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The Palarô: Athletes Come First!

A few days ago, one of the news networks ran a clip showing young athletes being given emergency treatment after apparently having been overwhelmed by the heat during the just-concluded national games – or the Palarong Pambansâ, as these are called locally. Thinking outside the box – and failing to see what is staring them in the eye – has always been a failing of the organizers of these games.

It is summer, after all. Here I am typing this with my shirt off inside the comforts of my home; and I am already nauseated by the early morning heat and humidity. Outdoors, in a seaside city like Dapitan, I can imagine midday temperatures can easily range from 35° to 40° Celsius. Perhaps, even higher…

To think that, in the 2007 edition of the games in Koronadal City, a visiting Principal from Marinduque and a local teacher helping to coordinate the games had already died due to heat-related malaises. Precaution, it was reported in some news sites, was taken this year by not holding events during noontime when the heat was at its fiercest.

As if the mid-morning or mid-afternoon sun is any less brutal… The games should not be held during the summer months of April and May. Period!

Much as I understand the need to plan and keep schedules, the question always is do the schedules help attain the objectives of the games. The primary objective – or so I would imagine – of holding the Palarô to begin with ought to be to draw the best possible performance from each and every athlete or team.

How optimal can an athlete’s performance possibly be when he or she is dehydrated by the scorching sun?

When I was in college playing Division I football for one of the senior clubs, we once had a match played at one in the afternoon on the sun-baked field of what used to be called the University of Life one April day. I remember the game with total distaste to this very day. Because of the blazing sun, my skin felt like it was on fire. The soles of my feet hurt from the heat reflected back up by the sand on the pitch. The throat felt parched; the lips cracked. Any sort of movement was sheer agony.

It was impossible to play at an acceptable level. The mind and the body just simply cried out incessantly for water and relief from the blazing sun! The football became practically irrelevant.

To the suits planning the games, the days of the Palarô are mere numbers to tick off on the calendar. To the athlete, the schedule means days upon days of toiling under the sun to get used to the heat long before the games even commence; because to train under cooler conditions can have even more catastrophic consequences when competitions get under way.

We are told by skin experts that prolonged exposure to UV rays can have dire consequences; and indeed, those returning from the Palarô are noteworthy for their darkened skins and unsightly patches on their faces as the sunburn begins to peel off.

Naturally, those in indoor events are not as affected as those playing outdoors. That said, unless an indoor venue is air-conditioned, the heat inside during the summer months can be just as oppressive!

The heat alone is not the only thing to contend with. Those who have been to the games know that there is this anomaly of a system called double elimination; and it is another of the games’ major obstacles. Under the system, all is well and good for as long as one’s team is winning; lose one game and a team can end up playing as many as three matches within the course of one day.

I have not been to the games for the longest time; and if this system has been abandoned, then all I say is about time it was scrapped!

There are well-documented deaths of well-paid and well-taken care of athletes over the years; and not just in obviously hazardous sports like boxing or horse racing. The real wonder of it all is that the Palarô – God forbid – has been spared such a catastrophe all these years. Having said that, to continue to hold the games during the hottest months of the year just seems too much like a game of Russian roulette. During which year will the gunshot have a bullet?

Would it be too much to ask those who schedule these games to try a game of football or even a middle distance 1.5K run at 10 or 11 in the morning one sunny April or May day just for them to get a first-hand experience of what they will be subjecting young athletes to? If they happen to have been athletes once in their lives who had to bear the same conditions, then shame on them for not having lifted a finger to improve the situation!

It is no different from the institutionalization of physical hazing – albeit, clandestinely – in the military; all because upperclassmen underwent the exact same thing. Everybody just sticks with what has become traditional; and nobody has the gumption to wonder if there is a better way.

In a perfect world, the outdoor games would be held at night under floodlights; but we have neither the infrastructure nor the funds to pay for what would be astronomical energy costs. Why not hold the games, then, in December or January when the heat is never as oppressive?

I can imagine the arguments against this proposition involving logistics. On the other hand, the logistics can follow later. The athletes have to come first! There will be no games to begin with were it not for the athletes.

[The pictures that adorn this post all come from my first and only experience attending a Palarô in 1988. It was an experience for me and my team; that much I cannot deny. But the things that never should have been far outnumbered the good experiences that I had had little desire to return since.]

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