It takes a barangay to raise a child, to paraphrase an African proverb. But in the Philippines, the barangay has become irrelevant in producing a highly competitive Filipino athlete instantly.
Philippine sports officials only have to fly to the United States in particular to scout for a Filipino-American trackster or gymnast, bring him or her home to Manila and sort out his or her citizenship papers and, voila, the young man or young woman is certified eligible for the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games that the Philippines is hosting in November-December this year.
We have quite a few track and field “imports” from the US of A who arguably would be able to acquit themselves in the region’s premier sporting showcase by winning a handful of gold medals a few months from today.
While no law had been broken in recruiting these American-born or raised, or both, runner or vaulter, the practice of our sports authorities to look West for promising talents betrays the country’s lack of a real grassroots development program from which to draw a delegation whose members won’t embarrass themselves or the Philippines itself when they compete abroad.
To think that we have the Palarong Pambansa, Philippine National Games and other events for young and promising athletes that, unfortunately, have not seemed to be able to turn out future Lydia de Vegas or Hidylin Diazes or future EJ Obienas or Felix Eumir Marcials despite their organizers’ good intentions.
Also, it is ironic that we do not have a single Muslim, male or female, representing us of late especially in individual sports.
Of course, there is still undeclared war between the Philippine government and troublesome groups that would rather opt for combat sports of the deadly kind, and this takes a toll on discovering a Muslim swimmer or a Muslim wrestler who could give the rest of Southeast Asia a real challenge in the pool or on the mat.
Mindanao, where the country’s Muslim minority live, used to be a big contributor to Philippine teams to the Asian Games and the Olympic Games in 1960s and 1970s, but athletes can only thrive under a climate of peace and quiet, not amid the sound of gunfire.
To be fair, other countries in Asia itself are “worse” when it comes to fueling their drive to top the podium.
Notable among them are Bahrain and Qatar, which both practically “buy” track and field stars from Africa.
Of course, again, they do it the legal way by naturalizing them and the new citizens most of the time win medals for their adopted countries in Tier 1 world championships.
These countries would probably defend themselves by saying that the Philippines, too, is “notorious” for fielding a national football team — the Philippine Azkals — whose members are foreigners.
They are wrong, because these footballers are Filipinos, having at least a mother or a father who is a Filipino citizen.
But these same countries instead could have pointed out that the Philippines also lacks a grassroots development program in the beautiful game that seems to be underlined by its failure to produce the next Emelio “Chieffy” Caligdong, perhaps the only homegrown player who had given taller, heavier and more experienced fellow internationals a run for their balls.