(This is my Fair Play column for SunStar Cebu’s Nov. 23 edition)
One conversation that often crops up in the basketball-mad Philippines has always been, “next to basketball, what’s the second most-popular sport in the country?” I’ve also heard variations of that conversation, in promises by sports officials, “In my term, we will make _ the second most popular sport in the country.”
Over the years, the answer to what is No. 2 rotates among billiards, volleyball, football and badminton.
But you know what I realized lately? Tennis could be the No. 2 and it’s funny, we never heard that from the Philippine Tennis Association (Philta), heck we never hear anything from Philta, which is part of the problem.
Take the case of the vibrant tennis community in the tourist town of Moalboal for example. I relocated here due to the pandemic, and when restrictions were eased late last year, I held my first tennis racket in almost two decades and joined my first tournament. It was never finished, due to the death of the person who gave me a chance to play again.
Since then, I’ve been playing regularly and got to join one of three tournaments that are ongoing at the Moalboal Parish Tennis Club. I got to play against Vice Mayor Titing Cabaron, and let’s just say we were lucky not to get a double bagel because it’s just for one set. And on Monday, I get to join another tournament, against a different set of guys. There are also two tournaments for the evening guys.
And I can’t help but think, if this is the case for the rest of the towns all over the country with active tennis communities, then the International Tennis Federation knows what’s best for Philippine tennis than our own national association–Philta.
You see, Philta is suspended from joining international to meets–like the Davis Cup–because it refused to heed the ITF’s order to open its membership.
Philta is an old boys club, opening its membership, as mandated by the ITF, might mean the old boys might lose their power.
But Philta got it wrong. I don’t think tennis communities like Moalboal are interested in grabbing a share of the Philta pie. They’ve flourished for so long outside Philta’s purview that they don’t see any advantage of being part of the national sports association (NSA).
However, the benefit for Philta for having community-based tennis clubs under its fold is tremendous. It’s just unfortunate that they see them as threats and not as opportunities.
Recently, Moalboal showed tennis can be a sports tourism event by holding a tennis derby that had clubs all over Cebu participating. The benefit of that weekend event? The friends and families of those who joined the meet stayed in the resorts.
That’s just one of the things, Philta can do, once it sees the benefits of having more members outside Manila, community-based clubs as members.
But they don’t and as of now, Philippine tennis stays suspended in the international scene, while in the community-based scene, it thrives, as it always has. And it always will.
Because Philta, though it is the Philippine Tennis Association, isn’t Philippine tennis. I mean, just look at them, they’re willing to get suspended for two years, keeping our top players out of the international scene, just so they could keep the membership to themselves.