In a recent television and radio interview that I was invited to attend, I was really intrigued by the question about politics in sports.
The question was: Is there too much politics in sports?
I simply answered yes because there are too many national sports associations (NSAs) that are being headed by politicians.
But the truth of the matter is that these politicians may mean well for their respective sports, but may not be familiar or have no background in running its affairs at all.
Many of them, I believe, were convinced that because they are successful leaders and great influencers, they could also help the sport in one way or another.
As any politician leading a sport, it doesn’t necessarily mean that once they assume the leadership, the entire sport will be automatically politicized.
I think it’s a misconception because in my experience with the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) before, an NSA president doesn’t make any livelihood being its head, but more likely would be an additional expense to them.
I can only deduce the attraction for a politician to agree on being involved is if they see that they can actually help in developing and growing the sport.
One way of helping is using their political clout to influence the PSC to support their sport through common political friends.
And since the PSC is also composed of Presidential appointees (and given the fact that the President is also a politician), these NSA leaders would most likely find a connection in Malacanang and help approve the needs of their athletes like participating in international competitions, hosting of international events or procurement of equipment for training.
Another way these NSA presidents can use their influence is through their common political friends in spreading the sport across the country.
They can easily call a mayor or governor or congressman they know and ask for their help in starting grassroots development in their respective bailiwick. Through that, their sport would reach th e masses.
They can also call on their campaign contributors, who are more than likely in the private sector, to help in raising fund for their respective NSAs.
This relationship with the private sector – if done with transparency – can provide another support system for our athletes and divide the burden of financial responsibility from the government.
These are just some of the ways politician NSA leaders can use their influence in helping their sport.
But admittedly, there are problems as well.
One of them is that the people around them, who are all too familiar with the ins and outs of the sport, often create the negative impression.
If we look closely at each NSA, the problem normally lies in the selection process of national athletes. Most of the time, they favor their preferred athletes, leaving the best competitors out of the national squad.
This is what we call as the “bata-bata” or the “if you’re not for me, you’re against me” system.
Some of them even would even convince their own NSA head that closed-door selection process be done in the guise that it would be for the benefit of the sport. And since there are some NSA heads who have no background in the sport, they are easily convinced that they are doing the right thing.
Simply put, the people around the NSA president want to perpetuate themselves in their respective positions in the federation.
NSA presidents do not get salaries as leaders.
It is the people around them who receive financial support from the government and the private sector, which they use in a “carrot and stick” approach, much to the detriment of the good-hearted NSA leaders.
Another problem is that NSA presidents also stand to vote in the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) election.
Although PSC chairman William “Butch” Ramirez already changed it, the policy before was that all requests for financial assistance to the PSC must first go through the approval of the POC.
And that’s where politics plays a major role.
If an NSA voted for the incumbent POC president, then their request would be fully endorsed to the PSC. But if the NSA leader is not an ally, then the federation would have a hard time getting an endorsement.
I’m truly glad that it is no longer the case today, thanks to the incumbent PSC chairman.
Although the POC election is every four years, which normally happens after each Summer Games, the intensity of the election, with some bickering along the way, creates a backlash that can be felt even after the victory has been declared.
And most of the time, the recipient of this negative effect is the country’s preparation for the Southeast Asian Games, which normally follows right after the Olympics.
Sadly, problems in preparations of the athletes and to some hosting issues have occurred for decades in a cynical manner. The backlash is already expected and a part of the system of sports in our country. Just like clockwork, it will happen.
For the good-natured and sympathetic NSA presidents we have today, the stigma that we have too much politics in sports in our country is, sadly, very hard to correct.
All they can do is either continue with their leadership despite the negative impression or turn the leadership over to a more experienced and trusted ally to continue what they have started – just like how they do it in a real political arena.