Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A glimpse beyond the big B’s of Philippine sports

It is ironic that many athletes still manage to shine even when a more unified and well-supported sports for all program remains to be a dream. Amateur and professional sports produced the likes of Paeng Nepomuceno, Efren “Bata” Reyes, and Manny Pacquiao to name a few. However, away from the spotlight of more popular sports there are individuals and groups that breathe life to a severely malnourished sports framework.

Sports in the Filipino mindset are usually focused on the Big B’s such as basketball, billiards, boxing, and badminton. The popularity gained by these sports give them the distinct advantage in generating more resources for promotion and development. Consequently, the continuous increase in support opens doors to an extensive list of expertise like coaching, technical training, and sports medicine. It is not surprising then that these are the sports that either put the country into the global sports map or attract more members at the grassroots level.

There are, however, other sports that increasingly appeal to people from all walks of life. Running keeps on gaining more prominence. Runners and running clubs are growing in numbers. In fact, it is hard to miss individuals and groups out for their daily morning or evening runs.

The continuous growth of running for fitness or competition is a positive turn in promoting sports for all in the country. The fact that thousands of people pursue it for leisure or competition signifies that Filipinos are eager to embrace sports to achieve a healthier lifestyle. And if the weekly fun runs, road races, and marathons are to be used as gauge then running is undoubtedly successful in reaching out to people from diverse backgrounds and age groups.

Another sport with a thriving community of active members is dragon boat. Since the sport was introduced in Manila during the late 1980’s its membership increased exponentially. It also managed to make its mark in the global dragon boat scene by producing world champions courtesy of its national athletes.

Like running, the grassroots activities of dragon boat are self-sustained. Imagine then what a solid and financially-backed grassroots program can accomplish if a meager government budget allocation produce champions locally and internationally. Having a wide base of potential recruits can make talent identification for the national pool of athletes easier.

The other side of Philippine sports relies not only on financial support but also in the environment. Sport and the environment is a program that needs to be promoted. Promoting the sport of rowing in its base is a case in point. Over the years, the Pasig River is home to various rowing club teams. But the dismal state of the river is not exactly the most ideal venue for training. However, student and corporate athletes commit to training regularly because of their passion for the sport. The sport even managed to qualify two of its national athletes in the Olympics.

Running, dragon boat, and rowing are just some of the many sports being promoted in the country. Perhaps it is an under-appreciated fact that each national sports association work towards elevating the status of their respective sports both in the elite and grassroots level.

A lot of things are said to point out the many shortcomings of sports leaders and institutions tasked to advocate, develop, and promote sports in the country. Over the years, sports development in its entirety can be described as inadequate or sluggish at best. Maybe it is because it just did not enjoy the kind of unified support from different sectors.

To compare overall performance with powerhouse countries in the region is highly unfair for those who are passionate and committed to working for the betterment of Philippine sports. There is only so much that a meager budget can do to sustain an ailing sports framework.

The best contribution Filipinos can make to support the country’s sports program is to find opportunities to participate or encourage others to do so. There are more to Philippine sports than what we frequently read or hear about and watch on television. Beyond the fame and popularity of certain sports there are different disciplines that aim to bring more pride to our country.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Making my vote count

Today is election day and it took me seven hours to cast my vote. In a sense the long wait wasn't really that bad. The weather cooperated. It was drizzling since morning so the cool breeze was a welcome relief from the El NiƱo heat. The voting process was a challenge but just the same, people opted to stay no matter how long the wait.

In retrospect, here are some of the random thoughts and observations I had while waiting for all of seven hours:

"Disorganized" happens
It's the first time that the country's using an automated voting system so certain problems are to be expected. But there are processes outside of the automation that could benefit from even a small semblance of order.

I was at the precinct around 7:30am. I was expecting a line but I was surprised by how disorganized the system was in the school where I voted. It was difficult to find the tables per cluster that serve designated precincts. The signs were posted in front of the tables, which were not visible especially with the crowd gathered around them. Simply making the signs visible would have made a difference.

Additionally, I had the misfortune of queuing at what seemed to be the most disorderly line. The volunteer in charge of the table was overwhelmed by the sheer number and demands of the people. I couldn't blame him though especially when he got all the blame even for some things beyond his control.

Accept the unexpected
The queue disappeared by 8:00am and it was practically free for all from then on. Everyone wanted to be first. I was supposed to be among those who lined up early for the priority number. I clearly saw when a volunteer wrote my name on a brown sheet of paper, which was purportedly "the list".

Two hours after, my name was still not called. After asking the volunteer, I learned that the list was missing and they couldn't do anything to produce it. So after two hours of waiting for nothing, I had to crawl through the mass of people who were not budging away from the table to have my name listed again. By this time I was feeling particularly frustrated and helpless.

From then on, it was mostly a matter of waiting. I spent the hours watching people and listening to their stories. I figured I can't complain especially after seeing the old and infirmed going through the same ordeal. It was actually one of my frustrations early on, how there seemed to be no system to assist them. It was good to see later on that they're prioritizing senior citizens and those with disabilities at the actual voting precincts. I only wish they did it earlier. Thank God the weather was fine otherwise it would really be harder for them.

Leave no trash behind
I think as mature voting adults everyone should be responsible enough not to leave trash behind. It's kind of sad to see so many garbage left for others to clean up. I just hope that cleaning those mess doesn't take up even a portion of students' class hours.

I'm curious as to who are the candidates who'll make an effort to help with clean-up even long after the spotlight dimmed. The amount of garbage that accumulated since campaign started is unbelievable. And the few hours of voting today produced a mountain of trash that nobody seemed to be making an effort to manage.

Today, many people exercised their right to vote regardless of the circumstances. There were moments earlier when a part of me just wanted to go home and be done with it. But I stayed. Like the many others I saw in that school. And I think I had it easy. Teachers and volunteers endured more than I did in that seven hours I waited.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Random Musings of a Rowing Umpire

I think the value of something is often measured by stories it weaves in our lives. It is about life-changing moments that come not with fanfare but quietly in infinite seconds that touch and never let go. That is how it all started for me, my umpiring life.

I'm still not sure if it's a good thing or not that I didn't plan to be an umpire. It's just one of those sheer luck that happened when I grabbed the chance to attend a seminar in preparation for a Southeast Asian Games (SEAG). I did not do well in the national umpiring practical exam because I ended up on probationary status. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. See, I initially didn't put much thought about the whole thing until the result jolted me into realizing that I wanted to do better.

My first umpiring stint was as a national umpire for the Manila SEA Games. I almost passed up that chance to perform jury duties because I was swamped with my commitments with the Philippine SEAG's organizing committee's Accreditation and Wushu Federation Philippines' organizing group. Then I remembered I wanted to do better. The only way I can do that was if I gain real experience outside of the simulated race we all took during the practical exam.

So there I was going through my own version of hell week in December 2005. For days I shuttled from Manila to La Mesa Dam in Quezon City then back to Manila again to attend to my seemingly endless responsibilities. There was no time to think about the soundness of spreading myself thin like that, there was only the focus and commitment I gave that somehow got me through, albeit more tired but definitely happy.

I learned a lot in those few days I was out in the water doing jury duties. National umpires, especially newbies, like me were given lighter responsibilities than the FISA umpires who served as technical officials. I spent most of my time in my own little island at the 1000m mark recording the time of rowers as they pass by. My closest neighbors were on pontoons 500m up to my left and down to my right. Standing or sitting for hours on end on that pontoon made me appreciate a lot of things, including the value of being still and the inexplicable joy of drawing nature's energy if I took the time to feel it.

Two months after the SEAG, I took the FISA licensure exam. I've heard stories that FISA exams are tough and the passing rates are frequently low. And judging from my last performance in the national umpiring exams, I was not very confident about my chances. Despite my misgivings, I took a chance. I guess it was the masochist in me that still pushed me to go ahead and give it a shot.

The series of exams were tough for me. I'm usually good at exams excepting those involving Math, Chemistry, and Physics. The rest, I can breeze or squeeze through either with ample preparation or sheer luck. But at that time, I couldn't even hazard an optimistic guess if I'd pass

I remember that time while we were waiting for the results of both the written and practical exams. A co-national umpire suddenly blurted out that he swears he's not taking the exam again for a while if he failed. It was surprising and funny when he said it. He always had been the one everyone thought to have the greatest chance of passing the exam. Hearing him say what he said made me breathe a sigh of relief.

I think it was then that I began to accept the possibility that I might fail. I was not being a pessimist about the whole thing. It was just that, everyone who takes the FISA umpiring exam only gets two chances. Failing both times means being banned from taking the test again, ever. Somehow, it was an experience I was not eager to repeat anytime soon.

The wait for the final results was filled with both relief and trepidation. Relief that it was all finally over and trepidation that we didn't make it.

I was the third to the last called for the meeting/interview with the two FISA umpires who conducted the exam. Everyone before me came back with the news that they did not make the cut. As each one came back, my confidence further took a plunge.

When it was my turn to go to the room I was more or less prepared to hear the worst. And I think that was the reason why I felt like I was in a haze when the interview began that I didn't immediately grasp when they told me I passed. It was when they handed me the badge that I began to fully understand what it meant.

It turned out that the three of us left for the interview somehow made it through those series of tests. One of whom was the one who made the comment about not taking the test again if he fails. Thinking about our journey and what we went through made me realize the value of what I just got.

Four years after I got my license and badge, I still feel as passionate about this whole thing. We do long hours, spend money for airfares and other expenses, and go through both the good and bad experiences that come with being an umpire. Still, I love what we do and what we aspire to achieve with what we do.

Being a jury/umpire makes me think of these things:

1. The Roles We Play. - Each one of us has an important role to play in whatever it is that we do. Some excel in playing, some do their magic in organizing, some provide whatever help they can by volunteering, some provide the funds to make things happen, some like the spectators motivate everyone, and the list goes on. Bottom line, whatever our roles in life matter in the bigger scheme of things.

2. Passion. Believe. Faith. - Three words that I live by. The passion to pursue what the heart desires regardless of how inane or grand it may seem. The belief in the inherent goodness of things and in infinite possibilities. And the faith that all things that happen somehow fit flawlessly into the tapestry of life I'm meant to live.

3. Safety and Fair Play. - Every rowing umpire's mantra revolves around those two goals. We take our role seriously in ensuring the safety of every competitor and giving everyone a sporting chance by promoting fair play. I think these two principles apply everyday regardless of what we do. Thinking of our personal safety and those of others as well as treating people fairly are simple but meaningful aspirations in life.

4. I just love them FISA umpires. - Even until now it never ceases to amaze me how dedicated and professional my colleagues are. Umpiring is more often than not a thankless job. And yet, to see such passion and commitment from people I meet in my umpiring stints inspire me to always do and give my best.