Young chess prodigy’s travel experience revives calls to support athletes

November 16, 2022 - 7:28 PM
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Bince Operiano
Rep. Fernando Cabredo with Ben Operiano and Bince Rafael Operiano in this photo from Cabredo's Facebook page on Nov. 13, 2022 (Facebook/CongDidiCabredo)

“Three nights at the airport with those benches as their bed.”

The travel experience of the nine-year-old chess prodigy who recently bagged gold in an international competition raised appeals for the government to support Filipino athletes anew.

Bince Rafael Operiano of Oas, Albay emerged as the champion at the Eastern Asia Youth Championship Standard Rapid Blitz (under-10 category) in Bangkok, Thailand on November 12

The third-grade pupil defeated 28 other young chess players from other countries after advancing through the nine-round competition.

Bince brought home a gold trophy and four medals (one gold, one silver and two bronze) from the international tilt.

Last year, he won second place in the national age group grand finals, according to his trainer Archie Haig.

Lack of funds 

Bince’s achievement, however, was not without challenges.

Rosemary Roblico Operiano, his mother, said they almost could not send the chess prodigy to Thailand due to a lack of funds.

“We don’t have enough money to meet the needs of my son during the competition. In fact, we sourced out funds by soliciting from friends and local officials,” she told Inquirer.net before.

Ben Operiano, Bince’s father, is the family’s sole breadwinner.

He is a security guard and chess enthusiast who first taught the prodigy how to play as a pastime. The family lacked a television set and any electronic gadgets at home for entertainment.

Haig said that Ben was supposed to fly with his son to Thailand on the same day. However, it took a while before the patriarch could raise enough money for his own plane ticket.

“Kaya ang nangyari, naiwan ang papa niya sa airport at dun yata natulog sa airport ng two days habang naghihintay ng pera na papasok sa account para pamasahe,” he told ANCX.

“‘Yung first game ni Bince, umiyak siya dahil natalo siya at siyempre, wala pa ang papa niya o ako sana. Pero nung sumunod na laban [andun na ang papa niya], okay na siya,” Haig added.

The chess trainer wasn’t able to go with his ward due to financial difficulties as well.

According to Rep. Fernando Cabredo (Albay, Third District), Bince and Ben “spent (three) nights at the airport with those benches as their bed” due to limited funds and while waiting for the plane ticket sponsored by the Philippine Sports Commission.

“The little boy had to travel first to Thailand without his father, Mr. Ben Operiano,” the lawmaker said in a Facebook post.

“I was told by his mother that during the first day of the competition, the parents of the other participants saw the boy crying, missing the company of his father. Bince braved the first game with no parent around to cheer him on. He felt pressured and lost to his opponents in the first games,” Cabredo added.

Rosemary said that financial help came after she posted about her husband and son’s situation on social media.

Among those that offered was Cabredo.

After learning what the child prodigy had gone through, some Pinoys hoped that the government would be able to fully support athletes in their pursuits.

“Gobyerno ng Pinas.. ayan [sila], maliliit pa, nagbigay karangalan na sa bansa… dapat bigyan [niyo] ng full support ang mga kagaya [nila]…” a Facebook user commented about the situation.

“Congratulations to Bince and his family! #oaspride. Philippine Sports Commission, where have you been all this time? 3 days natulog sa airport bench si Bince,” another online user said.

“Support for Filipino athletes is badly needed as shown by the story of Bince who waited (for) their tickets, sleeping at the airport (and) who flew alone to Thailand (and) his father who followed (the next) day because, I think, of his late ticket. PSC, (please) facilitate the tickets, other support, on time,” wrote a different Pinoy.

“Congratulations. We hope we can also participate [in] support before this little hero brought home the medal. I think he, the coach and (the) father need it more before the tournament. Let’s be part of the preparation and not just during its glory,” another online user said.

Bince was conferred by the local government of Albay the title “Pride of Oas” and was awarded a cash incentive amounting to P20,000 for bringing honor to his hometown.

“It’s an honor for us that we have a champion in the name of Bince Rafael. With his achievement, Oas town was put on the map, particularly in the field of chess,” Oas Mayor Domingo Escoto Jr said in an interview.

“We are happy for him and will give our full support in his future competition,” he added.

The mayor said they will allocate a budget to finance and support child wonder in local and international tournaments next year.

Last July, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said they will step up government support for national athletes to hone their potential.