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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, November 29, 2019
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with Carlos Antonio L. Leonardia

We win as one


Sports is one of the great unifiers of any nation, especially when it’s a friendly biennial competition against other countries. The people of a country usually set aside their differences for a couple of days while the games are held and we all cheer for our athletes as they do their best to make their country proud.

Unity is easy and natural when all we have to do is send our delegates to the competition and watch their performance from the comfort of our living rooms or sports bars. After all, we don’t usually care about what the values, beliefs and morals of the athletes who wear our national colors in these competitions. We just want them to win because they are compatriots, so they can get on the podium, our flag can be raised and national anthem played.

In an ideal world our sportsmen are perfect representatives of our best traits as a people. They are morally upright, prime physical specimens with sharp minds and lovable personalities. If they are from our poor country that likes to pretend it is rich, medal-winning national athletes get plus pogi points if they have heart wrenching origin stories. The only sad thing about winning is that our winners have to pay homage to the Gods when they get home and get involved in politics by displaying some politicized hand signal as a gesture of gratitude to a person and not the nation and its taxpayers.

However, as many of us must have realized by now, the world we live in is less than ideal and the as the past few days have demonstrated, even our shared love of sports and national glory can be a cause for division.

Sports may not be the issue, but in the case of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, it is the way our country is hosting this biennial sporting event that has become a major talking point in the past few days as the delegates started arriving and matches are being played during the run up to the official opening of the games.

Instead of being clear to all that it is entirely possible for a Filipino to give his or her full and unconditional support to the country’s athletes and delegates despite all the attention being given to the issues that currently threaten to ruin the games and our country’s standing in our region; some people are actually thinking in a binary manner and equating any and all criticism of the organizers as not supporting the country and its athletes in general.

This mentality is quite difficult to understand, especially in the context of international sporting events where only the best of the country’s best are allowed to compete against their counterparts. If we have such high standards and expectations for our athletes, why can’t we have the same lofty expectations from the organizers when it is our turn to host?

How can we expect our athletes do their best to qualify for the national team and win in competition, but at the same time turn a blind eye to incompetence, embarrassing booboos, and accusations of outright corruption as far as the organizers and other people responsible for the games are concerned? Why are some people pleading that Filipinos focus only on the athletes and the games for now, and forget about the other issues surrounding the SEA Games? Do people actually believe that their countrymen are so dumb that our brains and hearts are incapable of multitasking? Should we only want the best for our athletes but lower our standards for everything else concerning the games and the manner by which our officials are conducting the hosting duties?

Most, if not all of us are proud of each and every Filipino who will compete and represent our country in the next few days of the SEA Games in this country. We hope they win, bring glory to our nation, and inspire our youth to push their limits, compete and excel in whatever fields they are passionate about because we have been existing with very few legitimate sources of inspiration for years and that deficit cannot be healthy for any nation.

At the same time, there are those of us who are seething with disappointment and embarrassment upon hearing of our government and its chosen organizers spending on Imeldific monuments, rushing to finish unfinished venues, coordinating poorly when it comes to transportation, accommodations and food; considering that the billions they are spending comes from the taxes that we pay. It is natural to have expectations from the organizers because we are footing the bill and if they are wasting our money and at the same time embarrassing our nation, should we just grin and bear it?

On the other hand, there are people who do not like exposing the shortcomings and complaints because they think it is patriotic to grin and bear the burden of incompetence and corruption. We should just shut up. We should find ways to help kuno. We shouldn’t mind that despite having billions upon billions spent for these games, the first week has been a monumental failure. Do they think that only our dear leader has the right to be disappointed and the rest of us don’t?

One rallying cry of the 2019 SEA Games is “We win as one” and while I am not certain if it was conceived by the organizers as a ready excuse to encourage our country men to look the other way when their expected shortcomings are concerned, in the spirit of “unity”; it was certainly hijacked by those who want to equate patriotism with turning a blind eye to incompetence and poor performance, aside from potential corruption.

The only way we can truly win as one is if we hold the same lofty standards we have for national athletes and their performance for everyone, especially those holding public office and given responsibility over the nation’s funds. If our athletes have to qualify for the games through consistently exceptional performance, why do we allow organizations with zero track record to run the games? Winning as one requires one winning standard for all. If we cannot consistently apply that gold standard for qualifications, performance and integrity, then a select few are doing the winning while the rest of us are on the losing end.

If our athletes win a couple of gold medals in this edition of the SEA Games, but our country loses face because of poor planning and dismal execution by the organizers, how can we count that as a win of every Filipino? How about if the organizers somehow pull a Hail Mary and win the hosting battle but it turns out we lost the war on corruption? Does it make sense to focus on the good and count that as a win Filipinos can be proud of?

We win as one only if we have standards. For sports the standards are relatively straightforward. The Strongest, fastest, highest wins. But if we go beyond sports, winning as one will be more difficult because some of us have standards that are way too low.*  

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