FIELD OF FAILURE?

Hefty price tag for this non-standard track oval

The much-advertised world-class track oval at the Davao City Sports Complex in UP Mindanao Campus, built to the tune of P450 million, wasn’t used in the 2019 Palarong Pambansa after the PATAFA reportedly thumb it down because it failed to meet the standards. Photo by Keith Bacongco

Whether it is a “hidden defect” or it is really the intention, Davao’s “Field of Dreams” is far from Olympic-standard.

The city’s sports complex track oval facility in consortium with the University of the Philippines-Mindanao in Barangay Mintal reportedly did not pass the standards of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the same standards espoused by the Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (PATAFA).

That means, for the sports complex to host athletics event for either the Palarong Pambansa or the Southeast Asian Games, it has to be tweaked to standards.

The much-advertised world-class track oval, built to the tune of P450 million, wasn’t used in the 2019 Palarong Pambansa after the PATAFA reportedly thumbed it down because it failed to meet the standards. Instead, the Palarong Pambansa athletics competitions were held at the privately-owned University of Mindanao track oval which had passed the IAAF standards.

The substandard assessment wasn’t known to many. But if this was a hidden defect, it comes with a very hefty price tag.

Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chairman William “Butch” Ramirez, told this writer that he heard it is not compliant to IAAF norms.
“Something is short,” Ramirez said. “I don’t have clear facts, but I’ve heard it is not compliant.”

Because of this, Ramirez said, the UM track oval was used instead for the centerpiece athletics events which included running, throwing and jumping events. “DepEd must have discovered that the oval is not compliant.”

The PSC chief said he will get down to the matter and talk to the state-run university officials. 

DCAA athletes ‘forced’ to use a makeshift dirt track for long jump event. Photo by Emilio Lacanaria

The construction of the sports complex was hailed by Dabawenyos after decades of having no decent sports facility for its world-class athletes to train. Hence, it was considered as the “Field of Dreams” — a 1989 movie which tells the story of an Iowa farmer who plows up part of his corn crop to build a baseball field.

The imminent signs of substandard condition were first noticed by experienced local coaches and athletes. Long-time athletics coach Emilio Lacanaria, who coached the Davao City track team to the Arafura Games about the same time as the Palarong Pambansa, said he noticed that the track is not even. According to him, the first 200 meters is slightly elevated and the last 200 meters are rolling down.

Lacanaria also noticed the absence of throwing and jumping events concessions usually situated inside the oval and the steeplechase jump is smaller and shallower than the standard size.

The sports complex’s track facility features a football pitch inside the field which is among the trends in some non-standard sports facilities that use the inner field as concessions for other sports. 

PSC deputy director Atty. Guillermo Iroy Jr. said he asked PATAFA of the UP Mindanao track oval’s status and he confirmed that PATAFA could not certify it as it diverges from the norms of the Olympic standard track oval.

Curiously, the facility has a four-lane rubberized warm up track which Davao coach Emilio Lacanaria said could have been converted to a long jump and triple jump sections on both ends.

In the case of the UM track oval, the UM alumnus Iroy was personally requested by UM President Guillermo “Willie” Torres Jr.

“Yes, we requested the PSC through Atty. Iroy so that the track oval will be certified,” Torres said in a separate interview.

Iroy said PSC’s expertise was reportedly requested during the planning stage of the UP Mindanao sports complex project but the recommendation of former PSC Engineering Head Architect Noel Elnar was not followed after he was told the priority was the football field.

“Di na sya naconsult after. Double bend ang ginawa instead of Olympic standard just like UM, per Arch. Elnar,” Iroy said.

The term “double bend”, according to the IAAF, is a variation in track oval construction which is wider with shorter straights and long, sweeping turns. This variation is done when tracks are constructed around fields of different shapes, or, indeed, to fit a particular site and the space available like a football pitch.

According to the IAAF technical manual, the standard dimensions for a track oval has straights of 84.39m, and curves with a radius of 36.50 meters. The IAAF lists “double bend” as among three other permissible non-standard arrangements, in which the curves are constructed using multiple arcs with different radii. These “double bend” tracks are a concession to facilities that are used for other sports, such as soccer, American football, and rugby, where the dimensions of the playing field do not easily accommodate the dimensions of the standard track.

In 2008, the IAAF came up with its fourth edition of the Track and Field Facilities Manual which serves as the bible for planners and builders of sports facilities. In order to comply with modern standards of construction, the IAAF decided to publish this “Track and Field Facilities Manual” in addition to the IAAF Competition Rules. The manual contains detailed and more clearly defined specifications for the planning and construction of Track and Field facilities than those contained in the IAAF Competition Rules. The aim is to pay greater attention to technical and performance requirements of Track and Field facilities.

Under the section “Suitability for Competition”, the manual said that “in order to establish the suitability of a sports facility for competition, proof isrequired of fulfilment of the requirements listed in this manual by certificates testifying to the Construction Category, the observance of the measurements and, when relevant, the suitability of the synthetic surface.”

The IAAF has introduced a certification programme based upon the goal that all facilities, synthetic surfaces, implements and equipment built for use in international competitions conform to IAAF specifications and therefore guarantees the validity of the performances and the quality of the product. It is the IAAF’s duty as the sport’s world governing body for athletics to ensure that all athletics items used in international competitions are of the requisite standard,manufactured in accordance with IAAF technical requirements, and, most importantly, guarantee the safety of the athletes.

The manual is available on the IAAF website (www.iaaf.org) and supposedly from the PATAFA upon request.

The lack of jumping and throwing concessions forced officials of the Department of Education (DepEd) who are running last week’s Davao City Athletic Association (DCAA) Meet to construct a makeshift long jump venue on a dirt patch outside the oval. Lacanaria said athletes were made to jump on a put dug up and filled with sand.

DepEd 11 spokesperson Dodong Atillo confirmed that the DepEd officials constructed the makeshift jumping area but defended their action saying it is “safe.”

“They said it’s safe because they filled it with fine sand,” Atillo said.
However, the veteran athletics mentor Lacanaria disagreed.

“Risky for athletes who might get injured. The runway is not even,” said Lacanaria. “At di mo makukuha ang best performance ng athletes because they are cautious they might get injured.”
Curiously, the facility has a four-lane rubberized warm up track which Lacanaria said could have been converted to a long jump and triple jump sections on both ends.

“Kung nangunsulta sila maka-advice mi na instead sa warm up area himuon na lang jumping,” said Lacanaria.

Last April before the staging of the Palaro, Davao City Sports Division head Mikey Aportadera was quoted in a report by the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) that the sporting facilities which will be used for the games are of international standard and world-class.

“We have world-class sports facilities that we will be using, the FIFA-standard football field, the FINA-standard swimming pool and of course the other facilities, like the track and field, the oval and the stadium,” Aportadera said in the report.