Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Pacquiao-Mayweather: Sports and society in the Philippines

Thousands gather to watch a live telecast of the Pacquio-Algieri fight
in Puerto Princesa City Coliseum on November 22, 2014
by Gideon Lasco, MD

AMHERST, MASSACHUSETTS - In the aftermath of the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, many commentators, both foreign and local, have pointed out how the Philippines “stood still” during the day of the much-awaited battle, how crime rates became zero (at least in some places), and how there were no vehicles in usually-crowded streets. The match, and Manny Pacquiao’s prospects for the future, will likely remain a “talk of the town” in the coming weeks and months.

This collective preoccupation with a sporting event has parallels throughout the world. Football matches in many parts of Europe and South America can be very hotly contested - sometmes leading to riots and even deaths. When Brazil was defeated 2-1 by Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup final, two spectators committed suicide, highlighting the gravity of the loss among the Brazilians. More than 60 years later, Brazil’s defeat by Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinal by a shocking 7-1 margin produced a similar sense of national humiliation, even as the country continues to take pride in their legacy as winners of five World Cups.

In like manner, the Olympic Games is a focal point of national pride in many countries. From the parade of nations to the singing of the national anthems of the victors, the Olympics is overtly framed as a competition of nations. Which is why the fact that we have not yet won a gold medal in the Olympics continues to be a sore point, even as we have rightfully celebrated those who have valiantly represented our country, such as boxer Manseuto “Onyok” Velascomin a silver-earning run in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and Michael Christian Martinez, whose performance in a Winter (yes, winter) Olympics was well received by many Filipinos.


The role of sports in societies can be viewed in many ways. Geopolitically, sporting success can be viewed as symbol and substance of nations’ prestige and power. Sports can be analyzed in terms of its economics, for instance, how it is used to promiote global brands like Nike and Adidas, or how sports can have real economic value for young people who can get scholarships and employment through it - but often in exchange for being displaced from their hometowns. Sports can also be viewed as fostering certain values among young people, such as competition and teamwork. Others have pointed out how sports can perpetuate gender ideologies, exemplified by the hunky, hypermasculine athlete and the sexy, feminine cheerleader.

But aside from these various perspectives on sports and society, I want to highlight two things that sports can do to the lives of everyday people beyond the entertainment value that people derive from them.

First, sports has an imporant role in creating and cementing communities around the world. In the US, I saw, for instance, how Peruvians living in the same city would gather to watch the football game of Peru against other South American countries. During the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, I was in St. Louis, Missouri and I joined our kababayan in watching a pay-per-view organised by a Filipino catering group. Last November, I watched the Pacquiao-Algieri fight at the Puerto Princesa City Coliseum, and the atmosphere was electric: from the people standing and singing the Lupang Hinirang along with Pacquiao’s hand-picked Christian choir from General Santos City, to the collective cheers that go with every Pacquiao punch. The fight may have been in Macau, but there was an immediacy and intimacy to what was happening. Sports is one of the arenas where we can stand united as a nation, being on the same side.

Aside from bringing people together, sports also provides nations with heroes that can inspire us and show us what is possible. Dr. Bryan Lim, a medical resident at the Philippine General Hospital, shared how patients - some with their IV lines in tow, gathered to watch the Pacquiao-Mayweather game with doctors, nurses, and staff. Dr. Lim was touched by the words of a elderly patient who kept shouting, “Manny, Manny!” in her frail voice. Afterwards, the kindly lola explains: “When I see Manny Pacquiao, it’s like seeing us poor people, we go through a lot of difficulty but we keep fighting, we never give up.”


Perhaps, in keeping with our own experiences, one of the most admired qualities that we see in our athletes is diskarte, the resourcefulness and grit to overcome the odds. Regardless of the outcome, we are inspired by the story of someone who overcomes poverty to reach the highest levels of global stardom. We are inspired by a teenager who overcomes asthma problems and manages to compete in the Winter Olympics, supported by his family’s life savings and the donations of friends. We are inspired by a dragon boat team, who, despite lack of funding, manages to win five gold medals in an international tournament, eating rice that they had brought from the Philippines in order to maximize what little money they had.

Indeed, sports has the power to forge communities and inspire nations through the athletes’ life stories. This should further motivate us to support our players whenever and wherever they represent our country. Some of them are already superstars, but for others, public recognition and support will go a long way.

Moreover, there are times when diskarte alone is not enough. For our athletes to even reach the world stage in the first place; for them to get that extra boost that spells the difference between silver and gold, we need our government to give the support that they badly need.

Amherst, MA
May 20, 2015