The 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games is upon us and the different sporting events are now in full swing at this time of writing. Despite some mishaps, fake news, and brouhaha over cauldrons, this edition of the SEA Games has been a positive development thus far.
While the Urban Roamer is certainly not much of a sports guy, the fact that a number of events are being held in various parts of the metropolis is something that cannot be missed. Unfortunately, there are too many sporting events happening at a lot of venues and some of these venues (like Muntinlupa Sports Complex) that are too out of reach for this roamer to cover.
Considering as well the other things going on in my life, the Urban Roamer had to manage the events and venues that will be checked out. So apologies if I might not be able to go to as many venues as I wanted throughout the SEA Games proper, that even includes the venues in New Clark City that I’ve been wanting to visit. That being said, the Urban Roamer just had to include one important SEA Games venue, not only for this edition but for the past SEA Games that were held in the country (1981, 1991, and 2005): the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex (RMSC).
From uncertainty to second chances
The Urban Roamer has actually talked about the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex before, way back in 2016. But that particular piece was more of an editorial rather than an in-depth look that I usually write for a given place. Partly it’s because I never got to go inside the complex. Moreover, the more pressing matter at the time was the uncertain future of the complex, amidst reports that the City of Manila was planning to sell off the complex for a commercial complex to rise in its place.
It must be noted that the City of Manila owns the property but does not manage the RMSC, Rather it is managed by a national government agency that is the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC). The reports that were coming in as far as this roamer remembers is that the PSC was willing to hand over the complex to the city as work was already underway to build a larger sports facility up north in what was to become New Clark City. And, admittedly, the entire Rizal Memorial Sports Complex had seen better days as its facilities and surrounding were dilapidating.
Fortunately, heritage advocates and agencies rallied behind the historic complex designed by architect Juan Arellano and built by Public Works Secretary Antonio de las Alas. The National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the National Museum intervened to save the complex in 2017 by respectively decreeing it a National Historical Landmark and Important Cultural Property owing to its value as a historic landmark and heritage site that has remained standing since 1934, thus giving it due protection from demolition or other works that will lose its heritage.
Another shot in the arm for the RMSC was the decision to hold a number of events for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in the venue. This would prompt a major renovation of the complex not seen since the 1950s when it was rehabilitated following the destruction caused by World War II. Renovation was completed for four facilities in the complex by the 2019 SEA Games in which they were ultimately utilized in the games, while work other facilities are still in progress at this time of writing which will be detailed here.
Rizal Memorial Coliseum
One of the four original structures of the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex when it opened in 1934, the Rizal Memorial Coliseum originally was a tennis stadium but eventually used for other indoor sports. Most notably, it was used as the venue for basketball games of collegiate leagues like the NCAA and UAAP before these leagues moved out to bigger and airconditioned venues. For a long while, it remained in a dilapidated state until the renovations that were done this year, spearheaded by Architect Gerard Lico.
The work done by Lico and his team involved accentuating more the Art Deco architecture of the building, installing new elements like terrazzo flooring, glass doors, warm-colored lights, better seats, and, most importantly, airconditioning. Eventually, it was chosen to be the venue for all gymnastics events, where the public got to witness and cheer for Filipino gymnasts like Carlos Yulo while appreciating the coliseum anew.
The renovation not only gave a new life to the Rizal Memorial Coliseum but also regained its stature as a centerpiece of the RMSC itself that is undergoing transformation as a whole.
Ninoy Aquino Stadium
The Ninoy Aquino Stadium is one of the more recent structures built in the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, not to mention not bearing a different name, perhaps to avoid confusion with the Rizal Football Stadium nearby. Originally named the Rizal Multi-Purpose Arena, it was first built around the 1980s as an alternative venue for indoor sports events. Eventually, it was given its present name in 1989 at the height of the Aquino euphoria and presidency.
Despite being fairly “new”, it also suffered from dilapidation over the years with problems such as leaking roofs and faulty airconditioning. Thus in preparation for the SEA Games, it was renovated as well with new tile floors, new seats, better airconditioning, and fixed roofing. With work completed, it serves as the venue for the weightlifting and taekwondo competitions.
Rizal Memorial Stadium
The Rizal Memorial Stadium is one of the four original structures of the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex and has served a dual purpose as a track-and-field and football venue in one, and sometimes a concert venue such as when the Beatles played there in 1966. It is also one of RMSC’s more frequently utilized venues in recent years, something that it a result of the reinvigoration of football in the country thanks to the campaigns of the Philippine football team AKA the Azkals.
Thus in 2010, the football field area, which was a natural grass pitch, was refurbished for the use of the home games of the Azkals. However, the grass deteriorated due to the wear and tear so in 2014, the pitch was converted into an artificial turf which was given a 2-star accreditation by FIFA the following year.
The stadium underwent another rehabilitation this year, which went to the improvement of the seats and roofing at the spectator area, as well as improving the track oval. It was designated to be one of the venues for the football matches of the SEA Games, along with the Biñan Football Field in Laguna.
Rizal Tennis Courts
The Rizal Memorial Sports Complex is also holding tennis events at its two outdoor tennis courts. There’s not much information about the tennis courts, other than the fact that they’re more recent facilities.
Other than the 4 aforementioned facilities, the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex has many other facilities which are not utilized for the 2019 SEA Games in favor of other venues, such as the new Athletics Stadium and Aquatic Center in New Clark City for athletics and aquatic sports respectively, and the Clark Sports Complex in the Villages in Clark Freeport for baseball.
Nevertheless, renovation is ongoing for a number of facilities in the RMSC such as the Rizal Swimming Pool (one of the original 4 RSMC structures BTW), the Bowling Center, Wushu Federation building, and the under-construction Squash Center. Other facilities are left as they are for now such as the boxing gym which is more of a practice venue than used for matches.
The most disappointing is the seemingly lack of work being made for one of the 4 original RMSC structures, the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium. Sadly, the stadium that saw American baseball legends like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play in its field is still in a state of decay. Perhaps thanks in part to the fact that Filipinos are not as fond of baseball as they used to, not to mention there has yet to be some spark that would reinvigorate Philippine baseball as Philippine football currently enjoys.
Beyond the SEA Games
With the people being not only reacquainted with the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex but also see first-hand the renovation work that has made them better venues, the future of the complex at the very least remains secure as future sporting events may be held there as well.
Of course, there is the lingering concern as to how the RMSC will fare with the rise of more modern facilities, especially in New Clark City which is envisioned to be the new home for the Filipino athletes, that are not only Olympic-level in quality but also address the changing needs of the athletes and the sport. Despite the renovations, the existing facilities in RMSC would not be enough to hold that many spectators. Some facilities there might not even be compatible with the modern equipment being used in various sports. Those are considerations to take into account if RMSC continues in its operations.
The truth of the matter is there is a need for both large venues like in Clark and for existing facilities like the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex. If the Philippines is to aim to excel in sports, there is the greater need for better facilities in both big and small scales for the athletes and for the public that supports them. We need to both build new sports facilities and improve on the ones that are already there for the sake of greater competitiveness and foster a greater love for sports.
It is hoped that the renovation works would continue for the other parts of the complex, especially the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium. Let this be the start of a new beginning for the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex as a whole.