Restoring Dragon Boat

by Bill Velasco

The Game of My Life, Philippine Star, July 23, 2018

Bill Velasco is a hard-hitting sportwriter who has taken numerous hits for picking a fight against powerful sports personalities. But like a champion boxer who never refuses to back down, he wades in to take more licks if only to be able to give as much punishment as he can take. Here, he continues to champion a just cause – that of the Philippine Dragon Boat Federation – which was unjustly treated by Peping Cojuangco and his sports mafia.  

In its first few months, the new Philippine Olympic Committee administration finds itself dedicating substantial time and resources to untangling the messes in several national sports associations (NSAs) created by the past POC leadership. The POC membership committee led by Robert Bachmann has not only been screening new applicants, but has been hearing cases of sports seeking reinstatement after being politically persecuted in the past. Much of this stemmed from the narrow victory of the past leadership in the 2008 POC elections, which prompted a vendetta against “disloyal” NSAs which voted then for shooting’s Art Macapagal for POC president.

One of the first NSAs targeted was the Philippine Dragon Boat Federation (PDBF). By then, the PDBF had already developed a renowned world champion team, composed of civilians and members of the uniformed services: the Philippine Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. To this end, the former POC president insisted that, in order to make it into the Olympics, the dragon boat team had to be folded into the Philippine Canoe Kayak Federation (PCKF), allegedly as ordered by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). But no memo, notice, circular, letter, telegram or e-mail from the IOC to that effect has ever been produced. Amazingly, no local media ever questioned this bare-faced lie which caused so much harm to the sport. Why would the IOC involve itself with a discipline that is not even a member to begin with? And what possible logical reason would there be behind singling out the Philippines? The whole premise is ludicrous, at best. Yet, as a result of this coercion, the civilian members of the PDBF team, fearing for their status and allowances, joined the PCKF, splitting the vaunted world champion squad in half.

Since the divide, the PDBF has managed to soldier on with its outstanding athletes from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and despite the initial depletion, has performed at the highest level in international competition, with teams performing excellently at world events despite limited resources. Development has continued, races have been organized, national teams have been sent abroad.

To begin with, dragon boat is, technically, a totally different sport, with its own standards, specifications and regulations in terms of equipment and competition. All approved equipment used in international races bear the imprimatur of the International Dragon Boat Federaration (IDBF), not the International Canoe Federation (ICF). In fact, boats used by the PCKF even have the stamp of approval of the IDBF.

As far back as December of 2008, the Tribunal Arbitral du Sport, or Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) already circulated an advisory opinion on the matter. In a letter addressed to IDBF Mike Haslam, ICF Honorary President Prof. Sergio Orsi said that “dragonboat was not a canoing (sic) discipline and the ICF was not interested to develop it.”

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Also in December of 2008, the CAS, through Sole Arbitrator Corinne Schmidhauser, said that, by virtue of its having joined SportAccord (then the General Assembly of International Sports Federations or GAISF) in 2007, “the IDBF is recognized to be the only federation governing its sport on a world level”. Note that the SportAccord membership and recognition happened before the Philippine controversy even started.

If the ICF already said it was “not interested” in dragon boat, CAS already stated its recognition of IDBF, and this is reinforced by an IDBF attestation that “the PDBF is the national federation for the sport in the Philippines”, why has PCKF still been running dragon boat races?

There’s more.

In response to a clarification sought by the current PDBF leadership, the IOC Media Relations Team declared that “The IOC does not have a directive as we only recognise particular sport disciplines with respect to the Olympic Programme”, refuting the previous POC’s demand as the falsehood that it always was.

Therefore, given all of this overwhelming evidence proving the IDBF’s and PDBF’s unassailable, iron-clad status as the sole governing bodies for the sport, the reform-minded Philippine Olympic Committee president Ricky Vargas and the POC Board should have no trouble deciding reinstate the PDBF.

The only way this won’t happen is if certain POC Board Members have a different view which would benefit from perpetuating this decade-long injustice.

For more, pls read:

The Travails of Philippine Dragon Boating

Unmasking the Philippine Sports Mafia

The Fight to Liberate Philippine Sports Continues

Lessons to be Learned from the ‘Battle of Champions’ in Bohol

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