By Jessica Pag-iwayan
Photos by Noel Pabalate
Filipinos love sports, it’s a fact. In almost every barangay, there is a basketball court where people play in the morning, late in the afternoon, and even in the wee hours. Physical education classes also ensure that sports is part of a school’s curriculum to encourage students to participate in different kinds of sports and to help those who want to be athletes in the future.
Every now and then, news of local athletes bagging awards in international competitions such as boxing, weightlifting, and even figure skating come up, showing the world how Filipinos not only have the talent but the passion for sports.
But passion and talent are not enough. For years, national athletes have been expressing their sentiments (and disappointments) over the lack of financial support from the government—funding that could help them train better and join tournaments outside the country. A prime example of this is international chess champion Wesley So. Because of the lack of support and opportunities available here in the country, the Cavite-born chess player decided to compete representing the US. He recently became the first winner of World Fischer Random Chess Championship and this is such a bittersweet moment for all of us.
Beyond financial issues, there is also the lack of training facilities and competitive professional coaches. This is one of the major factors why players are forced to train outside the country— look at gymnast and World Championships gold medalist Carlos Yulo, who had to live away from his family and stay in Japan where world-class facilities and coaches are available.
Welcome to New Clark City
But all that is about to change. In preparation for the upcoming 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, the Philippine government acquired 9,450 hectares of land in Capas, Tarlac and turned it into a sports hub. Dubbed as New Clark City, the area is envisioned to be an avenue for big sports events, and will be the primary venue for the SEA Games.
Its major facilities are the Athletic Stadium, a nine-lane track and field oval that can sit 20,000 people, and the Aquatics Center, which houses a 10- lane competition pool, diving pool, and an eight-lane training pool—all made following international sports standards. Near the stadium is the socalled Athlete’s Village, which will be the official residence of the SEA Games participants.
In an exclusive interview with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, president of Bases and Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) and presidential adviser for flagship programs and projects Vivencio Dizon—Vince as he is called by friends and peers—says that after the SEA Games, national athletes will have access to all these facilities.
Philippine High School for Sports
What is most promising about New Clark City post-SEA Games is the government’s plan to establish the first-ever Philippine High School for Sports in the area. A huge tarpaulin announcing the school’s planned location has been put up near the entrance to the newly built city.
According to Vince, several public officials have already filed a bill to create the school. “Right now, we have the Philippine Science High School, we have the Philippine High School for the Arts, but we don’t have a Philippine High School for Sports,” he says.
Once this bill is passed, the school will look for aspiring athletes across the country. These sports prodigies will receive full scholarships for six years, from junior to senior high school, including free board and lodging at the Athlete’s Village.
“This is going to be a fully subsidized high school from junior to senior, where we will have scholars who will be recruited through the Philippine Sports Commission and from the Department of Education,” Vince explains. “They are going to be our top age groupers for all the sports—athletics, aquatics, football, gymnastics, boxing, all these other sports. They will also have access to the facilities here.”
The BCDA chief is hoping that the bill will be passed this year so that they can already start building the school in preparation for the school year 2021-2022.
“This is a sports grassroot program,” says Vince, “and it’s exciting, very exciting.”