Sunday, June 14, 2015

A series of embarrassing incidents


My June 14, 2015 column.
It’s a bit disconcerting that our participation in this year’s 28th Southeast Asian Games, which is being held in Singapore until Tuesday, is being highlighted by a series of embarrassing developments. Of course the fact that we are trailing behind Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia in the overall medal tally is already very embarrassing as it is. Yes, I was already old enough to remember a time when we ruled many athletic competitions in the region, when the country had a genuine sports development program, and when athletes playing with the national team were the recipients of respect and adulation. 
But there are other sources of embarrassment. There was that rather unfortunate gaffe about the uniforms of our athletes displaying an inverted Philippine flag. The stunning victories of Filipino athletes Eric Cray and Kayla Richardson in the 100-meter sprint were somehow dented by the fact that they were wearing inverted Philippine flags on their chests when they won the races. As we all know, the flag is supposed to be displayed with the blue field on top; having the red field on top is supposed to signal that the country is at war. We’re having a territorial dispute with China and the President of the country has been posturing like a toughie who is raring to go to war, but am sure everyone agrees that we’re not really at war with anyone – or at least not yet. I am sure the sports officials will dismiss the matter as a minor oversight that must not deflect attention from the grit and courage of our athletes. But it is precisely these small details that are indicative of the rank inefficiency that has characterized whatever preparations there have been in the run-up to the athletic competitions.
In fact, many of the athletes have made it known that they had only a few days preparation prior to the Singapore SEA games! As we know, we are cobbling athletes from all over – fortifying the national team with half-Filipino athletes who are based in other countries. But it is now being alleged that even those who reside in the country were only brought to train together a few weeks – in the case of some teams, a few days – prior to leaving for Singapore. This is truly heartbreaking because other countries train their athletes for years. It makes our blood boil when we are told that this country does not have money for sports development or to support our athletes when we know that the government has underspent once again this year, when we consider the billions of pesos that are stolen by corrupt politicians, or when we compute the total amounts spent on those senseless political ads.
And then there was that rather unfortunate reaction to the videos of two Filipino divers which showed them falling ungracefully into the pool, landing flat on their backs. The reactions were instantaneous.  People mocked and ridiculed the two athletes, calling them all kinds of names. Many of the comments were downright cruel. I couldn’t believe that many Filipinos actually shared the video and made it viral! Fortunately, videos of the two divers turning in great performances in the same games were also available and many Filipinos, this writer included, posted and shared these videos to dispel the impression that the divers were bumbling idiots. Why do we Filipinos jump at the chance to ridicule the frailties of others, particularly athletes? Surely we do not expect all our athletes to make magic every single time they compete, particularly given the low level of support that they receive.
Our hope for a first gold in women’s volleyball was dented when the national team lost to Indonesia in the first game. Our delegation’s response was to file a protest against the Indonesian team and asking for a gender test on Indonesia’s star player– Aprilia Santini, who plays like a man and looks physically like a man. The SEA game organizers have turned down the Philippine delegation’s protest but our officials continue to grumble. This is a sad, sad development. We are coming across as sore losers who resort to technicalities during a defeat. But even more important, the move is indicative of bigotry and discrimination. Physical appearance is not the only indicator of gender. And the player in question has played in many regional competitions before and nobody has questioned her gender. The Indonesian team acknowledges her as a woman and her family knows her to be such. In fact, her reaction to the controversy generated by the Philippine delegation protest was to worry about the effect it would have on her family. As usual, the bigots in this country have weighed in with their own disparaging commentaries mocking Santini’s physical attributes. Santini identifies as a woman; it is her gender identity. How can anyone else presume to know better?

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