Firecrackers of different shades filled the black sky of the arena, screaming their announcement with a bang to begin the tournament. The diverse audience who filled the showground was buzzing with excitement and happiness. Eyes glazed with pride and glee for their nation, the cheering crowd raised their respective flags in support. Shortly after the spectacular performances from the host nation, the highlight event finally came: Representatives from the different countries marched down the stage, waving their hands towards the audience. They smiled widely, carrying themselves with dignity with each step they took. Extravagance was showcased in this year’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, and it was indeed the Philippines’, as the host nation, golden soirée.
Before the decade ends
After 14 long years, the Philippines was once again given the privilege to host the SEA Games after Brunei initially withdrew due to ‘financial and logistical reasons’. For the competition’s 30th year, the Philippines supported 1,115 athletes who represented the nation in 56 sports. Up against 10 other nations, the host country was hailed the overall champion, becoming the pride of the flag with 387 accumulated medals – 149 Gold, 117 Silver, and 121 Bronze – giving the country the highest number of medals in all the SEA Games it has participated in for the past years.
“It’s overwhelming, it’s something I did not expect but I’m so happy that it has happened. It’s really for the hard work of those athletes. Marami sa kanila went through challenging situations, yung naririnig natin na lack of support, nangyayari yun, and I’m just happy that collectively we did well,” Coach Noli Ayo, the University Athletics Director of Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU), said.
As evidenced by the myriad of medals they earned, the Filipino athletes spectacularly delivered in the events they competed in; however, it might not be as true for the Philippines in hosting the said tournament.
While the SEA Games 2019 was deemed grand and ultimately successful, it wasn’t as spotless as originally planned. Controversies exploded even before the start of the games. Various complaints about the athletes’ residence and nourishment was repeatedly questioned in social media. The makeshift conference room, athletes’ welcoming reception and transportation were publicly criticized. To top them all, an issue erupted with the P50 Million cauldron, whose price cannot be regarded as economical, and, according to critics, would have been better if spent constructing 50 classrooms. Behind all this however, was the bigger picture for the Filipino athletes: the allegedly inefficient allocation of funds, and supposedly the lack of support from the government.
“The budget for the actual conduct of the SEA Games amounting to around 6 billion pesos was coursed through Philippine Sports Commission, the government office mandated by law to handle government funds intended for Philippine sports. According to the PSC, of the 6 billion, 4 billion plus pesos was received by the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC) for GAMES expenses such as the cauldron, transportation, opening/closing ceremonies, uniform, others. The 900 million pesos was used by the PSC for the sports equipment, and about 300 million pesos was received by the POC,” Coach Mario Mojica, a member of the monitoring team of the Philippine Sports Commission and a volleyball coach of AdDU, disclosed.
“The PSC spent 2.1 billion for the training and foreign exposure of almost 1,400 athletes of the 56 national associations that translated to 1.4 million pesos spent on every athlete for the SEA Games,” he added.
Still, on a mundane day, questions are constantly pondered. When there was no big multi-national event, do our athletes get their funds? If not from their erratic sponsors, do they even receive support at all?
“One of the sad stories we have is Wesley So, a chess player who transferred to the United States. Tinalo niya yung number one in the world recently, but he’s no longer in the Philippine team; he’s now in the US team. He’s now considered the best, but he’s no longer representing the Philippines. Lumipat siya dun because he felt several years ago that there was no support in chess,” Ayo said, setting an example.
On the other hand, Mojica believes that the Philippines’ hosting of the 30th SEA Games, though not as favorable, was nevertheless an accomplishment for the nation.
“The hosting by the Philippines of the 30th SEA Games may not be excellent but it was considered as a legacy of the current administration for the successful staging of the games,” he expressed.
“The world-class opening and the closing programs of the Games showcased what the Philippines can offer to the world. There may be shortcomings in the conduct of the games but those were expected in an event as big as the SEA Games,” he added.
Despite the obvious debate on the competition’s success and delivery, Filipinos are unified in saluting their athletes for remaining steadfast throughout their training and ultimately, their individual victories. Like any other profession, these athletes have encountered struggles in all facets of life. Yet, incredibly, they came out as winners; because they have long embraced the verity that nothing worth having comes easy.
“The Filipino people showed oneness in supporting the Filipino athletes, win or lose. Oneness in cheering for the athletes of Timor Leste to get its country’s first SEA Games medal; Oneness in applauding our windsurfer Casugay who forewent his chance to win just to save a fellow competitor from an accident. More than the medals won that made the Philippines the overall 30th SEA Games champion, the Filipino athletes gave inspiration and hope to the Filipino people that the Filipinos can win as one,” Mojica stressed.
Being one of the beacons of hope which reminds the Filipinos of their strength, resilience, and unity as a people, the athletes who brought great pride to the nation ultimately deserve more than the fleeting reverie of the extravagant SEA Games. While the SEA Games was an event that showcased the grit and skill of our athletes, it was also an avenue for us to probe into their everyday realities. And amid all the controversies, we see that much remains to be improved, especially in the arena of support both morally and financially.