FOR a long time, I have been harping about the establishment of an institution that will allow talented athletes to attain both formal education and excellent training in their specialized sport. For instance, in my column on July 28, 2012 in time for the London Olympics, I wrote about a possible model: High Performance Sport NZ, a focused sports agency, funded by the New Zealand government for sports development, run by professional people from the different sporting agencies independently, providing athletes not just with facilities and equipment but also opportunities to compete with the world’s best in contests outside of the country.
I further wrote: “Private companies (in NZ) give financial support to outstanding athletes that allow them to secure services of top coaches. Everyone involved in sports takes their games seriously and media and the citizenry in general are supportive of the athletes. People recognize world class athletes more than politicians, actors and actresses.” The nation of five million took 20 medals, including seven gold, in Tokyo Olympics 2020. Since its participation in 1920, New Zealand has won 137 medals (53 Gold · 33 Silver · 51 Bronze).
The Philippine campaign in Tokyo has become its most successful with the first ever gold medal by weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, a pair of silver from boxers Nesthy Petecio and Carlos Paalam and a bronze won by boxer Eumir Marcial. To date, the Philippines has a total of 14 medals (1 Gold · 5 Silver · 8 Bronze). Diaz is the only Filipino athlete to have earned two Olympic medals (silver in Rio and the gold in Tokyo).
The national team coach Francis Carlos B. Diaz was not surprised with the medals won by the 19-athlete contingent: “The road was not easy for the Philippines, but I think because of the positive things that happened in the previous years, this was the result of it.” He said the cooperation between the government and private institutions in providing international trainers, opportunities to compete overseas and the nutritional needs and facilities for the athletes, contributed to the success of Team Philippines. He highlighted the support of the private sector, mentioning MVP Sports Foundation of Manuel Pangilinan as a major patron.
It seems like the Philippines has finally found the right track for its athletes to compete at the international level. Add to that the establishment of the National Academy of Sports (NAS) through Republic Act 11470 signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on June 9, 2020.
NAS will provide secondary education program with a curriculum intended to improve its students’ performance in sports. With the NAS’ first academic year starting in August 2021, there is now a hub for outstanding young athletes to develop both physically and mentally. The initial program includes Aquatics, Athletics, Badminton, Gymnastics, Judo, Table tennis, Taekwondo and Weightlifting, where Filipinos have a potential in winning medals. Forget basketball. To the initial scholars in NAS, may you fulfill your sporting dreams. Anyone of you could be the next Hidilyn.