Life in the Philippines is not easy for the majority of its people, but when it comes to sport, they forget their misery. To them, it is a form of escapism and an opening to a better life.
In highly populated countries, sport has always played a key role and it is no different with the Philippines, whose population has surpassed 100 million.
Sadly, such countries are usually inflicted by corruption, and their rich get richer while the poor struggle to make ends meet.
So, it was heartwarming to see the sincere efforts of the Filipinos to give their children joy through some well-organised sports programmes.
On a recent visit to the cities of Bacolod and Iloilo in the Visayas region of the Philippines, I saw first-hand how the local sports officials focused on development.
Though basketball is a religion in the Philippines - almost every house, lane and empty space has basketball hoops with both children and adults playing the game day or night - what caught my attention was how serious the Negros Occidental Football Association (NOFA) in Bacolod was about its football development programme.
The programme involves 60 school teams from five age groups - Under 11 to Under 17 - comprising both boys and girls. They play over 12 weekends in a league that is organised three times a year, which means 36 weeks with a short break between each league. This also means that these young footballers play all year round in a competitive environment.
Into its fourth year, the league has seen the number of participating schools increase each year from the inaugural 18 teams.
The teams need an equivalent of only RM1 per player for each block of the league, which is sponsored by NOFA president Ricardo Yanson Jr’s family vehicle, Dynamic Builders.
The teams come every weekend from as far as 180km away.
The competition is held in Talisay City in a three-acre area that boasts two full-sized fields that are further divided into four smaller fields.
It was a delight to see the schools’ coaches, parents and children gather together for the competition in a carnival atmosphere.
The three acres come under Dave Javellana, a product of the Fifa Go-for-goal programme, who is passionate about football development.
Dave rented the vacant land and converted it into playing fields and works in partnership with NOFA, allowing the use of the space for free.
“It’s a long-term programme and we hope to see some of our future national players emerge from it,” said Yanson when met at the weekend tournament.
“Bacolod is a football-crazy city and it is only logical to keep the passion of the game going by engaging the young children. And the support shown by the schools is overwhelming and is motivation for us to see the programme grow bigger with each passing year.”
If the state FAs of Malaysia felt the same way and did something similar, they would be contributing greatly to football in the country.
But they are more interested in their M-League teams and hardly work on development or engage the schools.
In Iloilo, I visited the city’s sport complex where the office of the Center of Sports and Physical Fitness (CSPF) of the Province of Iloilo is located.
The complex has a seating capacity of 8,000 and is impressive with a well- maintained football field, a newly laid tartan track and a swimming pool across from the pitch.
I had come to the very same complex in 1991, when I brought the Malay Mail football team for the inaugural President’s Cup football tournament where we finished the runners-up. Then, the stadium, especially the pitch, was a far cry from what it is today.
When I walked into the CSPF office with Pablito Araneta, the sports consultant for Iloilo and the brains behind the management of the sports complex, an organisational chart caught my eye. It spelt out everyone’s role clearly and covered every area.
Across the room, I saw another huge chart that was their “Milestones of Sports Roadmap to 2018”, which had begun two years ago.
This too was impressive with everything, especially the ultimate goals, stated clearly. The chart featured the general objective, specific objectives, vision and mission and sports philosophy of “winning for positive values in life”.
Imagine, a province with such elaborate programmes!
Pabilto explained: “The chart is not up for show. Implementation is the key to success and we have been executing it diligently. Everyone in the department knows his role and executes it with passion. Our programmes are ongoing and not a day goes by without any activity in the complex. It may not be an ultra-modern stadium with the latest equipment but we make up for it with dedication and passion.”
Leaving the office, I saw young athletes eating their lunch out of paper plates -rice, a piece of chicken and vegetables. They were sitting anywhere they could, eating and listening to music on a portable radio.
When asked who they were, Araneta said: “These are athletes who are preparing for the national championship. They are billeted in the stadium in the dormitories. We have about 90 of them here now.”
Immediately, my mind flashed back to the National Sports Council and National Sports Institute in Malaysia where we have the best facilities, including world-class equipment, sports science experts, air-conditioned rooms for accommodation, fancy dining halls and many other ultra-modern facilities.
Even the states each have a sports council complex and ISN centres with facilities that are far better than those Iloilo had to offer.
But I wondered if Malaysian athletes would pursue sports if they had to train under the conditions the Pinoy boys and girls had to.
Then it dawned on me why athletes from poor nations have bigger ambitions, a burning desire to succeed and will make all sorts of sacrifices to reach the pinnacle of success.
I only had to recall their philosophy towards sports: “Winning for positive values in life.”
Maybe, for a change, we should send our athletes to train in Iloilo!
TONY is a sports
journalist with more than
three decades of experience
and is passionate about
He can be reached at
and is passionate about
He can be reached at