Davao's pride, Jho-an Banayag, the country's top female marathon runner, will not be representing the Philippines in the 42.195-kilometer footrace at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.
The move to drop Jho-an from the roster of athletes bound for the 16th Asian Games came after she competed in the CamSur International Marathon last September 24 where she was the top Filipina finisher with a time of 2:58:35.
The Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (PATAFA) said Jho-an violated a ruling that bars national athletes from joining competitions three months before the Asian Games. PATAFA president Go Teng Kok was quoted by GMA News as saying he talked to Jho-an before the Camsur race and that she gave the assurance she was not going to compete.
Go told GMA News: "All our athletes must follow our rules and regulations."
Rules are rules. Even if Jho-an ran her way to a gold medal in last year's Southeast Asian Games marathon in Laos with a 2:46:34 finish, she is not exempted from these rules. She has to abide by them.
Jho-an's story again brings to the fore the sad reality of the Filpino athlete - insufficient financial allowances, as Pinoymiler's Blog so straightforwardly puts it.
Interviewed by the Joey Villar of the Philippine Star after the CamSur marathon awarding ceremony, Jho-an, who was apparently well aware of the consequences of her action, said: “I’m the breadwinner of my family, I’m here to provide for them. We really need the money that’s why I competed here.”
Her sixth-place finish earned Jho-an P125,000. She receives P15,000 monthly allowance from the Philippine Sports Commission.
In the same interview, Jho-an said she would run in the Milo Marathon finals in December if she doesn’t get a slot in the Asiad. This will give her a crack at the premiere marathon's top purse of P300,000.
Jho-an's story is an oft-repeated one. She is not the only national athlete that has been suspended by the PATAFA for joining unsanctioned races, and neither is she the only athlete that has broken the rules mainly because there was a family to support that needed the money.
Most athletes, especially the ones in track and field, come from poor provincial families. They made their way through high school and college by way of athletic scholarships. They see their athletic abilities as a means to help support their families by landing a slot in the national team or getting a crack at enlistment in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
This very real need to support their families is the primary underlying reason why they run, why they push themselves to their limits to be at the top. This is the main reason why the increasingly lucrative purse in road races like CamSur and Milo is always more inviting, even worth risking one's inclusion in the prestigious list of athletes carrying the country's flag in an international competition, where the chances of a podium finish -and the corresponding financial reward- becomes slimmer as the level goes higher.
Pinoymiler, in his blog, urged the PSC "to review the monthly allowance of our athletes, as some of them are complaining that a major chunk of their allowances are being spent in their vitamins/supplement and training gears." He also suggested looking into the possibility of entering into tie-ups with companies who are manufacturing these kind of products to help our athletes.
Perhaps they can go a step further. They can completely adopt and sponsor our track and field athletes so that they could be given much better means to support their families while carrying the country's colors in international competitions.