“What is your profession?”

Whilst watching the pre-game analysis from last night’s Azkals game, the haughty Star Sports analyst made an interestingly poignant observation. He pointed out that most of the Filipinos, save for a handful of Fil-foreigners, are part-time footballers. When pitted against honest-to-goodness professionals, a glaring difference in “physicality” comes to the picture.

True enough, even the English-born Younghusband brothers are currently unattached. Our homegrown players are mostly members of the nation’s Armed Forces. Even though the Philippines has a nascent semi-pro football league in the UFL, this pales in comparison to its regional counterparts like Singapore’s S-League or the Thai Premier League.

One of the most famous scenes in “300” came into mind. Leonidas asked the Spartan allies, the Akkadians, their respective professions. The answers were diversely mundane. But when the legendary Spartan king asked his crack troops “what is your profession?” a loud and intimidating “ah-woo! ah-woo! ah-woo!” was their answer.

This is certainly the case for most Olympic sports, now that the lines of strict amateurism and professionalism has become porous. Aside from amateur boxing, professionals are allowed to run roughshod over major international competitions, putting the amateur at a major disadvantage.

There lies the underlying fundamental factor that spells the difference between victory and defeat. Take the example of athletics, for instance. I can only name a handful Asian medalists in recent Olympic history. Aside from the naturalized athletes of oil-rich middle eastern countries, only Susanthika Jayasinghe சுசந்திக ஜெயசிங்க்ஹி, Hadi Souan Somayli هادي صوعان الصميلي‎, Dmitry Karpov, Xing Huina 邢慧娜 and Liu Xiang 刘翔 had finished within the top 3. The Europeans have won countless medals in the aforesaid time period.

Truly, an amateur pursues his/her respective sport as a passion, as something on the side. Whereas the professional practices the sport as a career. Having the domestic infrastructure to support a professional league speaks volumes about a particular sport’s development. Take the case of the Philippine basketball. Despite setbacks in international competition the past few years, Filipino cagers rank among the best in Asia. In the newly-established ASEAN Basketball League, Filipinos play for our Southeast Asian neighbors as imports to beef up their respective locals.

The same cannot be said of football, athletics or any other sport not part of the Four B’s (Basketball, Boxing, Billiards and Bowling). In Athletics, for instance, the backbone of the sport is comprised of collegians. A club scene is virtually non-existent, with competition being mostly schools-based. After college, only the most talented and dedicated athletes progress to the national team ranks. A slot in the crack national squad merits a modest stipend. International exposure is afforded only to the elite few. World-class training and facilities are hard to come by. In contrast, the Europeans have a vibrant system of athletics clubs for all ages. Clubs like France’s Dynamic Aulnay Club, Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon and Germany’s MTG-Mannheim have produced successful internationals like triple jump sensation Teddy Tamgho, 2004 Athens Olympic silver medalist Francis Obikwelu and the 2010 European 100m dash Champion Verena Sailer, respectively.

Hence, there is continuity of talent. A career in sports can be a financially-adequate, even lucrative profession – where one is not bound to live in the margins of penury whilst pursuing one’s passion.

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