The Question of the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex

Ever since the news first broke out in November, the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex has been put under a spotlight as it faces an uncertain future as two opposing forces have clashed as to what its future should be.

But before we go further, it is best to learn more about the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, which, mind you, is not just any sports complex. It also happens to be the Philippines’ premier sports complex. Well, for a time at least.

The complex was conceived in the 1920s to be a state of the art facility as per the standards of the time. Construction would begin in 1927, under the watch of the complex’s architect, Juan Arellano. Yup, the same Juan Arellano behind the Metropolitan Theater and Manila Post Office Building

Originally, the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex had 3 structures, all designed by Arellano in the Art Deco architectural styrle,  namely the Rizal Memorial Stadium which was a venue for basketball and other indoor sports, the Rizal Baseball Stadium for baseball and the Rizal Track and Football Stadium for track and field, football, and other large outdoor events.

The complex was inaugurated in 1934, in time for the Far Eastern Games which Manila was hosting. As such, the complex got its exposure to an international event and people got to see and appreciate what a sporting facility like this has to offer. Despite suffering from damage bought about by World War II, the complex managed to survive.

Over the years, the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex managed to add more venues such as the boxing gym, the supposed “Sports Museum” which is also the home of the Wushu Federation of the Philippines, and a bigger indoor stadium which is the Ninoy Aquino Stadium. However, something else also happened during this time. Philippine sports fell into a long decline. And it sadly showed as the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex fell into neglect, to the detriment of the athletes and the others using the complex’s facilities.

In the 2010s, a plan was put forward to construct a new national sports center for the Philippines as it was trying to rebuild its sports program, this time to be constructed in the former Clark Air Base area which is being converted into a planned city development called the Clark Green City. As for the complex, the Philippine Sports Commission, the owner of the complex, is keeping its options open, which included the option to sell the property to someone who may decide to demolish it.

There were proposals to have the whole sports complex be sold and/or managed by De La Salle University (DLSU) whose campus is just nearby. With the loss of the university’s football field due to the redevelopment of the campus (i.e. constructing a towering new building where the football field used to be), being able to have the whole complex as part of the campus in one way or another would not only benefit its students, but also the country’s sports development. While the DLSU was considering such a proposal at one point, in the end the university had to decline to offer due to the high costs needed in maintaining the complex.

And so we have come to this situation. On the one hand, there’s the Manila City Government under Mayor Joseph Estrada and the group of businessman Enrique Razon (the man behind Solaire) who are intent on “redeveloping” the complex. And by “redevelop”, it means getting rid of the existing structures and make…a shopping mall. Because nothing here defines “redevelopment” than having a swanky new shopping mall that is going to cause worsening traffic just so the city government can earn some money. Never mind the fact that the city is lacking a sports complex that it owns and administers itself.

On the other end, there are those who care for Manila’s remaining heritage who cannot take yet another senseless loss of the city’s historic and cultural heritage and are instead calling for the preservation of the structures.

While it may be tempting to pick a side at this point, what complicates matters is the issue of the complex’s ownership. Why is the Manila City Government already expressing plans on a property it does not own? Or does it already own it? The reports have been strangely silent so this question must be asked: DID THE PHILIPPINE SPORTS COMMISSION ALREADY RELINQUISH THE OWNERSHIP OF THE RIZAL MEMORIAL SPORTS COMPLEX?

As it stands at the moment, the fate of the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex remains in limbo. Nevertheless, the complex, just like how Philippine sports is at now, is striving to make the most out of the situation as it awaits a final outcome which hopefully will benefit not only the complex, but the city and the country as well.

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