Statement on the resumption of training for student-athletes

I’d like to join the coaches and other stakeholders in expressing my serious concerns on the resumption of training for college and university student-athletes during this time of COVID-19.

Let’s start with the law, Republic Act 10676 also known as the Student-Athletes Protection Act,  which I principally authored and sponsored. Section 2 of the law provides that student-athletes are first & foremost students. It further states that the obligation of schools & athletic associations to ensure that they attain quality education should remain a priority.

So before we even start talking about the resumption of training, let me ask, how is their schooling? Are they getting the support they need for their education? I know many of them have returned to their homes in the provinces where access to WiFi might be weak or even non-existent. Many of them are also scholars and are in need of financial assistance. How about tutorials? In pre-COVID times, many athletes would spend at least 12 hours a week training, hours that other students spend studying. Some had access to tutorials then. What about now, when both online and modular education are faced with even more challenges?

As a former student-athlete and member of the PH Women’s Volleyball Team, and also as a mother of two student-athletes, I have always believed in prioritizing studies over training. It’s all about finding balance. Has that changed now because of COVID-19? Because all this talk about training without any mention of the educational needs of the student-athletes seems to be a distortion of our priorities.

I also happen to chair the Senate Finance l Subcommittee that oversees the proposed budget for higher education. I’m very cognizant of the concerns of colleges & universities in ensuring the safety and protection of students, teachers, and employees against the COVID-19 virus.  Thus, as early as the budget hearings I held in September, I have already expressed my concern about this issue when I first heard about the possible resumption of student-athletes’ training.

Professional sports associations such as the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) and the Philippine Football League (PFL) already started training and conducting games. And despite the safety and security measures that they implemented, a PBA player and 9 PFL players were recently diagnosed with COVID-19 in their pro league bubbles. Are the schools prepared to spend for the bubbles, the isolated quarters, and the regular testing, in addition to the usual training expenses?  From my own experience as a soccer mom, many schools cannot even ensure a sufficient budget for the medical expenses incurred by their student-athletes.  How will they take on the full responsibility of securing the welfare of student-athletes, many of whom are below 21 years old, if they get mass infected by the virus?

These incidents reveal that while we still do not have a vaccine for COVID-19, the risks of transmission & infection are high, even in sports leagues & training bubbles administered by professional leagues, where strict health & safety protocols are being observed and spent for.

The move to resume training was justified by the need for student-athletes to be “mentally and physically fit.” But why are we limiting it to student-athletes? Don’t all students have the right to be mentally and physically fit?

I’m all for being fit & recognizing exercise as a vital component of mental health, especially during this time of COVID-19. This should be a program for all students that can be integrated in their study schedules from home. Breathing exercises, yoga stretches, cardio and strength training that do not require much space and equipment can easily be designed by fitness experts. But to resume student-athletes’ training in an unsecured environment is an entirely different matter. I’m glad many coaches also aired their concerns. Like many, I’m an avid UAAP fan who looks forward to weekends of watching games but this would have to wait.#

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