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8 months ago
I would imagine that an athlete aiming to be world-class, or outclassing fellow athletes in the world stage, would have to focus 1000% on the sport discipline they want to make a mark in.
That means the least distraction to take away their concentration from training, the better. And while they do need to be mindful about their diet and nutrition and health in general, any other thing outside of training life shouldn't be something they have to spend time over.
If they're training overseas - because of facilities and opportunities to compete - all the more an athlete will need to focus his or her energy into becoming the best at their sport, even when they have to be on their own for extended periods of time.
Away from family, unless a member is part of the athlete's team, they have to take care of themselves, or rely on someone among the small group of people helping them out in training.
But can you imagine being an athlete and taking care of your own finances while training? If it's just the rent and other personal stuff, maybe that wouldn't be so bad. But having to budget measly funds provided by the national sports association that supports your sports discipline, including having to pay your coach's salary is a bit too much.
Exacerbating things is the delay in receiving the money, then having to liquidate every single centavo for accounting purposes because it is government providing the funds.
And then there is the fact that you need to convert the funds sent to you because they are in pesos when the currency you need is euro. That would boggle the mind of someone whose focus is on something else entirely!
That is the situation of Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena. For the record, he is ranked 5th in the world, in a sport that most Filipinos hardly know or care about. But he has been working hard to be the best in the sport, and has brought honor and glory to the Philippines many times over.
He missed a podium finish in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But he cemented his status as among the best in pole vaulting, and is now working triple time to compete in other international competitions in preparation for another crack at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Then he hits a snag when the PATAFA (Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association) accused him of not paying his Russian coach and failing to liquidate the allowance given to him by the association.
How will that make you feel if you were doing your darndest to represent your country, and win medals in the sport you excel in, if the group supposedly backing you accuses you of that?
PATAFA said EJ did not pay his coach and did not liquidate the funds sent to him. So, he must have run off with the money, which to begin with is so paltry for his needs.
I get it. EJ simply wants to give his all in training. To be the best. To be ready to compete where he can showcase his skill and talent, and bring glory to the country. So why does he have to live with a flawed system that takes away his focus on the very thing he was sent to do?
I never understood why PATAFA does not take care of paying for coaches or any other person helping an athlete train, especially when they're abroad and far away from home.
I am baffled why the money sent to EJ is in pesos when he must transact everything in euros. Why is the national sports association not taking care of its members and taking a load off their shoulders so they can focus on training alone and not mundane or complicated stuff?
And having worked in government and knowing that funding is always delayed (by months!), and liquidation is imperative as part of the bureaucratic process, I know what a headache it can be, even without converting currencies.
Thankfully, EJ has a friend in his adviser Jim Lafferty, who has also lamented the delays in release of funds and the circuitous process to get the money. Lafferty in the past has advanced the money to the Filipino athlete, and he does this willingly, just to lessen the pole vaulter's worries.
It was Lafferty who said that a number of countries are waiting to take in Obiena and support him if he played for them, but the athlete, bless him, is sticking to his guns and only wants to represent the Philippines.
Many athletes, including those who have brought home gold, silver, and bronze medals in other sports disciplines, have similar woes. They do not feel they have the kind of support from government and NSAs necessary to give them the boost to fight and be the best.
They've often had to beg for financial support. With weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz's gold medal victory in Tokyo, perhaps corporate sponsors may now be willing to throw in money behind other sports and not just the traditional basketball, (which I think we will never really be the best in) or boxing ( we're making inroads there) because we can excel better in something else given the proper support.
In the meantime, if the Philippines hopes to continue competing in the world stage, they need to overhaul the system and process of providing support for athletes aside from increasing the training allowance they are given. They deserve more. They deserve better.
Let the national sports association handle money matters, especially paying coaches' fees, and assist in the paperwork to unburden athletes and their teams as much as possible.
There aren't many EJ Obienas who are patriots, even when their government thinks very little of them until they win and our flag is raised and our anthem sung.