ONE of the surprising things I learned as a sportswriter is that swimming, that seemingly calm non-contact sport, is one of the most highly politicized sport with so many conflicts.
Sometimes the conflicts from two camps are far worse than conflicts that arise whenever a contact gets out-of-hand in physical sports like basketball or football. Why is it this way, I really don't know. I thought it was something limited to the Philippine setting but when I read a few years ago that a similar culture affects (or affected) US swimming, I thought that perhaps it's part of the sport?
This part of swimming was raised anew in a post by former celebrated swimmer Loren Dale Echavez, who is probably the only national athlete from the Philippines who got stripped of a medal she earned in international competition.
What was her fault?
She was not a member of the accredited group in the country.
Why being a member of the correct group is a requirement to be a national team member is one of the absurd reasons why the Philippines, an archipelago, has relied on Filipino-Americans for international glory in the pool lately. How can we develop our own swimmers if part of the training regimen is being affiliated with the right group?
Another thing, even if you try to stay out of pool politics, you are still affected because the Philippine Amateur Swimming Association (Pasa) would go after individuals or groups who hold swim meets and would dare invite non-affiliated clubs, swimmers or officials.
And if you try to avoid anything related to Philippine swimming and just join competitions abroad, Pasa would contact the organizers of these international meets and inform them not to allow these non-Pasa affiliated swimmers to join their meets.
Petty with a capital P.
That, in a nutshell, is what's wrong with Philippine swimming. It's a case of "who you know." Philippine Sports Commission chairman William "Butch" Ramirez pointed this out during the first time he met local reporters when he assumed his new office. Ramirez said he learned that Pasa and POC officials would rather let a government pool go unused than allow a non-affiliate use it for practice.
He was shaking his head when he said that.
A week ago, I was shaking my head when I read Loren Dale's account of her encounter in Australia, when she was stripped of her medal. A couple of days ago, I was shaking my head still when I learned that Pasa president, Mark Joseph, has a warrant for his arrest stemming from a case similar to that of Echavez. The only difference was that the father fought back and filed a case against Joseph.
Will this latest expose lead to reforms in Philippine swimming?
I sure hope so. The sport can't sink any lower than it already has.