The PSC is converting the historic Rizal Memorial Track & Field Stadium for football use. The news of the tie-up with DLSU came out months ago, so I was not really surprised at the turn of events. From what I heard from people, the field will no longer be used for the throwing and jumping events. The 8-lane track would temporarily be closed to the national team athletes and the general public to make way for the renovation.
There are conflicting views on the issue. Apparently, the long-standing feud between the Philippine Sports Commission and the Philippine Olympic Committee plays a central part.
Note: Another issue in question is the proposed commercial complex beneath the bleachers. Since Rizal is an art deco gem, new additions to the stadium’s original design naturally goes against its general architectural theme.
As a track & field man who traces his roots in this once grand stadium, I’m engulfed by a certain sense of sadness. After all, I ran my first ever sprinting and hurdle races in Rizal. The most memorable moments of my young life took place in that very stadium.
Built for the 1934 Far Eastern Championship Games (now the Asian Games), Rizal, as its habitues simply call it, has hosted all of the major international events held in the Philippines, the most recent of which is the 2005 Manila SEA Games. Years ago, while reading about the exploits of the 1932 Olympic High Jump Bronze Medallist, Simeon Toribio, the stadium was the constant milieu, the ever-present backdrop of Toribio’s inspiring life story. Philippine track & field greats like Lydia de Vega, Elma Muros-Posadas and Isidro del Prado competed with distinction on the 70-year old track. Blurry photographs of yore evoke feelings of nostalgia for a time long lost.
Jampacked Rizal. Sea Games 2005.
Despite the disrepair, the leaking roof and the relatively cramped confines, Rizal is a stadium us Filipinos can be proud of.
Rizal has nurtured generations of Filipino athletes – Filipino track & field athletes. For those athletes, myself included, Rizal is more than just a training facility or a place of competition – it is something akin to a home away from home.
Jumpers and throwers – permanently displaced
The conversion of Rizal into a football-specific stadium would temporarily displace the multitude of young track & field athletes based in Manila, in light of the capital’s lack of athletics facilities. The jumpers and throwers would suffer in the long run. It’s unfortunate to think that the Philippines’ ace long jumpers, Henry Dagmil and Marestella Torres, would lose their home track. Dagmil, the current national record holder at 7.99m, broke Nino Ramirez’s 75-year old long jump record at the National Open held in Rizal in 2003. Both Dagmil and Torres scored a long jump double for the Philippines in Rizal, during the 2005 Manila SEA Games.
Likewise, many time SEA Games Hammer Throw Gold medallist, Arniel Ferrera, would have to shift training bases to either Baguio or Ultra. However, throwing in the cramped confines of Philsports poses some sort danger to the multitude of joggers who frequent the Pasig oval.
More importantly, the current crop of youngsters would bear the most sacrifice. Public school students who flock to Rizal during the PATAFA weekly relays would have to make do with the substandard jumping pit in Ultra. The elementary and high school students from populous Manila would have to bear the brunt of extra travel time as well.
Win-win situation for both Football and Track
I have no arguments against the PSC’s goal of promoting the beautiful game. But please, don’t accomplish the latter at the expense of track & field. Manila only has three synthetic tracks open to public use* – Marikina Stadium, Philsports, and Rizal. Marikina has an abominable asphalt bike lane at the inner lanes while Philsports has a shorter-than-usual 110m starting line, certain uneven areas on the track and a badly-maintained jumping pit. Of the three, only Rizal barely meets international track & field standards.
I’m not espousing a black and white, all-or-nothing approach. Football is a fine sport where Filipinos once reigned supreme in the Asian ranks. I’d love to see the next Paulino Alcantara strut his football wares on the world stage. But then again, one cannot disregard the fact that our track & field squad has contributed its fair share to national glory. In light of our country’s shoestring sports budget, a win-win situation between should be reached.
Consider the example of Berlin’s 1936 Olympic Stadium. It underwent renovation a few years back. The centerpiece of Hitler’s Olympics hosted the 2006 World Cup for football and the 2009 World Championships for track & field. It currently serves as the home stadium of a Bundesliga squad and as a venue for various track & field meets.
The following line of Quinito Henson’s column seems promising enough: “The school will also be responsible for the preservation and maintenance of the football field and track oval, amenities and equipment during its use of the facility for varsity practices, tournaments, physical education classes and fitness activities.”
But the wording from a Manila Times article evokes fear in this track & field fanatic: “PSC Chairman Harry Angping and the De La Salle University (DLSU) community assured on Friday they would push through the transformation of Rizal track oval to a world-class football field.“
The Philippine Olympic Committee has opposed the PSC’s renovation plans, according to this Inquirer article. I’ll be eagerly anticipating updates on this issue. Let’s just hope our bickering officials resolve their differences and work towards the betterment of Philippine sports.
For now, unless the Philsports/Ultra Oval’s sub-standard facilities undergo a face lift or an entirely new track stadium is constructed, Filipino track athletes – especially those competing in the field events – will be left marginalized and homeless.
* – The newly-constructed University of Makati Oval is for the exclusive use of UMak students only, except for a short two-hour window each morning.
Manila Times article
Ian Velasco’s blog post (about the renovation going against Rizal’s art deco design)