Davao del Norte dreams of sports

A beautiful sports stadium – one made in the shadow of past Olympic venues – greets us as we drive through the capitol of Davao del Norte. It was late in the evening yet the colorful lights from the stadium illuminated the highway.

In May 2015, Davao del Norte hosted the Palarong Pambansa, the Philippines’ biggest youth sports event. In the two weeks I spent in the province, I saw more sports venues that are at par – or at least trying to be – with international sports standards. This, aside from the rising malls and delectable food places, made my coverage of the games very pleasant.

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Athletes from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao march during the Palaro 2015 opening ceremonies.

For the young athletes, Palarong Pambansa 2015 is a jumping board for their athletic dreams. For the provincial government, hosting the Palaro is a step towards achieving a more ambitious goal.

Davao del Norte dreams of becoming a center of sports excellence in the Philippines. The complex, built from November 2011 to December 2012, is the province’s centerpiece and proof for its vision. (READ: DavNor eyes local sports academy by 2016)

By 2016, the local government plans to build a local sports academy that will cater to talented athletes from Region XI or the Davao Region. This, hopefully, will translate into better opportunities for the youth of the region.

Sports, sustainability, and tourism

The number one problem of multi-sports events like Palarong Pambansa – even international events like the Youth Olympic Games or the Olympics – is sustainability. After the sports events are done and the last medals won, some venues are rendered useless by some host cities.

This is why the International Olympic Committee created the Olympic Agenda 2020 and why the province of Davao del Norte plans to build the academy.

Davao del Norte's sports stadium.
Davao del Norte’s sports stadium.

Davao del Norte Governor Rodolfo del Rosario told us in Rappler that he doesn’t want to kill the potential of an enthusiastic sports community, which was jumpstarted during the Palaro.

“We want to see to it that there’s a continuing program because what we built here will be useless. It will become a white elephant,” he added.

Why do cities and provinces (or countries for international events) go through so much stress in bidding to host multi-sports events?

Davao del Norte's Sports and Tourism Complex
Davao del Norte’s Sports and Tourism Complex

Aside from being a chance to develop their own sports programs and facilities, hosting a multi-sports event also boosts the local tourism and economy. It’s a chance for cities or provinces to show their treasures and spread – through news coverage and athletes’ word of mouth – their tourism programs.

The sporting venues of multi-sports events themselves also become tourist destinations for locals and tourists to relive the games. Just look at the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing!

‘Peace through sports’

In the past years, some parts of Mindanao have been torn apart by conflict. The sad part is that all of Mindanao are affected by the stigma of violence and war. When people in Manila talk about Mindanao, all they think about are the gun fights between rebel groups and the military.

But this is not the case in many parts of the region. Mindanao and its islands have many natural and environmental gems still untouched by the development that has encroached Luzon and some parts of the Visayas.

Despite its beauty, however, Mindanao is the last place most tourists put on their itineraries due to fear of being kidnapped or killed by evil elements.

A boost in local sports programs can change the negative image of Mindanao. Its cities and provinces will no longer be known as places torn by conflict but venues where kids can pursue their dreams of Olympic grandeur.

Can sports pave the way for peace? I have often asked this question in my reports and to myself when I write such initiatives as the Marines’ Football for Peace program. We have seen it work in other countries but we have yet seen its big effect in the Philippines.

But I have seen how sports change people. When I interviewed the ARMM football team in Tagum City, they told me how the sport made them more disciplined and taught them to dream. These are young people who grew up in conflict areas. If not for sports, they would have joined evil elements, holding bullets instead of balls.

I get a resounding answer whenever I talk to kids who undergo the Football for Peace program. Pursuing sports gave them a wider perspective on life and success beyond what they see in their islands and villages. (READ: How football teaches kids from conflict areas to dream)

Having a sports academy in Davao del Norte and other provinces in Mindanao will give children something to aim for, and teach them the discipline they need to rise above the challenges they face.

As a tourist destination

Beyond its dream of sports, is Davao del Norte a good tourist destination in itself?

Davao del Norte boasts of beautiful beaches, rich mountains, and vast fruit plantations. You can go spelunking in its caves or immersing in its cultural villages. Island hopping would also soothe any sunset chaser and beach lover’s desires. (Check out other things you can do here.)

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Davao del Norte’s seat of provincial government.

Have I mentioned that the weather there is perfect? It’s rarely affected by the typhoons that frequently visit my country!

Tagum City, Davao del Norte's capital, is also famous for its  night market and cheap street food!
Tagum City, Davao del Norte’s capital, is also famous for its night market and cheap street food!

This is why it’s so sad that the province and the region are affected by the negative stigma. There’s really so much to see and so much to do there. With the province’s dreams of sports, there will be more things to discover in the future.

When I finally have the time, I’d really want to go back to the Davao Region as a tourist. The first time I was there was for a workshop in Davao City in 2013. The second time was for the Palaro coverage.

I wouldn’t mind writing stories about local athletes when I visit there again. But I’d want to write about its natural wonders more.

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