SPORTS  AS  POLITICAL  TOOL

MANILA, AUGUST 24, 2009
(PHILIPPINE STAR) THE GAME OF MY LIFE By Bill Velasco - This early, the fireworks are already starting with the long shadow of the next elections still a mile away. In the Senate, we’ve already seen one change of leadership prompted by the threat of winning the 2010 polls. The chamber has also been witness to a grilling of incumbent government officials who put their faces on television in ads aligned with their current positions of power. But so far, we haven’t seen politicians use sports as a tool for winning the hearts of the masses, despite its being close to our hearts as a people.

Generally speaking, politicos use entertainers (who sometimes work both sides of the political fence) and their own candidates to hive them street credibility. One notable exception, of course, is boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, who is being courted by both sides just to use his reflected glory to bring in voters. But if Manny himself is batting 0-1 in election campaigns, you’ll have to wonder how his strong endorsement could actually help.

In this writer’s opinion, many politicians are missing the point. With what is turning out to be a record number of new registrants (and first-time voters) sports may actually be a more appealing way to pull the heart strings of the youth. Then again, candidates will be torn between the sports they like, and which sports are really popular. For example, it will be hard for anyone to use poker to bring in votes, since it connotes gambling, which is still (at least publicly) unacceptable in parts of the country. Car racing will also be out, since most people don’t have cars, and fuel is expensive. The same goes for shooting, which is not perceived as a mass sport.

Are sports personalities effective in politics? They seem to be, Sports has already enthroned senators here and in the US, and basketball players have a high batting average when it comes to local government. How many former PBA players are already vice-mayors and councilors? A few ex-varsity stars from various sports are already ensconced in Congress. As far as political appointees go, former national athletes and even sportswriters have been appointed heads or directors of government agencies. And when they don’t perform well, they’re just dealt somewhere with the next political shuffle.

The good news about being in sports is that you’re usually politically neutral, or simply apolitical to begin with. This makes it easier to get past the Commission on Appointments, because neither side would want to be accused of attacking a national sports hero. As they say, you don’t assault motherhood. The bad news is, you may not be qualified by just having been a former athlete or coach. At the very worst, you’ll do a bad job, and not get renewed. At worst, you’ll have no credibility, and just fill in the vacancy without really accomplishing anything for about three years.

But if a current government official has been an athlete, or has actually played a sport most of his or her life, then that’s a different story. And if they’ve used their success or fame to support sports popular among Filipinos, that’s also a plus. The public will be able to sense their sincerity, their passion, their being a brother in sports. It’s not something you can pay lip service to.

Put your money where the game is.

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As a follow-up to the question of age in sports in our last piece, there are some sports where the athletes feel the impact far beyond their years. In the case of female athletes who are in a strenuous sport at an early age, the full onset of puberty is often delayed. The human body is smart enough to know that it cannot sustain another life, so it will not spare the energy for the hormonal change brought about by adolescence. It will prioritize the current health of the body. This is why you will hardly ever find a tall gymnast, for example. The physical requirements of the sport are so great, the changes associated with puberty are often delayed or occasionally skipped altogether.

China has had a particularly exceptional record at both ends of the spectrum. What I mean is that they’ve been exceedingly bad about revealing the true age of their athletes in sports where extreme youth is an advantage (such as gymnastics) but outrageously good at discovering athletes in sports where size is its own reward (like basketball). It is not uncommon for young athletes to be put through rigorous – often painful – routines as young as three years of age. On the other hand, Yao Ming and Wang Zhizhi are examples of how Chinese scientists are able to divine the future height of prospective athletes by measuring their bones while young, or checking other indicators only they seem to be aware of. In the case of Yao, his parents’ union was practically arranged, as well.

In addition to finding the athletes early, government sports programs like the one in China already puts the new recruits through tough grinds that children in other countries only experience at a later age. So if we were to use 10,000 hours as the gauge of true mastery in a given sport, those authoritarian countries would have the distinct advantage. Their athletes would reach that level much faster than others, and stay there longer, at least in theory. That would maintain true, unless their bodies start breaking down from wear and tear. There’s always a trade-off.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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