Philippine sports

More than just numbers

Ariel Ian Clarito

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More than just numbers

PUNCHING HIS WAY. Eumir Marcial knocks down naysayers as he journeys to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

'Athletes come first. Athletes should always come first, not the sensitivities and pricked egos of sports officials'

How much does an athlete need to prepare for a major international competition? How much does an athlete need to train to be competitive on the world level? How much does an athlete need to earn a decent living?

After Olympic-bound boxer Eumir Marcial shared his struggles and the lack of financial support in his preparation for the Tokyo Games, his revelation quickly degenerated into a debate on the questions raised above.

However, what we have to realize is that if we limit the discourse to solely the adequacy or inadequacy of financial support Marcial receives, it relegates to irrelevance the various subcontext that the issue has brought to the fore.

There is more to the issue than just numbers. 

Marcial seemingly has been demonized for voicing out to the public his concerns, never mind that these are valid and legitimate.

This tells us how lowly athletes are often regarded in this country by some fans and by sports officials.

Athletes are expected to fight for flag and country, to be model citizens, and to abide by the rules. The moment they speak up against the establishment, they are all of a sudden regarded as renegades who are selfish and unpatriotic. 

This happened when Irish Magno opened up about the delay in the release of allowances of national athletes. Some sports officials were quick to chastise Magno for not being more understanding that in the midst of a pandemic, delays in the release of allowances were inevitable.

It makes one wonder whether the allowances of these sports officials were also delayed and if they too showed magnanimity and understanding.

Different sports officials have also gone on the offensive in the face of Marcial’s complaints.

Some have even given media an itemized shopping list of the things they have given Marcial, as if gloves, a trainer, and other forms of support were not part of the basics an Olympic-level athlete should be provided with.

It is similar to telling a soldier who is being deployed to go to war that he was lucky he was being given a gun, some bullets, and a water canister. 

There were also others who began questioning Marcial’s patriotism.

This is an infantile attempt at sidestepping the issue by undermining the critic’s credibility and questioning his loyalty to the country and to the Olympic dream.

Just because an athlete does not kowtow to officials does not make that athlete less patriotic.

Manny Pacquiao earns millions of dollars in his fights yet no one ever questions his love for country. Just because a national athlete relays strongly his need for more assistance, financial or otherwise, does not mean that athlete loves the country less. 

Outside of events like basketball, volleyball, and perhaps, professional golf, there is very little in terms of financial rewards in store for an athlete in this country.

Just ask Wesley So. To say that athletes should just be grateful that they are given allowances by a government agency that is not mandated by law to do so is a disservice to both the athletes and the government agency.

Not all National Sports Associations (NSAs) are able to attract major corporate sponsors because the reality is that companies tend to gravitate towards major spectator sports where they can maximize the exposure of their brands.

In situations such as these, national athletes will have no one else to turn to but the agency tasked by the government to help athletes. 

There are members of the national teams who are full time athletes whose primary focus is to train for competitions.

Simply put, sports is their profession, hence their source of income comes mostly, or sometimes exclusively, from sports. Some are lucky to have private benefactors who will supplement their allowances and cover for their training expenses. 

Others, though, are not as fortunate, as in the case of BMX rider Daniel Caluag, the 2014 Asian Games gold medalist and a 2012 Olympian, who has not been able to prepare extensively to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics as he has been busy with his profession as a medical frontliner in the US.

Caluag, like a lot of our national athletes, cannot survive on his allowance alone.

To expect national athletes to utilize their allowances to defray the costs of their training will leave them with nothing for themselves and their families.

Athletes also need to put food on the table, provide for their families, and prepare for the future. Some of them are their family’s breadwinners.

Even employees from both the government and the private sectors have per diems when they travel for official business because their salary is supposed to be their take home pay.

A number of these national athletes come from humble beginnings.

To say that the likes of Marcial and Magno are entitled and spoiled when they voice out concerns is an unfair accusation.

The truth is, Marcial and Magno are used to hardships. Athletes like them are willing to endure difficult training conditions, being away from their loved ones, and subsisting on meager resources.

But if they are expected to do more, like win medals against world class competition in the Olympics, they will need more than the usual support.

Much is expected of them, so it is but fair that more should be provided to them to help them deliver on the lofty expectations. 

At this stage, with roughly two months to go before the Tokyo games begin, it is counterproductive for sports officials to be throwing shade at athletes and questioning their love for the country.

There will be enough credit to go around if our athletes emerge victorious, so sports officials need not worry that they will not be able to partake of the glory that a successful Olympic campaign will bring.

Athletes come first. Athletes should always come first, not the sensitivities and pricked egos of sports officials. –

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