Sports PH bans Filipino athletes from going abroad to avoid losing more of them
Sports PH bans Filipino athletes from going abroad to avoid losing more of them
PH bans Filipino athletes from going abroad to avoid losing more of them
April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

Following the recent news of Filipino chess grandmaster Wesley So officially becoming an American citizen, Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Chairman Felipe Noopers announced today, April 1, that the national government will be banning Filipino athletes from traveling abroad for an indefinite time to ascertain that athletes will remain Philippine representatives in their international tourneys.

Glamorizing the idea of “Filipino pride”, Noopers says this was the best way the PSC can keep Filipino athletes “loyal” since the commission’s options are “limited.”

First and last

Looking back, So, a Caviteño by birth, used to compete for the Philippines, amassing numerous titles and rising to elite status, until 2013, when he began the process to transfer to the United States Chess Federation.

In 2014, he revealed that he received criticism from the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) when he chose to compete in the World University Games rather than the 2013 Asian Games and that he was afraid of losing financial support from the organization if he would not play the games they wanted him to. He also claimed that the NCFP did not grant him recognition even after winning the tournament. 

More recently, he said that after being granted his American citizenship in February, he “did not have the connections needed to succeed in that culture [in the Philippines].”

In an interview with The LaSallian, Noopers denied that the banning policy is connected with So’s acquisition of a United States (US) citizenship. Instead, Noopers directed him a quick congratulatory message and wished him good luck. 

The chairman, however, maintains that the purpose of the plan was “to avoid losing any more talents because Filipinos are meant to represent the Philippines and no other country.”

Moral reformation

Despite the outcry from the sporting community, the commission stood optimistic about their plan, justifying that it will be for the best interest of the athletes themselves as long as they “remain obedient.” He adds, “We are always very aware of the problems in the sports industry, and we always fix it, so we know what’s best.”

Noopers also mentions that the PSC will coordinate with various sporting committees in the country, down to the local organizations, to disallow players from transferring to other teams, further declaring that violation of the rule will permanently preclude a player from playing in any team.

The implementation of the new rule is aimed toward instilling, among the athletes, the value of loyalty, says Noopers, who repeatedly emphasizes that the policy has nothing to do with So’s rocketing career in the US.

All-out support
With Filipino athletes grounded in the country, the PSC will ramp up their financial and institutional support. One of the issues the commission intends to address is the delay in the distribution of athletes’ allowances.

Only recently, boxer and Tokyo Olympics-aspirant Irish Magno expressed dismay on her personal Facebook account over not receiving her stipend in time. “Masakit lang isipin lalo na’t ikaw lang ang inaasahan nila. Two months na walang allowance. ‘Yan lang po inaasahan naming mga atleta,” she said in a now-deleted post.

(It just hurts to think of it, especially when your family is expecting you to provide for them. Two months without an allowance. It’s all we athletes hope for.)

Noopers vows that the PSC will never let such an issue go on. He asserts that they are committed to shortening the time it takes for athletes to receive payments. Whereas Magno had to endure two months without pay, athletes can expect that they will only have to wait one month and three weeks in the future. “Two months is just too long. No athlete should endure that,” the commissioner adds.

The PSC is now also scrambling to find and build world-class facilities in the country. According to Noopers, they are currently struggling to find places for building amenities either due to the lack of suitable space and equipment or the lack of funding. As a workaround, the PSC is setting up several makeshift facilities throughout the country as an “investment in the future of Philippine sports.”

These improvised provisions, however, were met with criticism by athletes themselves who found them to be substandard. Skateboarding duo Jeff Gonzales and Renzo Mark Feliciano, who frequented a recently built skatepark in Metro Manila complained of the problems they saw. “When we were training in the stadium, the ramp was cracked. And one time, when we were training at night, some of the lights were not working,” Gonzales laments.

Champion figure skater Michael Martinez, who had been training abroad prior to the pandemic, also expressed dismay over the inadequacy of facilities. “This is outrageous for us athletes. I won’t be able to train enough and train properly here [in the Philippines] where there aren’t many skating rinks,” he states.

But Noopers assures that the makeshift facilities are top-notch. He maintains, “Of course there are cracks and the lights are dim [in the skatepark]. It’s like that for a reason. How else are we going to produce world-class athletes if we don’t challenge them ‘di ba?”

He also says that there are already plans in motion to cater to figure skaters’ needs. The PSC has already scouted for large rooms with smooth untiled and uncarpeted floors, on which they could apply floorwax to “recreate fully” the ice skating experience. Nonetheless, Noopers leaves it to the athletes to train where they want to. He clarified that Martinez, other figure skaters, and ice hockey players can still train in mall ice skating rinks but will have to pay for it themselves and without any guarantee that the areas will be made exclusively open for them to train alone. 

This is the way forward for the Filipino sporting world. On the dawn of a sports reawakening and leading with integrity and competence, PSC has undoubtedly proven that it had always championed darts for marking the bullseye of obvious priorities for Philippine sports.