By Gel Santos Relos
Seventeen-year-old Michael Christian Martinez has put the Philippines in the spotlight during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia — ranking 19th in the figure skating competition during his Olympic debut. Michael was also the only figure skater who made it to the Top 5 most talked about Olympic athletes on Facebook during the first week of Winter Olympics, and figure skating was the sport that attracted the most interest.
Before Sochi, Michael has won 19 medals in other international competitions. He made history, being the first-ever figure skater from Southeast Asia to compete in the 2012 Winter Youth Olympics and in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
He may not have won a medal for the Philippines in Sochi, but Michael has already made his country and kababayans proud. He has defied the odds, given the very little support serious athletes get from the Philippine government — from early training to actual competition in the global arena.
Michael's Challenges On His Road to Sochi Winter Olympics
Michael started skating in 2005 at the young age of 8, reportedly training in the ice skating rink of SM Megamall. Since he started competing internationally in 2009, his family has been covering the costs for his training and competitions.
Our homegrown star athlete wouldn’t have made it to Sochi without the help of people from the private sector, who believe in Michael. “We are truly thankful to Shoemart (SM), to the Philippine Skating Union, and to the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) for their help,” said his mom, Maria Teresa Martinez, in a report by ABS-CBN News.
I just found out myself that the POC is a private agency, and not a branch of government. It was through the assistance of POC that Michael was able to obtain a scholarship from the International Olympic Committee’s Solidarity Scholarship Fund. This scholarship would award $1,500 a month for eight months, until February 2014 , and would include the $500 fee for the Michael’s coach.The POC has reportedly already delivered the stipend from July to October, while the balance has yet to be given.
Mrs. Martinez also expressed gratitude for the financial support extended by SM Investment Corp. Since May 2013, Michael received P150,000 from SM for 10 months. Michael’s mom said that while this might seem like a big amount, it is still not enough to cover all the expenses in the very expensive sport of figure skating.
“From SM we are getting about $111 a day. That is already a big help but it is still not enough since, when we train in the US, we spend at least $400 a day just to cover the coaches’ fees ($100-$150/hour) and $40 for ice rink time ($10-16/ hour). That amount is just not enough to prepare an athlete for the Olympics. And it takes many years of training to be in the Olympics, not just 10 months,” she clarified with ABS-CBN News.
Mrs. Martinez disclosed that there are also additional expenses for international competitions. In 2013 alone, Michael participated in nine competitions in Europe and the US. After Sochi, Michael will proceed to Moscow where he will be preparing for the 2014 ISU Junior World Championships. Mrs. Martinez said the expenses for his preparation period at the Novogorsk Training Center in Moscow exceed $420 a day just for coaching fees, excluding accommodation expenses.
Michael’s mother said that they had finally received the pledged $50 daily allowance or $1,200 for 24 days for Michael’s sojourn in Sochi from the Philippine Sports Commission, which was delivered by POC executive secretary Gina Calaguas on February 13.
As ABS-CBN News reported, Mrs. Martinez confirmed that Calaguas had also given $7,200, but this was directly to Michael’s Russian coach Viktor Kudryavtsev on that same date, as payment for his coaching duties while in Sochi (covering the period Jan. 30 to the end of February). Mrs. Martinez said Kudryavtsev has been training the Michael since the end of December, and will continue to do so until the last days of March.
Imagine how much more our athletes could achieve internationally, if they get full support from the government, as in the case of richer countries like US, Canada, Japan, and even Russia. This is why news about government officials pocketing tax payers’ money infuriates many kababayans. These funds could have been put to better use, if they were instead appropriated to finance better sports programs in the Philippines.
Kababayans around the world have now been expressing all out support for Michael Martinez and other Pinoy athletes, shelling out their own hard earned money to help them become more competitive in international competitions.
Lawmakers like Tito Sotto and Manny Pacquiao have filed resolutions to honor Michael Martinez for the honor he has given the country in Sochi.
While this is a good move from the government, what will be better is a clear government policy and program that supports sports for Filipinos from childhood, up until they compete in the global arena.
The Benefits and Importance of Sport in Society
The benefits and importance of sports in society go beyond fame and bragging rights. As the United Nations states in its website: “Sport has a unique power to attract, mobilize and inspire. By its very nature, sport is about participation. It is about inclusion and citizenship. It stands for human values such as respect for the opponent, acceptance of binding rules, teamwork and fairness.”
Moreover, “Sport plays a significant role as a promoter of social integration and economic development in different geographical, cultural and political contexts. Sport is a powerful tool to strengthen social ties and networks, and to promote ideals of peace, fraternity, solidarity, non-violence, tolerance and justice.”
The UN website further states that according to the Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group, sport is seen to have the most benefits in: -Individual development -Health promotion and disease prevention -Promotion of gender equality -Social integration and the development of social capital -Peace building and conflict prevention/resolution -Post-disaster/trauma relief and normalization of life -Economic development -Communication and social mobilization.
But the UN warns that sport is not a cure-all for development problems. “As a cultural phenomenon, it is a mirror of society and is just as complex and contradictory. As such, sport can also have negative side effects such as violence, corruption, discrimination, hooliganism, nationalism [parochial], doping and fraud. To enable sport to unleash its full positive potential, emphasis must be placed on effective monitoring and guiding of sports activities.”