In 2011, the then Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Peping Cojuangco revoked the Philippine Dragon Boat Federation’s (PDBF) status as a National sports Association (NSA). It was an unjust move done without due process; a scheming manuever that would consequently strengthen his stranglehold on the POC.
It will be recalled that in 2008, Peping had bested the late Art Macapagal for the POC presidency by the slimmest of margins 21-19. The removal of the PDBF – which had voted against him – now assured him of at least a 3-vote margin in the next election, assuming everyone else maintained their positions in the previous vote. (Pls read: Unmasking the Philippine Sports Mafia)
But even more important, the disenfranchisement of the PDBF sent a subtle, yet clear message to the other NSAs: tow the Peping line, or life for your associations could be made miserable. This was a preview of more sinister events to come; such as the booting out and replacement of the Philippine Volleyball Federation (PVF) and the Table Tennis Association of the Philippines (TATAP). Eventually, most of the NSAs would learn to bow their heads in meek obedience. Like a lion tamer, Peping had done a perfect job in getting the NSAs to kneel down before him. To the detriment of Philippine Sports in general.
Prior to its disenfranchisement, the PDBF had brought much honor to the country in countless international forays. Its precursor, the Amateur Rowing Association of the Philippines (ARAP) started participating in foreign events in 1986. In 1991, it introduced the first international dragon boat race in the country during the SEA Games hosting in Manila. Also in 1991, it proudly became one of the founding fathers of the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF), now universally recognized as the world’s governing body for dragon boating. In 1992, the Asian Dragon Boat Federation (ADBF) was also formed.
In 2003, the ARAP formally registered as a corporation using the name Philippine Dragon Boat Federation (PDBF), to align its singular identity with the IDBF and the ADBF.
In the 2005 SEA Games, the PDBF harvested all the gold medals in dragon boat racing. This was followed by the establishment of world record times in the IDBF World Championships in Sydney (2007) and Prague (2009). For a while, the Philippine national teams were proud record holders in the Men’s 200-meter and the Mixed 200-meter sprints. It was during these times when our dragon boat paddlers were considered among the world’s best.
In the international scene, the IDBF was granted recognition as an independent rowing sports discipline, separate from rowing, canoeing or kayaking, which legitimately distinguished itself as a separate entity from the International Canoe Federation (ICF). For that matter, IDBF has been responsible for developing the protocols, the internationally-recognized standards, and the training and accreditation of professional officials who conduct dragon boat events world-wide.
Then came peping’s arbitrary decision to remove the NSA status of the PDBF. The eventual transfer of control of dragon-boating to the Philippine Canoe Kayak Federation (PCKF) – despite dragon boating being a separate sports discipline – would have long-lasting adverse effects on the country’s dragon boat community. Results in the past SEA Games alone will clearly attest to this. Since the PCKF handled dragon boating, our performance has been mediocre at best. Prior to that, the PDBF-trained teams had been dominating the sport in this regional event. Check out the results in the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore. (Thankfully for the PCKF, there were no dragon boat events in the recent 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia.)
The Philippines’ stature in the international dragon boat community has deteriorated fast, as the PCKF’s best teams could not compete against the world’s best. Sure, the PCKF’s version of the national team won golds in the ICF dragon boat events in 2012, but these were not world championship caliber competitions bringing in only a dozen or so participants. It is the IDBF World Championships which is recognized as the Olympics in dragon boating, participated by more than 70 countries. It is here where the best-of-the-best should compete.
To drive home this point, in 2013, the Navy Team – which was then the pride of the PCKF – competed for the first time in 3 years against the PDBF teams. This was in a local competition in Bohol. The powerhouse Navy Team had been undefeated for 3 years in PCKF-sanctioned tournaments, and had just come back from a triumphant 6-gold medal harvest in the ICF’s World Championships in Italy. Everybody thought they would make hay in Bohol.
Of the 9 races at stake, the PCKF champions did not win a single race. (Please read: The Lessons To Be Learned From The Recent Battle of Champions In Bohol.) They were even humbled by a Coastguard Team that used to simply be an integral part of the Navy. These were the very same world champions in the ICF ‘World Championships’, and yet, they could not buy a single gold in a local competition against PDBF teams. This clearly showed that the level of competition in the ICF, and consequently, the PCKF, were way below the standards of the IDBF and the PDBF.
After the Bohol games, I had written: “Their reaction to the debacle in Bohol will show us the character of the PCKF. They can lick their wounds and try again – as is the mark of great victors; or they could shy away, never to compete again – which is the more convenient, yet less manly thing to do. Which will it be?”
After the Navy – and the PCKF – were humbled by PDBF teams in Bohol, the PCKF sent out instructions that henceforth, no PCKF teams would be allowed to compete in PDBF-sanctioned events lest they get embarrassed. The PCKF has avoided clashing with PDBF teams after that debacle. To this day, the PCKF will not allow PDBF teams to play in their tourneys, and have disallowed their teams from joining PDBF regattas.
The Navy, after seeing their skill slowly deteriorate from the lack of top-caliber competition, eventually returned to the PDBF. It will also be noted that the Navy personnel who had joined the PCKF-propped national team had filed complaints of fund irregularities against the PCKF.
With this attitude for soft, fun and leisure competitions, it is clear why the PCKF in the recent SEA Games has been, at best, under-achieving and its performance humiliating.
Given these circumstances, the new POC must now undo the injustice done against our dragon boat community. With the evil of sports politics sapping the strength of our long-suffering paddlers, it is no wonder that Philippine dragon boating has deteriorated. It is time to resurrect it. We used to be considered the rock stars of international dragon boating. It is time we get back our old stature as one of the world’s best.
We hope that POC President Ricky Vargas, his Arbitration Committee Chairman Robert Aventajado, and Membership Committee Chairman Bob Bachmann will move fast to rectify this great anomaly for the sake of our athletes. We hope that justice will finally be served for the sake of the nation and our pride as a people.