By Charles Lim
Yes, Sports Tourism is alive and well! In a span of just a week I was grinning silly hopping from Bohol, Manila and Cebu witnessing and planning some of the greatest sports events which will land in the annals of the Province of Bohol, the Philippine Football Federation and the municipality of Cordova, Cebu.
Boholanos, especially in the idyllic island of Panglao, were simply awed by the staging of the Sunlife 5150 Triathlon and the Go For Gold’s Sunrise Sprint all so professionally organized by Sunrise Events of the Ironman Group.
Descending in Panglao for a two-to-three-day stay were some 630 athletes from 23 countries with a few hundred more supporters and friends. Residents living in the vicinity of Doljo in Panglao, immersed in a fiesta like atmosphere for at least two days, with a brain script of wishing to indulge in competitive swimming, biking, and running in the near future.
Vice Governor, Atty Dionisio Balite who represented Governor Erico Aristotle Aumentado throughout the weekend was elated with this sporting event as a catalyst to tourism and the island economy. Significantly, this event came just 10 days into their administration.
In Manila, football took center stage for once over basketball this week, as our national ladies football team historically clinched the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Championship – the equivalent of the men’s Suzuki Cup which our Azkals never came close to winning. But that is a different story from what we have written volumes of. Maybe, one day soon, we will also win the Suzuki Cup.
For the two-week tournament held in Manila and nearby Cavite, eleven teams (including Australia) participated with Burma, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines reaching the semi-finals. Eleven teams with at least 40 members in each contingent and a horde of AFF officials. Eleven teams that would have at least dozens of supporters and family members. Eleven teams accompanied too with the sports writers and tv crews from each country.
Add this all up; conservatively this event would have brought in close to a thousand tourists to a recovering tourism industry benefitting hotels, restaurants, souvenir vendors and transportation companies.
I was teary eyed while watching thousands of fans at the Rizal Memorial Stadium cheering on our newly adopted daughters of Filipino parentage from far beyond our borders. Welcome come, anak. It was surreal with great emotions bundled to create a historic night. Finally, the beautiful game has reached Philippine shores with the kind of magnitude that is needed. And it took these beautiful lasses to bring it home.
For decades I was dreaming of seeing the Old Rizal filled with football fans cheering the home team. Sunday, July 17 was the closest to my dream. Never mind my schooldays weekend Premiere League atmosphere of yesteryears, but I liked what I saw and I realized there is still hope for this beautiful game.
We wonder if the Department of Tourism will launch a niche marketing campaign in the hometown residences of these Filipinas, wherever they are presently living, targeting their classmates, neighbors, relatives, office mates, club mates, etc. You will be surprised how many will follow them here the next time around. To these Soccer Babes of ours, Playing Football is More Fun in The Philippines!
The 3-nil win over Thailand is no fluke. Our Soccer Babes have also qualified for next year’s FIFA’s Women’s World Cup to be held in Australia and New Zealand.
Cebu is the next big venue for sports tourism. Set to take place on August 7 is the Megaworld 70.3 Ironman, after an absence of two years due to the pandemic. As of writing, nearly 2,000 athletes have registered, coming from at least 46 counties.
Moving with trends, Sunrise Events of The Ironman Group has made sure the newly opened Cebu Cordova bridge (CCLEX) is part of the race route. Imagine the FB and Instagram posts of the soon to be iconic backdrop of all things Cordova. Imagine what a snapshot of the bridge, with 2,000 bikers pedaling up and down, would create to generate interest for a sleepy hollow town like Cordova.
Taking advantage of the publicity can be a blessing for Cordova to create its position as a tourist destination with its rustic rural charms. A bridge carrying your name is mentioned thousands of times a day!