WITH the spectacular opening rites behind us (directed by my UP high school classmate, the talented playwright and stage director Florencio “Floy” Quintos) the competitions of the 30th Southeast Asian Games formally begin. As I write this I am watching the Philippines compete against defending champion Malaysia for the gold medal in polo at the Enrique Zobel farm in Calatagan, Batangas – while others sports are underway today and for the next nine days or so.
The looming impact of Typhoon Tisoy (international name Kammuri) in the next day or two notwithstanding, every delegation is focused on doing its best, breaking national records and (ideally) setting new SEA Games records on the way to a gold medal finish.
As for the first day jitters and hiccups that spawned a million posts and memes — and stirred discussion even of a leadership coup in the House of Representatives — all that is behind us.
We all know, or must remember, that sometime in 2017 (I think) PRRD expressed his preference to pass up on the honor (and the cost) of staging the Games, which can be argued as being part and parcel of our “obligations” as a member of ASEAN. The president felt that staging the games was an unnecessary expense especially for a country that is still regarded as an “emerging” economy. (It’s been so for most of my lifetime!)
But then, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano – whose post gave him a perspective more attuned to the matter of State to State “obligations” – stepped in and successfully lobbied that we do not pass up the honor.
And the rest, as they say, is history, albeit a convoluted one. One that included, among others, lodging the Games budget in the DFA, creating a private foundation to handle public funds, and provoking a leadership battle in the POC.
It is my contention that somewhere in that convoluted history is the “original sin” that turned what could have been “understandable” lapses into bigger issues, triggering a whole discussion on how the funding for the Games was being handled and fuelling a traditional and social media “feeding frenzy” whose consequences have yet to play out.
The original sin, in my eyes, is not that then-DFA Sec. Cayetano insisted on proceeding with the Games, as I personally agree with that; the original sin, in my mind, is that the running of the games wasn’t turned over to professionals and businessmen, a move that would have, among others, insulated the whole affair from politics.
Let’s face it: when responsibility to run an event as big as this (delete IS) one is given to an active politician (it could have been any one) who is known for having higher aspirations as well as fierce rivals, what you have is a potent mix of combustible ingredients that needs just one spark to light the cauldron of controversy (pun intended).
And that’s just what happened when delegates started arriving last week.
On the other hand, do the names Peter Ueberroth, Bill Payne, Sebastian Coe and Carlos Nuzman ring a bell? They were the non-politicians tapped to run the Los Angeles, Atlanta, London and Rio Olympics in 1984, 1996, 2012 and 2016, respectively. The first two were businessmen, the last two were national athletes (Nuzman is also a lawyer).
Where there glitches in their games? Well, let’s take Atlanta: there even was a bombing in Centennial Park, remember? But in part because Payne was not into politics and hence had no political rivals who could capitalize on the issue to stick their knives in and earn brownie points, the public didn’t see any major public backlash against the organizers; instead what we saw was a community united in an effort to secure the games and move forward.
It’s true, politicians have also headed games organizing committees. For the 1988 Games in Seoul it was Park Seh Jik; for the coming Tokyo Olympics it is Yoshiro Mori. But Mr. Park was not a national politician, and was to become Mayor of Seoul only AFTER the Olympics.
Mori-san, on the other hand, is a former prime minister.
Speaking of former Prime Minister Mori, the idea of having an elder statesman-politician as games committee chairman may be a far better idea than putting an active one in charge.
And that is why the Speaker of the House finds himself embroiled in this matter. His situation is exacerbated by the reality that ours is a country deeply divided between the arguably minority that is anti-PRRD and a majority pro PRRD; but then again, even the PRRD camp itself is apparently driven by factionalism.
So many knives waiting to be plunged.
Finally, what is most bothersome is this: once upon a time a leader had to give in to the public outcry and had someone sacrificed via crucifixion. In that way was the Original Sin paid for.
Will some people demand a political crucifixion this time? And will the leader give in?