By Nick Giongco
The Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), whose funds fuel the country’s quest for excellence in the international arena, believes a special breed of athletes is needed to guarantee a lofty finish in the Olympics.
PSC chairman William “Butch” Ramirez, the man behind the PSC’s mission to resuscitate the hopes of a nation that is slowly drowning in sorrow, swears such kind of men and women would be the key to success.
“Just like in war, you need these kind of men and women who are ten times more valuable than the ordinary athlete,” said Ramirez.
“If in war you have the special forces to accomplish a mission, in sports you got to have the same guys, athletes who are going to deliver the medals because their skills are exceptional and they undergo a different training regimen,” he said.
Ramirez believes the Siklab Atleta Foundation, the project of Davao tycoon Dennis Uy, who also serves as the Presidential Adviser on Sports, appears suited to play the role of producing what he labeled as “Special Forces.”
“The key is funding these special breed of athletes so they continue to improve and excel,” he said.
However, Ramirez makes it clear that the most important thing is discovering talent.
“Even if everything is in place, money and all, but if you don’t have the talent, nothing’s going to happen. You won’t produce the athletes who we can call members of the Special Forces.”
And this is the reason why Ramirez is making sure that grassroots development gets prioritized by his administration.
Alongside the PSC’s goal of reaching out to far-flung provinces in its search for talent and to improve the level of coaching, Ramirez swears he is not losing hope that somewhere along the way, that gold medal potential will come knocking on the PSC’s door.
Instead of scouring overseas to beef up the national team roster, there will come a time when that practice will slowly disappear, Ramirez said.
“Why do we get athletes with foreign blood? Because we don’t have successors to our current heroes. When they retire, there’s nobody to take their place. But if you have a strong grassroots program, that can be remedied.”
In almost a century of competing in the Olympics, the Philippines has yet to win a gold medal.
Three silvers are all what the Philippines has to show, a “feat” that has already been surpassed by tiny Singapore and war-torn Vietnam.
The three silvers that sugar-coating sports officials frequently call as “silvers that sparkled like gold,” include two from boxing in 1964 and 1996 and one just recently from lifter Hidilyn Diaz in the 2016 Rio Olympics, the second coming 32 years after the first and the third 20 years later.
While those two boxing silvers could have been gold, the fact remains that the Philippines has yet to win an actual gold, a far cry from what the professionals have achieved stretching back to the heyday of Pancho Villa in the raging 1920s.
But there seems to be hope and help on its way following the emergence of a group of corporate leaders with a strong desire to succeed and possessed of a deep sense of fair play and sportsmanship.
Ramirez readily acknowledges the new POC’s vision and admits the involvement of tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan is crucial in the new administration.
“The PSC and POC are partners and we should be working hand in hand,” said Ramirez, who warmly welcomed POC president Ricky Vargas at the PSC main office the day after Vargas had wrested the leadership.
Still, Uy’s Siklab Foundation, appears to be godsend as Ramirez mantains that funds from it should be enough to keep the chosen ones preoccupied and focused on the ultimate task.
Boxing, owing to its solid track record, leads the short list of Olympic potentials alongside judo, which boasts of Cebu-born Kiyomi Watanabe, who is among the top 25 in her class.
Of course weightlifting, because of Hidilyn Diaz’s head-turning performance in the 2016 Rio Games has been included as interest in the sport has surged following the Zamboanga native’s feat.
Taekwondo remains up there and also on the cusp of a breakout are archery, windsurfing and shooting.
With Tokyo hosting the Olympics in two years time, Ramirez is wishing, hoping and praying that the gold medal drought finally comes to a screeching halt despite the odds.
If it doesn’t happen in 2020, Ramirez is looking at 2024 when Filipino athletes are more prepared and hopefully as well-funded.
By then, the Siklab Foundation would already be running smoothly and athletes he had once immortalized as members of the Special Forces armed and raring to go into battle.