Daily Tribune (Philippines)

Apples and oranges

I dread it now because our performanc­e is a gauge on how we fare in the sport and I am afraid that it may not be where I want it to be

- Eric Buhain

It’s the season for the Southeast Asian Age Group Swimming Championsh­ips once more and this is the time of the year that I usually dread.

The SEA Age Group, happens every June and is participat­ed by the best 17-under swimmers from 10 Southeast Asian nations for the past 43 years.

It is where all future swimming stars are introduced and to win in this entry-level tournament pretty much gives a picture of the country’s swimming program for the SEA Games, Asian Games and Olympics.

So it is really a paramount for a Filipino swimmer to win in this tournament.

It is where I started to gain confidence in the internatio­nal level of competitio­n. And from the age of 12 to 17, I won around 30 gold medals for the country.

I dread it now because our performanc­e is a gauge on how we fare in the sport and I am afraid that it may not be where I want it to be.

I won’t go into a litany on what my views are in the present state of Philippine swimming, but I will simply list down the difference­s and you can deduce the state of Philippine swimming now, before and in the future.

During my time, which was from the 6th to 11th editions of the SEA Age Group, the following happened:

1. The standard qualifying time (QT) was at least a silver medal of the previous year’s SEA Age Group Championsh­ips and there was only one QT.

2. All QT qualifiers gets an all-expense paid trip to the SEA Age Group tourney, including airfare, accommodat­ion, swimming suit and apparel.

3. To qualify, any Filipino swimmer can compete regardless of affiliatio­n for as long as he or she has Philippine passport and must surpass the national tryouts sets here in the Philippine­s around April.

4. Only QT qualifiers can be named into the national age-group team.

5. National coaches who will be assigned are the mentors of three of the best performing swimmers.

This year, the following happened in the 43rd Age Group tourney:

1. The standards have changed and there are now two categories. First is the QT-A, which has been reduced to bronze medal of the SEA Age Group Championsh­ips, and QTB, which is a sixth place time of the previous SEA Age Group.

2. In addition, a swimmer today can be nominated into the national team if they finished second in the tryouts without getting any of the qualifying times and are categorize­d as non-standard qualifiers.

3. Not all Filipinos can compete as they have to be affiliated with the Philippine Swimming, Inc. (PSI).

4. The non-standard qualifiers have to pay $1,700 to become part of the national team. QT-B swimmers, on the other hand, have to pay a 30 percent discounted rate of $1,190. However, QT-A qualifiers get the all-expense paid trip to SEA Age Group tourney.

5. A total of 12 coaches were appointed by PSI without considerin­g the best qualified coaches.

Now, here’s the interestin­g comparison.

1. Before, we would win an average of 30 gold medals out of around 30 qualified swimmers in the team. This year, we won only eight gold medals, four of them coming from Filipino swimmers based abroad who have never competed in the country. This year, the team has around 70 swimmers

2. In the past, we usually end up as overall champions or at least top three among 10 nations for decades. This year, we placed fifth and they are saying that this is the best finish in nine years.

3. Before, only qualified swimmers gets the honor of donning the national team jacket with the national flag. This year, if you have $1,700, you can wear it regardless of how far you are from the winning mark of the gold medalist.

4. Also before, the Philippine Amateur Swimming Associatio­n covers the expenses of swimmers and coaches. This year, swimmers have to pay as well as their coaches.

The non-standard qualifiers have to pay $1,700 to become part of the national team.

Does it really cost $1,700 per swimmer for a six-day trip to Cambodia?

Or is it true that the swimmers are also paying for the airline tickets and hotel rooms of the coaches and all their national team uniforms, jackets and swimming suits?

My heart bled when I heard a swimmer told his father that: “I made the national team, but I need $1,700 to go.” The father just turned his back because he doesn’t know how to tell his son that he doesn’t have enough money.

It pains me to see that the same swimmer who couldn’t raise $1,700 was forcibly excluded from this year’s SEA Age Group and saw his slot given to a slower swimmer, who has the money to join the team.

What do you think he felt?

And I feel sorry for the boy who took the spot of the more deserving swimmer since he can afford $1,700. It shows that mediocrity is enough for him to don the national colors for as long as his parents can afford to pay.

In the end, he finished with a sorry eighth.

These are two generation­s fundamenta­lly different in the values they learned about competing for the honor of our country and what it means to be a member of the national team.

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