in Dipolog City on Sunday, January 21, with organizers calling the event as a means of showing that Mindanao is more than just a battlefront.
With many areas in Mindanao still facing the stigma of deeply-rooted peace and order problems, Roger Banzuela, UniGames co-founder and president, said he found Dipolog, along with many other places in Mindanao, to be peaceful and lovable.
More than 1,000 athletes, coaches, and their assistants from 31 universities and colleges across the country are participating in the UniGames, which is also celebrating its silver anniversary.
Banzuela said many parents were initially apprehensive about sending their children to Mindanao, citing safety concerns. However, most of them were eventually convinced, he said.
“That is the beauty of sports; it is about peace, friendship, fair play, and goes beyond politics,” Banzuela said.
In 1996, UniGames was initiated by Banzuela and the late Brother Rolando Dizon, then-president of the University of Saint La Salle-Bacolod City and former chair of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
The first UniGames was held at the University of Saint Lasalle-Bacolod, attended by 17 universities and colleges.
After holding 24 competitions in Luzon and Visayas, UniGames stopped from 2020 up to 2023 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
UniGames returned this year and this time it was held in Mindanao to promote peace.
This year, the UniGames is being hosted by the city government of Dipolog and co-hosted by the provincial government of Zamboanga del Norte and the Jose Rizal Memorial State University.
Games include badminton, basketball, table tennis, taekwondo, volleyball, beach volleyball, and futsal.
“UniGames is intended for provincial schools. We look for players and develop world-class athletes from the grassroots. In fact, 95% of our participants are first-timers,” Banzuela said.
He said he considered the provincial-based coaches, who identify prospective athletes, train, and expose them in competitions, as “heroes.”
“But sadly, many were pirated by Manila-based big teams,” he said.
Banzuela lauded the local government of Dipolog for having a year-round sports training program.
“Like what the Dipolog government is doing, we are developing athletes from the grassroots, and the training should be continuous, unlike the Department of Education, which usually provides only a couple of weeks of training before competitions,” Banzuela said.
The city government launched “Sporty Dipolog” a decade ago, aiming to make the city the sports events center in the region.
Dipolog Mayor Darel Dexter Uy said the city government paid a P300,000 hosting fee, and it has also been shouldering the expenses for the preparation of the venues since last year.
Banzuela said UniGames has an average spending of P2.3 million per competition.
“We are not a commercial sports event; we are just helping athletes from the provinces,” he said.
The organizers said the host city will also benefit from the sports event in terms of economy and tourism.
“In about four days, 80% of the athletes, those eliminated, would become local tourists,” Banzuela continued. “They can be invited for exhibition games, and I’m sure they will bring their experiences in Dipolog back to their homes.” – Rappler.com