Will The Real Team Philippines Please Stand Up?

by Erick Fabian Sr.

team philippinesOn the right to be called ‘Team Philippines’
There will come a time when lines have to be drawn and the elephant in the room—the proper usage of ‘Team Philippines’—has to be addressed by the Philippine Sports Commission and other related organizations, both government and civic. Sports teams and even non-athletic organizations left and right have been observed to claim the title, to the point that it is becoming confusing as to which group one is referring to.

We are not simply talking about every athletic league being trained and sent by the government to compete with other countries. They have all the right to call themselves ‘Team Philippines’ because they are not only representing themselves—they are representing the aspirations of a country.

Even local groups who compete in international tournaments, whether it be chess, hip-hop dancing, or competitive video gaming, can use the name for as long as they are flag carriers, setting aside their personal agendas and making the cause of the Filipino people their first priority.

It is those organizations and individuals with intentions unrelated to national concerns that should be subjected to criticism. When they use ‘Team Philippines’ only because it can garner them influence and credibility, then it is a deceptive act that does not benefit the country in the long run, no matter how noble their intentions are.

As public momentum gained by the recently held 2015 FIBA Asia Championship and the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the issue of who should be using the name should be settled soon. Not doing so would show a fragmented front, a disunity that Filipino culture has been notorious of since the nation was born.

Should the name be copyrighted? It will definitely help if sports organizations around the country can consolidate their efforts on this, in the least, for the sake of future sports teams that will represent the Philippines in the global arena.

‘Team Philippines’ carries with it the connotation that you and your fellow athletes are doing it for a higher cause. It has a certain ring to it that the public easily responds to. One thing you can expect Pinoys to do is to root for our national sports teams when they compete abroad.

The average Juan and Maria off the street can and do identify with our efforts at making a name for our country, especially in world sports. One look at Pacquiao’s career and it is glaringly obvious.

Even supposed locally slow-catching sports such as rugby and soccer are gaining more fans, especially from Filipino millennials who are more exposed to a varied palette of sports entertainment than their elders. They see their peers from abroad get behind their own national teams with such fervor, and they are looking for something that they can also identify with among their fellow Filipinos. This is another reason why proper use of the name matters.

At the moment, the name is being carelessly bandied about by groups with questionable motives, mostly online. Not that there are no sports teams using it properly, as in the case of those athletes who represented the country in the 2015 SEA Games.

Allowing just anyone to take the name for their purposes betrays the premise of being a team that supposedly has the nation’s best interests at heart. It is a disservice to those who are sincere in representing the best that all Filipinos can offer the world, because it is the nation’s reputation being put on the line.

One way to determine who has the right to the name is to consider the point of view of the various groups with a stake on the name. A survey can be conducted to help consolidate impressions on what a National Team should be, and where everyone’s expectations overlap.

The public’s perception of what ‘Team Philippines’ means to them should also be taken into account. To them, it probably is any person or group that excels in any sport, alongside the national favorite Bs: basketball, billiards, boxing, and bowling.

When these people compete in international events, they represent the country, as in the case of Efren ‘Bata’ Reyes and Django Bustamante on billiards years before. People live vicariously through them when their games are being televised.

To other non-elite athletes, the name signifies any group that competes in sporting events abroad, for as long as they are carrying the flag and representing the country. These people bring pride to the Filipino people as well.

To the corporate sponsors, it mostly means whoever it is they endorse to compete in Olympic-sanctioned events. They are more likely to support a national team whose members are already brand endorsers.

Nike's Team Pilipinas Uniform
Nike’s Team Pilipinas Uniform

We have to ask the pervasive question: Who has the final say on what ‘Team Philippines’ should be? That in itself deserves a separate discussion, and will be dealt with in a separate article.

We cannot put to risk all of these great aspirations, alongside opportunities to inspire national unity, if a name with so much public faith invested in it can just be used wantonly, at the whim of any group and individual looking for public attention and renown.

‘Team Philippines’ might just lose its meaning and influence by then, and we will have wasted an opportunity to unite a people otherwise given to regionalist tendencies and political factionalism, considering that sports is one effective way to get Filipinos into thinking that they are fellow Filipinos to each other, despite their differences.