SPORTS KEN: Sports focus on Muslim youths

In the light of the devastating tragedy that has befallen Marawi, it is high time the government – the Dep-Ed in particular –  re-focused its educational thrusts as far as the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao is concerned.

Pursuing the constitutional mandate of nurturing the physical well-being of the ARMM citizenry by impressing the vital importance that sports play in the lives of Muslim youths and those in the grassroots level might be a good starting point.

Like any youths, the young Muslims need to channel their inexhaustible energies to fruitful endeavors. Getting involved in worthwhile activities like games and sports inside the school premises can unearth the hidden gifts and talents of these innocent kids.

Dep-Ed today reserves only some 45 minutes for physical education per week. This goes to show that sports – where discipline is much valued – is paid less attention in the elementary level and in the formative years of a school child.

Starting ‘em young is the policy of most Western and highly sports-developed countries that is why they easily produce potential Olympic gold medalists and winners.

Today, I am not sure if I have read a prominent athlete coming from the ranks of the Muslims, if ever there is one.  In the sixties and early seventies, several outstanding Muslim athletes proudly wore the national tricolor and shone brightly in international competitions primarily in the Asian sphere.

I can still recall a few names – Mona Sulaiman (athletics, gold medalist, 1962 Asian Games, women’s 100 meters); Amman Jalmaani (swimming, quarterfinalist, breaststroke, 1968 Mexico Olympics); Jairulla Jaitulla (swimming, silver/bronze medalist, 1970 and 1974 Asian Games); Abdulkadir Guiapar (gold medalist, 400m hurdles, 1973 Asian Athletics Championships); and Tokal Mokalam (RP athletics champion, 100 and 200 meters). They were a byword in the Philippine sports community then.

After them, I do not remember having come across Muslim standouts who have followed their footsteps. I was told by a peer in the sports fraternity that Jalmaani lives in Zambo City and drives a tricycle for a living. Sad, isn’t it?

Mona is a good friend of mine. I don’t know her whereabouts now although a decade ago I heard she was a consultant at the Philippine Sports Commission.

Most of these Muslim standouts came from Sulu, Basilan and Cotabato and other parts of Mindanao. They were products of the old Public Schools Interscholastic Athletic Association (PSIAA), the forerunner of today’s Palarong Pambansa.

From all appearances, the Muslim youths of today have been disconnected from the mainstream sports realm. While authorities at the PSC may have hatched a sports program geared for the Muslims, it is still in the Dep-Ed where the greater responsibility rests.

A special academic and PE program for the ARMM different from the present curriculum in the public schools is necessary, not so much as to intentionally produce gifted and talented Muslim athletes for the Philippine team as to enable them to discover their own individual potentials.

More sports competitions should be organized within the ARMM. Sports infrastructure must complement the program.  Indigenous games should be re-introduced for pre-school boys and girls to get them enjoy the fun and love what they are doing.

Water sports (swimming, diving and water polo), athletics, football, martial arts and gymnastics are some of the Olympic events that Muslim youths could get attracted to and excel in.

I would even suggest that sports high schools in all capital towns in the ARMM be established to facilitate sports development and growth in the area. Of course, qualified coaches and sports mentors must also be in the list.

As the whole island of Mindanao has been neglected by previous administrations through the years, the introduction of a special academic and PE program by the Dep-Ed might yet do the trick.

Sports is a universal language. It might help lead to peace and solidarity. (Email your feedback to GOD BLESS THE PHILIPPINES!