WITH 3.4 million citizens (as of June 2014), Singapore ably hosted the 28th Southeast Asian Games and showed that it could beat far bigger nations in the medal standing, having placed second with 84-73-102 gold-silver-bronze output. It could not overcome powerhouse Thailand with its 95-83-69 harvest.

The 12th most populated country in the world, the Philippines (100.6 million in 2014) with its 402-strong contingent could only produce a 29-36-66 G-S-B haul, settling at 6th place below Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

It’s true that there were brilliant victories from the Philippine contingent, but the performances that went viral in social media were those of divers John Elmerson Fabriga and John David Pahoyo, who both earned perfect zeros by landing on their backs. What a shame.

Yet Pahoyo even had the nerve to say, “I even laughed at myself after I did this dive… I am still proud because not all of us have the privilege to represent our own country to such a big sporting event like this. And by the way can I ask all of you if you can still smile after getting embarrassed in front of thousands of people?”

He failed to realize that their tragic performances were a national embarrassment, as it revealed mediocrity, lack of focus and disrespect to the sport.

Time and again we hear of calls to improve the state of Philippines sports, followed by eerie eerie silence. When competitions are held again, we always end up embarrassing ourselves as our athletes slip, stumble and fall against those of other Southeast Asian nations who used to eat our dust in past contests.

Nations such as Singapore and New Zealand are proof that anything is possible for as long as athletes are given genuine support both by the government and private sectors. While funding is important, consistent programs must be put in place to develop the full potentials of talented individuals. The answers are right in front of us: the grassroots approach of Gintong Alay; international exposure similar to that of Gilas Pilipinas; securing world-class coaches; and most importantly doing away with nepotism and politics.

Sadly, our sports officials have lost sight of the vast talents in the barangays and provinces and instead have focused on obtaining the services of half-breed Filipinos who do not qualify in the national teams of their adopted countries. The officialdom of Philippine sports has failed the nation in the same vein as most of our politicians.

When an athlete thinks that losing in a competition is a joke, that puts into question what sports leaders have inculcated on their wards: that to compete is to give one’s best against the very best competitors.

Competing in sports is similar to going into the battlefield equipped with courage, skills and tools with the objective of winning the war for flag and country; and that is no laughing matter.