It’s the community: Lessons on European Grassroots Athletics
Prof. Airnel Abarra
Ph.D. Candidate, Hungarian University of Sport Science, Budapest, Hungary
Director for Sport Research, Adrenaline Solutions
MANNHEIM, GERMANY, and OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC- It has always been a discussion on the situation of Philippine Athletics on different social media platforms on what should be done to develop the sport, especially at the grassroots level. We always hear about the concepts of grassroots sport and how we feel nostalgic about previous programs such as Project Gintong Alay more than forty years ago.
Of course, we can rest on our laurels during those times, but we must also know that even our Southeast Asian neighbors keep up with their pace to develop their programs and progress.
Thus during the 2022 Southeast Asian Games, we saw that most junior athletes won different events. A strong and young lineup in the likes of Thailand and Vietnam shows they are investing in their programs.
Is it really just the budget? The people, or the system?
The pandemic changed the dynamics of sports all over the world and it has been clear that sports organizations need to recalibrate and reform their existing policies and structures given the impact on the sport of the pandemic.
This season, I was allowed to observe two Athletics communities in Germany and Czech Republic.
Through this, we aim to reflect on their lessons and policies to know what should be done for Philippine Athletics.
Golden Spike Ostrava has been a gold standard in athletics events. Founded in 1961 and showcased many world-class events. SSK Vitkovice Athletics club shows how a community can be tapped to make its programs sustainable.
I saw how the event is fully-organized through delegating tasks to competent people and making sure that the order of events is well followed.
One thing that I appreciate in Ostrava is that they make sure the finals of the events are done during the evenings.
Because afternoon and evening events give more people the chance to watch events in a more comfortable condition.
We have a lot of stadiums in the Philippines and Palaro is always done only during the early morning and late afternoon.
Finals in Ostrava are done during the evening. Another factor is they put excellence and welfare to all guests and stakeholders.
The media are treated well by having a dedicated staff that caters to and ushers the media practitioners to a conducive room for coverage.
By ushering athletes into a dedicated zone, they are interviewed in a most comfortable location. Gone are the days that the media “chased” the athletes.
By putting a dedicated media officer, the smooth flow and transition to the events can be done.
Through their coaches such as Fatima Kostkova, SSK Vitkovice provides a more pleasing environment for its athletes.
Coach Fatima shows coaching young athletes should be fun and healthy. Athletes have the privilege to choose the coach that they can work with.
The athletes of Coach Fatima stick with her because coaching is a relationship and coaches should be given recognition and respect for their program.
Transparency in the selection of athletes in major competitions is done by making sure that all events and performances are documented and recorded.
The federation and its related local groups know how to operate electronic timing systems.
The Czech Athletics Federation ensures that all events that should be a standard are recorded and organized and participation of different stakeholders such as schools, clubs, and even private individuals who volunteer for the success of the program is engaged and empowered.
After all, the Athletics program should be built by the community and by the community.
Mannheim, Germany: Grassroots through empowerment
MTG Mannheim in Germany has been organizing its Junior Gala every year where it invites junior athletes all over the world to their events.
During my visit this year, there is one simple thing that keeps the program going: the people and the club. Through the leadership of Mr. Rüdiger Harksen, Olympic coach and head of MTG Mannheim was able to organize events that catered not only to international junior athletes but also allowed their stakeholders to be part of the events. By “owning” the event, the community of MTG Mannheim shows accountability and responsibility for their actions.
Stakeholders pay their dues and volunteer for the event. Because they believe that if you want to be part of an event, you should invest time and resources. It’s a two-way street and thus making the event sustainable. The people in Mannheim know that grassroots sport is part of the program and athletes should enjoy every part of it.
Through the communities we visited, we can see three values that show a true grassroots program. Empowerment, accountability, and transparency.
The values that should make any grassroots sport possible. By being empowered, stakeholders welcome different people who have a fair contribution to the event and by delegating tasks, events show excellence and sustainability.
I see even the leadership group of both Athletics clubs go even tasks such as arranging equipment or helping in the catering service.
This means that leaders in sports should not treat themselves as royalties but as they should be the first servants of the sport.
Accountability shows that coaches, leaders, and athletes own their actions that concepts of proper recognition and compliance should be done.
I’m surprised that the federation in both countries have enough workforce to ensure that electronic timing is set even at local levels.
It’s the federation’s responsibility to their regional and local chapters that events are well officiated with innovation.
As I mentioned earlier, simple things such as making sure that events are properly spaced and athletes’ welfare is the main priority.
Transparency is seen in that stakeholders such as the media are given the results efficiently and they are treated as partners.
This can be also seen in how basic things such as meetings, results, and assessments are done most openly and transparently. Ensuring transparency in the selection and assessment of athletes and coaches, builds trust and thus welcomes more stakeholders to contribute to the program.
As the Philippines starts to open up after the pandemic, it’s about time we recalibrate our programs to build on values of empowerment, accountability, and transparency.
After all, grassroots programs not simply aim to have Olympic athletes but a more alert and healthy citizenry.
We should build better opportunities for all thus people will come. They will come if they see a more conducive environment and no one is left behind.*
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