By TITO S. TALAO
A grim prospect in Philippine sports — the consequences of which might not have been given much thought before amid the never-ending pursuit of the gold medal, and in the wake of the growing number of local athletes making the grade and qualifying to the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics next month — has now come to the fore as Vietnam’s hosting of the 31st Southeast Asian Games hung in the balance.
‘What happens to the country’s Olympic-bound athletes — 11 of them at this juncture — if the already once-postponed Games, set July to August this year, get scrapped altogether due to the pandemic? In that bleak scenario, are sports officials prepared to deal with the psychological fallout from all those crushed hopes and dashed dreams?’
It is, after all, one thing to settle for the silver medal or the bronze, or not gain a podium finish even. But to not be able to set foot on an Olympic venue — even in the absence of spectators — after going through and passing the most exacting of qualifiers?
The agony would be utterly unbearable. It could even be fodder for discussion if an athlete could be hailed an Olympian if he or she has not competed on even one Olympic event simply because the Games had been permanently cancelled.
Philippine Sports Commission chairman Butch Ramirez, who has pondered the possibility even before Hanoi organizers floated the idea only recently of moving the 31st SEA Games from November-December 2021 to July-August 2022 due to the rising cases of coronavirus infection in their country, addresses the hypothetical questions head-on.
“When I said sports and our athletes are foremost on my mind, I was stating a fact. This is a mandate and a privilege that was given to me and I intend to do it right,” Ramirez told the Bulletin-Tempo.
“However, in the midst of this global health crisis, with sports efforts put on hold, with events cancelled left and right, we are left to deal with the impact of realizing – we cannot control everything, despite our best intentions.”
The PSC chief dived into the heart of the matter.
“With the looming cancellation of the SEAG and the open possibility of rescheduling the Olympics yet again, I can only imagine the impact it will have on our athletes.
“Our Olympians have been preparing for this competition for almost five years. Our SEAG athletes have had their hearts set on defending the overall championship since we won it 2 years ago in 2019.
“Imagine the impact. On their preparations, on their bodies, on their psyche.
“As their elders in sports, we have long been proclaiming our unwavering support. This is not exclusive of preparing for possible challenges though, like the eventualities aforementioned.”
Ramirez, basketball head coach and athletic director at Ateneo de Davao prior to his chairmanship, said given his concern at how the cancellation of the SEAG, or worse the Tokyo Olympics, will affect national athletes emotionally — if it happens, instructions were sent out to the PSC’s Psychology unit under Dr. Karen Trinidad to “develop protocols in case these sad possibilities turn real.”
According to Ramirez, four grief cycles have been identified, namely – denial, anger, sadness and acceptance.
“They have put in place measures like emotional diffusing sessions and one-on-one counselling to help our athletes process the experience,” Ramirez said.
“In their regular psychology consultations with athletes and their teams, they have also already integrated training them to push them mentally not only to aid them to win, but also to prepare them in cases like this.”
Quoting Dr. Trinidad, the PSC chairman said “life is important,” adding that “it is always a prime consideration whether in psychology or sports. Sports is there to help us flourish in life. More than the medals, it is the character which sports builds in each of us that is more important for me.
“Here may I add, fortitude and mental toughness are some of the character traits that are built, practiced and honed in an athlete, along with building their body and stamina to prepare them to win.”