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U-23 Azkals Must Be Allowed to Go to the SEAGames

The current story of concern making the rounds of social media these days relevant to the development of football in this country is that the U-23 national team, which has already been formed and is currently undergoing training, may not even be allowed to participate in the Southeast Asian Games for which it was formed.

I am not privy to the behind-the-scenes and neither do I have all the details. What I know of the matter comes from reports made by other sports writers.

In a nutshell, however, it appears that the team’s participation is being jeopardised because a task force that will select the national delegation that will head to Myanmar later in the year is intent on choosing only those with medal potentials.

The task force, as I understand it, is working on a selection policy that was laid down by the Philippine Sports Commission and the Philippine Olympic Committee. I am trying to understand the thinking behind the policy.

These are exciting days to be a football player and fan; more so for those who are young and in a position to participate. This excitement must not be damped by anything; least of all by a selection policy that fails to see the big picture.
To my mind, there are three main considerations for policy- and decision-making: logic, fairness and consistency of implementation.

The selection criteria is not necessarily a bad one; or at least in the consideration of two areas of concern. These are image and budget management.

To send a large delegation composed mostly of athletes who will be there to make up the numbers cannot be good for the image of the country. On the other hand, does anyone really have a crystal ball?

If anything, those in sport – and we all expect those in the PSC and POC to be among these – know that it is among the noblest of human endeavours because it offers individuals opportunities to rise above themselves in the quest for personal and national glory.

Be that as it may, while in sport fortune can favour the brave, in truth it also seldom favours the unprepared. If an athlete or team has little chance of winning because of a lack of preparation, then this ultimately rebounds back on not only his association but also the PSC and the POC.

However, if an athlete or team has little chance of winning but needs to participate as part of a development plan which will hopefully bring success in the not too distant future, then image matters less.

You have to learn to lose, it is said in sport, before you can learn to win.

Seen in this light, then, a sweeping policy that limits SEAG participation only to potential medalists loses its logic; because it turns its cheek to the development aspect which comes part and parcel of sport.

It also loses its fairness because it expects the finished article without having made allowances for development. When one considers those who were allowed to go in the past but came home empty-handed, it also does not pass the test of consistency.

Budget is, naturally, a major consideration for any endeavour; and participation in the SEAG will not come cheap. Junkets, in the past, were among the accusations hurled at those who traveled but came back home with tails between their legs.

We do not want these, either; and particularly if taxpayers’ money will be spent to pay for what will essentially be all-expenses paid vacations of athletes and officials. Participation will neither be logical nor fair; and not least to the taxpaying public.

On the other hand, if private funding can be obtained for participation, then budget becomes less of a consideration; or at least from the point of view of the PSC and the POC. Funding does not fall like manna from heaven for those destined to lose. It goes without saying that athletes with private funding are those who their benefactors believe in.

How does one determine an athlete’s or team’s medal potential, to begin with? Do the results of the previous games really provide a foolproof indication of how well an athlete or team will perform two years later?

An athlete or team can improve in leaps and bounds in a matter of weeks, particularly if there is heart, dedication, continuous training and a willingness to learn and improve. All sportsmen know this. Do these not matter?

To my mind, therefore, the better selection policy is not something that limits participation to an athlete’s or team’s medal potential – the ascertainment of which is subjective in the first place – but rather on the careful consideration of each association’s developmental program.

Only by studying the programs can it be determined if participation will ultimately mean no more than yet another junket or an essential part of a logical and progressive program that will, it is hoped, yield medals in the future.

That is why the national U-23 team should be allowed to go to the SEAG. Whether it has the potential to win a medal is not for the PSC or the POC or some task force that represents these to say.

Fortune-telling is for those with crystal balls. Even those who had these gave us no chance in Hanoi in the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2010. Look how far we have gone; or at least, in the senior level.

Truth be told, the senior team is just the face of Philippine football. The body is made up of the faceless people who chose and stayed with the game long before it became fashionable to be a football player.

Ditto those who took up the game after that magical night in Hanoi; especially the youngsters on whose shoulders the future of the game in this country rests.

If I am being honest, a consistently successful Philippine football team is still perhaps ten, twenty years into the future. The players are probably still in infancy or have not been born yet.

But the systems that will convince them to pick up the game have been quietly put in place by the Philippine Football Federation. There are now national teams at various levels to aspire for; and the U-23 team is one of these. Moreover, the U-23 team feeds the senior team with players.

These are exciting days to be a football player and fan; more so for those who are young and in a position to participate. This excitement must not be dampened by anything; least of all by a selection policy that fails to see the big picture.

And more so because funding is not even an issue.

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