THE 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia will never be remembered by local sports fans for the many outstanding performances and record-breaking feats by well-known athletes with names like Lewis, Bailey, Agassi and Miller.
It will be remembered for the controversial defeat of boxer Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco at the hands of Daniel Petrov of Bulgaria in their light-flyweight match that denied the country its first-ever gold medalin the Olympics. It will forever be “Robbery in Atlanta.”
The 1992 Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania will not be remembered for Zamboanga City’s 15-4 win over Long Beach, California after a seven-run first inning.
It will be remembered for the shocking revelations by two Filipino journalists that Zamboanga City fielded ineligible players who did not meet either age or residency requirements. The team was later stripped of its title.
The 2004 WBA featherweight fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez In Las Vegas will not be remembered for the Filipino’s tremendous power that knocked the Mexican fighter three times in the first round.
It will be remembered for the judge, who admitted to making an error on the scorecards that led to the draw. If he had scored the round correctly, as the other two judges did, the result would have been a split decision in favor of the Filipino.
And now the 2013 Summer Universiade in Kazan, Russia will not be solely remembered for the dramatic triumph by GM Wesley So over GM Zaven Andriasian of Armenia in their Armageddon-style playoff match that rewarded the country its first-ever gold medal in the 54-year history of the ‘Olympics' of student athletes.
It will also now be remembered, unfortunately, for the reckless and irresponsible decision of the country’s top sports officials to withhold recognition to So even long after the entire chess universe had lavished praises to the talented, 20-year-old Filipino champion.
It will forever be the “Peping Gambit’. Or the “Pichay Sacrifice.”
It will be remembered as a politically-motivated, revenge-driven conspiracy that went awry and for which the local sports world must now pay a heavy prize: losing a national treasure that comes only once in many lifetimes.
Losing Wesley So.
Blame it to politics in sports.
It all started in a simple power grab that did not succeed, like in a failed coup d’etat.
The Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) wanted to expand its kingdom and seize power bestowed by the Federation Internationale du Sports Universitaire (FISU) to the privately-funded Federation of School Sports Association of the Philippines (FESSAP).
In 2013, the POC sent a three-man delegation all the way to Kazan to question FESSAP's legitimacy during the FISU Congress. The POC representatives tried -- unsuccessfully, of course -- to convince the FISU family to disown FESSAP and switch allegiance to the POC-backed UAAP.
A favorable decision to the POC would have left So and the other Filipino athletes stranded in Kazan for two weeks without getting the chance to compete.
A few weeks before the Universiade, the UAAP even pulled out several Kazan-bound athletes -- a chesser, judokas and swimmers -- from the Filipino delegation under a threat of suspension.
Needless to say, FISU reiterated its recognition to FESSAP.
Is Wesley So to be blamed? No way. Clyde.
When So agreed to represent the country in the Universiade, also known as the World University Games, he did not look at the uniform he will be wearing whether it has the POC or FESSAP logo in it. Or whether or not the signature of Cojuangco and Pichay are on his travel documents.
When he joined fellow Filipino athletes during the colorful opening ceremony shown live all over the world, So wasn't thinking of anything -- not POC or FESSAP -- but the Philippine flag he was proudly waiving during the parade of nations.
When he finished off the brash Armenian champion during a heated playoff match for the gold medal infront of a stunned but highly-appreciative crowd, So wasn't thinking of anything -- not POC or FESSAP -- but the honors he will be bringing home to the Filipino people.
And when he finally climbed the stage smiling to receive the coveted gold medal while the Philippine flag was being hoisted ahead Armenia and China, So wasn't thinking of Cojuangco or Pichay or FESSAP president David Ong. He was thinking of all of us.
Can you blame him for feeling bad that his herculean effort is still not being recognized almost a year after the Kazan Universiade was declared a huge success by Russian president Vladimir Putin and FISU head Claude-Louis Gallien in July, 2013?
“When I did not compete in the Asian Indoor Games and instead played in the World University Games (which was a very strong event), in spite of winning the first-ever gold medal for the Philippines, I was denied the official recognition from the NCFP,” said So during an interview with the widely-read Chessdom.com
“No player should be treated this way, especially when I worked so hard to bring pride to my country,” added So, now a sophomore student at Webster University in Missouri.
Can you blame So for seeking a better system in a better environment and switching federations to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a world chess champion?
The answer, my friends, is a big N-O.
Sports will remain one of our biggest sources for international recognition. There will be many new heroes who will follow the footsteps of Loyzaga, Pacquiao, Nepomuceno, Reyes, Torre and De Vega.
Some heroes are forgotten, some remembered. Some sporting events are better left forgotten. Some are always worth remembering.
And when we talk about all the great ones, past and present, there's always Wesley So.
And then there's the 2013 Kazan Universiade snub to talk about all over again.
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