After an eternity of ineptitude and dismal performances, Philippine Sports is given a reprieve. For 13 years, Peping Cojuangco had ruled ruthlessly over Philippine Sports, tinkering with it the way he pleased, treating it the way a spoiled brat would abuse an unwanted personal toy. As President of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), he wielded the power to make or unmake athletes and sports associations. Sadly, his reign would be riddled with charges of corruption, favoritism, manipulation and incompetence. Last Friday, February 23, in an election forced on the POC by a Pasig court ruling, the amiable Boxing head, Ricky Vargas, finally ended Peping’s inglorious reign of terror. Athletes and sports lovers of the country are rejoicing. For today is the start of a new era for Philippine sports.
We were proud champions in the South East Asian (SEA) Games in 2005, the year Cojuangco took over the reins of the POC. From that much-acclaimed position, Peping would lead the Philippines to its darkest, most difficult, most disappointing times, freefalling to 6th place in the next Games in 2007. By 2013, we would garner the lowest position ever in the regional event, landing a pitiful 7th in Myanmar. The list of dismal performances goes on and on, but surprisingly, Peping would be able to survive these nightmares. Until yesterday.
Speaking for the first time as POC President, Ricky Vargas talked wisely about reconciliation and making changes for the athletes. During Peping’s time, sports had become very divisive and controversial. Many National Sports Associations (NSAs) had 2 organizations; one propped up by Peping and the other vehemently anti-Peping. Much energy was wasted on the negativity and the political struggles, as opposed to the actual action in the sporting arenas. Much of the resources were funneled to questionable activities administered by the ‘old boys club’ identified with Peping. Many athletes simply retired or migrated, in disgust over the clear mishandling of Philippine sports. Even the selection of the Philippine representative to the International Olympic Committee was mired in controversy with Peping’s daughter, Mikee, taking the post after the retirement of Frank Elizalde. Ricky’s present task then will be challenging, as he deals with a sports leadership that used to be nothing but Peping’s virtual rubber stamp.
But this fresh start is precisely what the country needs. The clamor is for a leadership change that will pave the way to the dismantling of Peping’s Mafia in Philippine Sports. The need is for a sports leadership that will be focused on the athletes’ development, and not on protecting turfs and on perpetuating the leaders’ stay in power. The demand of the times is for patriotic and dynamic action, youthful vigor and modern methodologies to replace our antiquated systems which were run by senior citizens with their senior moments.
It will be a daunting task. But with the fresh mandate comes the inspiration to provide better service, the passion for noble work, and the untarnished desire to lift the Philippines from the doldrums of sports mediocrity. Enough is enough. It is time to finally go to work.