Sport lang tayo: Serious funding needed

MONDAY AFTER the Tokyo Olympics ended, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque was quick to claim credit for the country’s best Olympic performance yet, saying that it was “no coincidence” that it happened during the Duterte administration. 

On one hand, it is true that the government has allocated a total of almost P8-billion for the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) in its annual budgets for the years 2017 to 2021. On the other hand, our athletes—including our first Olympic gold medalist, Hidilyn Diaz—have made known the hardships of having to raise money for their training, and have come out publicly with pleas for donor support. 

Recent coverage of the country’s athletes spiked public awareness of the added burden they have had to bear, along with their struggle to develop their sports prowess. But the concern is not new. Media have always picked up on the clamor for more government funding, but never sustaining its discussion as a policy issue. 

Not surprisingly, there has been little change, and Roque’s claim has little basis in fact.  

PSC History and Structure

In January 24, 1990, President Corazon C. Aquino established the PSC through the passage of R.A. 6847 confirming the national importance of sports. The PSC, a “single, unified and integral national sports policy-making body,” would oversee the country’s sports programs, provide leadership, encourage wide participation of all sectors, and supplement government appropriations for the commission’s objectives. 

The establishment of the PSC effectively replaced Gintong Alay, the national sports program created by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1979. Headed by the president’s nephew, Michael Marcos Keon, the agency limited its support to only 18 sports at the time. 

The law creating the PSC gives the President the authority to appoint the chairperson and its four commissioners. It required appointees to be (1) Filipino citizens, (2) publicly-recognized personalities in the field of sports, and (3) at least 30-years-old and of good moral character. 

The law should probably be reviewed as PSC has no authority over the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and national sports associations. Apart from the government’s PSC, there are at least 62 sports governing bodies in the country;  all are independent of the commission.

The National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) is the mechanism provided by the GAA to support the PCS’ mission.The commission can select and distribute funding  of the NSDF, to any athlete or any sports program it perceives to be aligned with the commission’s agenda that year. This authority has been criticized but it is legal. While sports federations and associations depend on the PSC; the PSC cannot impose any rules or regulations on how they conduct their activities. As a result, the commission can hardly be held responsible for the wins and losses, or the mistakes of the sports organizations.

Hence, some celebrated sports are assured of their share while less spectacular sports—chess, for example—may be given only a pittance. The law does not require the PSC to explain the allotments it grants to benefit a sports organization or an athlete. These are provided as grants and the conditions of the grant are essentially arbitrary. 

Last July 20, at a virtual discussion hosted by the Benito and Catalino Yap Foundation, Philip Ella Juico, president of the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association said that around PHP30-million per individual annually, for four years, needs to be earmarked for an athletes’ Olympic journey. This should come from the government, the national sports associations, and the private sector.

Budget woes

Apart from the annual GAAs, the government has not explored other sources of revenue, other than raising funds from taxes collected from the importation and sales of athletic equipment,  ticket sales in sports events, and   gambling. 

R.A. 10699 or the National Athletes and Coaches Benefits Act, passed under President Benigno Aquino III, has assured financial rewards but only for those who win medals. This provides incentives but does not focus on the need to develop the potential of Filipino athletes. 

A closer look at the annual budgets over 2017 to 2021 also reveals that only a consistently small percentage, or “at least 6,000,000 pesos,” of the NSDF is allocated for “the research, promotion, development and implementation of Sports Science and Sports Medicine in the country.” In the 2019 budget, this allocation for research remained the same. That year, the Duterte government’s support for sports concentrated on the hosting of the SEA Games, for which  PHP5 billion was allocated. 

The year 2019 was also the only year in Duterte’s term when capital outlays in the NSDF exceeded PHP1 billion, all of it  for the hosting of the SEA Games. News reports raised questions about expenses in the months leading to the games in December that year. 

The Duterte administration did approve a PHP 759-million budget to support the country’s participation this year in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the 2021 Vietnam Southeast Asian Games, the Tokyo Paralympic Games, the ASEAN PARAGAMES, and other Asian Regional Games.

As sports falls out of primetime and space, media should continue to check on these budget allocations. Those running our sports programs and our athletes cry underfunding year in and year out.  But media attention wanes after the controversy or the celebration ends. 

Media discourse should deepen even as we struggle with the current pandemic. The development of a national sports policy should be connected with other sectoral issues and should engage resource persons who can contribute to the setting of wise and reasonable national programs, once and for all. 

Media owes this much attention to the plight of those who have given us so much reason to celebrate in a season of gloom.