News Analysis Tourism

The Philippines Olympic marathon

Among the subsectors that comprise Philippine tourism, one area of competition which remains a long way off winning an Asian medal is sports tourism – a multi-billion dollar industry that can not only bring in valuable tourist dollars, and plenty of them, but can raise a country’s standing in the global sports arena.

And although the Philippines has staged a number of regional events including the Asian Games and the Southeast Asian Games (though these are located on a rotational basis), right now any serious bid for the Olympics or any other major international competition amounts to little more than wishful thinking. And sports-tourism arrivals have barely been worth recording.

But it is still an ambition. The government-funded Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), established in 1990, in its charter (Section 7, clause c) is authorised to “plan and oversee a programme to enable the Philippines to bid for and to host the Olympic Games at the earliest practicable time”. It also allows it to compete for other international competitions sanctioned by international sports federations.

In quarter of a century though, the Philippines profile as a sports venue has barely improved. And that’s one reason why, earlier this year, a bill was tabled in the House of Representatives calling for the PSC’s abolition and the establishment of a full-fledged Department of Sports with an initial operating capital of US$4.3 million.

Naturally, the biggest hurdle to attracting big international sports events is the country’s lack of international-standards sports infrastructure, although latterly this has improved – though largely via private-sector initiatives. Here’s a look at some of the country’s main sports venues and there amenities.

Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Malate, Metro Manila, is the headquarters of the PSC and the country’s national sports nexus. It was purpose built in1934 for the Far Eastern Championship Games, forerunner of the Asian Games which it staged in 1954 after being completely rebuilt following its destruction in World War II. It underwent further substantial renovation in 2011 and houses the 30,000-seat National Stadium (track and football).

Its other facilities include a basketball stadium (capacity 10,000); the Ninoy Aquino Stadium (6,000) which hosted the Southeast Asian Games volleyball tournament (1991) and the Games’ table tennis competitions (2005), as well as the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship; and the Memorial Coliseum (8,000), home to the Philippines women’s national basketball team.

Smart Araneta Coliseum – The Big Dome – in the Cubao district of Quezon City, is a multi-purpose indoor sports complex, roofed by the second largest dome in Asia (Japan’s Oita Stadium is the biggest). It has an audience seating capacity of 25,000 for basketball and 18,000 for boxing events. It is owned by the influential Araneta family through its Progressive Development Corporation. The legendary “Thrilla in Manila,” the world heavyweight championship boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, was staged there in 1975, as was the 1978 World Basketball Championship and the 2007 WPA Men’s World Nine-ball Championship (pool).

The Philippine Arena, which sits on a 190-acre site at Victory City, Bocaue, Bulacan in Luzon, is the world’s biggest indoor stadium. The 55,000-seater sports coliseum – that’s getting on for 2.5 times the size of London’s O2 Arena – with outside crowd accommodation for a further 50,000, opened in July 2014. Victory City is also home to the country’s largest football stadium which has a 25,000-seat capacity. Two Round 2 matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers were held there last year.

Purpose-built and owned by Iglesia ni Cristo (or, INC), the largest Protestant community in the Philippines with a membership comprising around 2% of the country’s 1.2  million population, the Philippine Arena is a major sports asset in any future international sports-event bid.

The PhilSports Complex in Pasig, Metro Manila – the office home of the Philippine National Olympic Committee – has among its facilities, a 10,000-seat all-purpose sports arena and a 20.000-seat football and athletics stadium. It was the venue of the 2005 Southeast Asian Games badminton events. Its current plans involve the erection of a beach volleyball court.

Marikina Sports Complex at Marikina, Metro Manila, a one time railway station that took a sporting turn in 1995. Six years later it underwent a thorough restructuring under then mayor, Maria Lourdes Fernando, and was equipped with a 2,000 audience capacity aquatic centre around an  Olympic-size swimming pool , two grandstands with total seating for 15,000, a 400-meter oval running track oval, and a 7,000-seat indoor gymnasium. It was the venue of a football competition in the 2005 Southeast Asian Games and in 2014 hosted events for that year’s Asean School Games.

Mall of Asia Arena, in Bay City, Pasay, Metro Manila was opened in 2016. Built at a cost of US$77 million, it is owned by SM Prime Holdings, the biggest mall and retail operator in the country. The arena has a seating capacity of 16,000 and a full capacity of 20,000 and car parking for 2,000. Prominently a basketball stadium, it joint hosted the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship (along with the Ninoy Aquino Stadium, above); it was the venue for the NBA’s first pres-season game ever to be staged in Southeast Asia (between the Houston Rockets and the Indiana Pacers); the American mixed martial-arts promoter, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (or, UFC) staged its first ever Philippine event there in 2015, and was one of three main venues (Italy and Serbia were the others) for the 2016 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournaments for Men.

Certainly, there is something there to build on, but if the Philippines is one day going to be a real contender as a host for the Olympics, it will need to create a far broader and deeper sports infrastructure than what exists right now. And the other thing that is very noticeable from the above breakdown is that all the country’s major sports venues are either within the Philippine capital or a short shot put away. Without all this – and the rest of the tourism infrastructure – the number of sports-tourist arrivals will remain insignificant.

We suspect that if the new administration of President Rodrigo Duterte does decide to create a Department of Sports – and it’s not a bad idea – one of its first tasks will be to spread the reach of the country’s sporting venues a little way beyond the 614 square kilometres of Metro Manila.