Privatization of Sports Facilities

TOURISM
By Charles Lim
May 16, 2021

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In less than 70 days, barring any calamitous and uncontrollable surge of COVID cases in Japan, the Tokyo Olympics will be declared open on July 23, 2021, after a delay of one year.

Athletes, coaches, games officials from no less than 200 countries will be descending on Tokyo. Fifteen thousand sportsmen and women are expected to compete, nay, celebrate the true Olympic spirit with emotions never seen in the history of the Olympiad, 

In certitude, we shall hold our breath for a good 14 days, while organizers, Japanese host cities, the International Olympic Council (IOC), a host of other organizations, complete the programs one day at a time, amidst the strictest health protocols ever.  At present no overseas spectators will be allowed in the stadia to watch the Games. And that's final.

Prior to the Olympics, another significant sports spectacle will be happening halfway around the world  - Euro 2020. Like the Tokyo Olympics, this monumental event, primarily to be hosted by Britain, will kick off from June 11 to July 11, 2021. European football will take center stage and will keep Asian eyes glued to the telly up to the early mornings, from China to Indonesia to Australia. 

Here at home, and at Clark to be precise, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP)  will stage the FIBA Asia  Cup qualifiers from June 16 to 30 in a strict bubble situation. Sports tourism in the Philippines will be on a sparkle, even briefly, thanks to the efforts of the amazing SBP team inspired by its former Chairman and  Sports Tourism Personality of the Year Awardee, Manny V. Pangilinan, its president, Al Panlilio.

Despite the worldwide pandemic, SBP won the bid to host an impressive assemblage of teams from Japan, China, Chinese Taipei, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Guam. The qualifiers will, no doubt, thrill millions of Filipinos for an interesting fortnight. Clark will again shine as an established sports tourism destination.

Back to Japan for the Paralympics from August 24 to September 5, 2021 - only if things have gone well with the earlier Summer Olympics. The Japanese host cities, organizers, the IOC would have scored their own performances in hosting Tokyo 2020 before welcoming the Paralympics. A  reality yet to be seen.

Other mega events lined up in quick succession next year will be the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022, Asian Games 2022 also to be held in China (Hangzhou), the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

While we may have around a dozen Filipinos qualified for Tokyo, hundreds more are already preparing for the Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam in November this year. The Philippines have crowned champions in the 2019 SEA Games and we are determined to prove it wasn't a fluke. A strong showing, landing in second or third this year, would already call for a huge celebration.

Reflecting on the training of our athletes, so dismally interrupted by the epidemic, I can fully understand the plight and desperation of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) in conjuring schedules of athletes and coaches alike during the last year. 

I had suggested in an earlier column upgrading the PSC to a bone fide ministry of sports and the reaction was a big resounding - yes! Let's hope that our planners and leaders can see gold, silver, bronze in this move. Include Youth in this ministry and you will have the dream Department of Youth and Sports.

As we marvel at the venues and host cities of all the above games, year after year after year, I conclude that we will never win a bid to host a multi-sport event such as the SEA Games or Asian Games in Cebu in the next couple of decades.

I have studied in my advocacy for sports tourism and the creation of sports cities for many long years, and am amazed at how some sports complexes around the world,  have been privatized by their local governments or sports organizations to become successful monuments and institutions.

We encounter, in almost every city in the Philippines, the poor state of sports facilities due to sheer neglect and poor management. More often than not, the issue would be a lack of funds and completely no comprehension of standards.

Would privatization be the answer? I have lived through privatization of hotels, parks, airports, starting with Cebu, then Clark, soon Bulacan, Davao, Bohol, quite a few more.

Our express roadways and skyways, sprouting and connecting north, south, east, west of Manila are again classic examples of build, operate, transfer agreements.

Will there be willing takers to invest in the Pelaez Sports Complex in Cagayan de Oro? I strongly believe so. It involves complete renovation for both the oval, football field, tennis courts, swimming pool, other indoor facilities.  It may not be the New Clark City or the Philippine Arena, but it will do Mindanaoans proud.

Sports management companies based in Europe and Australia have branched out into Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, India. Foreign funding has also come into the Philippines to establish football clubs like the United City FC, dominating the Philippine Football League and sending hopes of credible rankings in the Asian football scene.

In basketball, major global entities are involved in the forthcoming FIBA World Cup to be staged here in the Philippines in 2023.

Specialized sports venue management companies with strong marketing expertise and sponsorship support could innovate all parties concerned. We have witnessed the dynamic transformation and growth of the Mactan airport under the GMR Megawide management. LIPAD has taken on Clark International Airport, the consortium of Dennis Uy is to handle Davao and  Aboitiz will operate the airport in Panglao, Bohol.  Why not our sports facilities? 

Privatization has always resulted in proper funding, professionalism in management, sound marketing, improved training skills for employees, financial viability, most, importantly, less bureaucracy.

Cities will not lose pride nor ego when they privatize. It will be the reverse; they may see themselves in a partnership or in a naming rights agreement with super-brands like Nike, Adidas, Emirates, Qatar, Allianz, AIA, Rolex, Shell, Toyota, Canon, Red Bull, Milo, BMW, the like.

It all evolves as to how serious local governments are in creating their cities into accredited and recognizable host cities for tourism, sports, conventions, events, boosting its economy and image. 

In some countries, exclusive golf clubs are provisioned to allow their courses to be venue hosts for up to a certain number of days a year to accommodate the staging of tournaments. I am sure our golfers in membership clubs here can sacrifice two or three weekends a year to boost sports tourism and the economy in their city and, to their amazement, benefit from watching golf pros from around the world compete in their very own (backyard) greens.

These may be provoking thoughts today but, generally, it's progressively happening around us. The question is when will it happen here?

Charles Lim is the founder and chairman of the Philippine Sports Tourism Awards. He has been an advocate of sports tourism since 2004 with the inception of the Sports Tourism Forum - a popular seminar for those in the sports and tourism industries - which is currently still ongoing. He can be reached at charles.selrahco@gmail.com.

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