When divers John Fabriga and John Pahoyo earned a score of 0 in the recent 28th Southeast Asian Games, Filipinos who couldn't laugh at the humiliating absurdity tore at their hair in frustration. It was a performance that, for many viewers and lovers of Philippine sports, encapsulated the state of our country's athletic program.
From Hero to Zero
Our team's recent performance wouldn’t feel so frustrating if we didn't possess a proud sports history.
Our roster of heroes included sprinter Lydia de Vega, taekwondoin and gymnast Bea Lucero, and swimmer Teófilo Yldefonso, dubbed the ‘Ilocano Shark’ and was also the first Southeast Asian to win an Olympic medal. The SEA Games used to be dominated by the Philippines, and our country had been to numerous competitions where it went the distance, including the FIBA.
In comparison, Philippine sports today feel like a disappointment. There is always the nagging feeling that we could do better because we can and have done so. The seeming lack of results has caused many Filipinos to abandon their interest in sports.
A Cycle of Loss
Whenever there’s a discussion about the inadequacy of Philippine sports, a single, predominant cause is often brought up: money. Our sports program is woefully underfunded compared with others in Southeast Asia, with the government struggling to find the budget for more pressing concerns. Additionally, given that athletic programs have been traditionally used to build a country’s international reputation, the situation is not helping the regime’s image.
Lacking government support, a few teams have turned to the private sector for a possible savior. The Lhuillier Group's sponsorship of Philippine softball, for instance, has enabled us to compete in the sport and bring home medals. But many other sports lack an altruistic sponsor, especially if they are the type with a high chance of losing.
The cycle has been set. A lack of funding has led to a dearth of medals, fueling disinterest which results in bigger budget cuts.
Breaking the Cycle
Interest in Philippine sports only peaks during well-televised events like the SEA Games, which is also when the woeful budget is discussed. Otherwise, it withers. Some sports have gotten lucky by finding that one shining star who can elevate the sport into public consciousness, such as boxing through Flash Elorde and, now, Manny Pacquiao. However, reliance on such heroes is short-lived. Once its star wanes, the sport follows suit, just like boxing during the period between Elorde and Pacquiao.
How do we break the cycle permanently? The problem can’t be solved by forcing the public and private sectors to give money or by finding star athletes. Philippine sports must overcome disinterest. It is unfortunate, but the government will only throw money at problems that catch public attention, and private companies will sponsor anything that catches the eyes of their market. Increased attention will also attract the best people for tryouts, thus widening the talent pool.
Generating interest is a familiar problem for a PR agency. The Philippines still has a deep interest in sports thanks to our past glories, so the problem isn't as insurmountable as it seems. It only takes the right campaigns to bring our athletic programs to the spotlight.
Campaign for the Long Term
Sports are only in the limelight a few times a year, but the necessary training, which requires the most funding, happens all year long. Interest must be maintained throughout the year by making the athletes and their preparations just as important as the competition.
Take the Spotlight
Many athletes are unknown heroes. Even though the Philippines has earned 29 gold medals in the recent SEA games, the general public still doesn't know the names of the winners. Sports winners are natural celebrities and heroes, with bodies representing peak physical fitness, as well as strong wills that have overcome the harshest challenges. Market and mentor them as such.
Press coverage can be fickle, but the fans are not. However, to stay interested, fans also need news and engagement—a job social media can easily fulfill. Train athletes to take advantage of social media to educate, excite, and build love for their respective sports.
Turn Fans into Evangelists
Despite losses and our unsuitability for the sport, basketball still enjoys overwhelming corporate support. That's because of the deep well of fans who would support the game come hell or high water. By turning fans into evangelists through constant engagement, they would be willing to bat for your sport in boardrooms and committees when sponsorships and budget allocations are under discussion.
The day after their disastrous performance at the Men’s 3-meter Springboard Diving Finals, Fabriga and Pahoyo once again climbed the diving board—this time together for the Men’s 3-meter Synchronized Springboard competition. It was then that they proved worthy of being our representatives. Hopefully, as with these two valiant athletes, Philippine sports can once again make a victorious splash on the international stage.
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