The Philippines harvested 52 gold, 70 silver, 104 bronze medals in the recently-concluded 31st South East Asian (SEA) Games in Vietnam. This output landed us in 4th place, trailing behind host Vietnam, 2nd– running Thailand, and 3rd-running Indonesia. The 4th place finish placed us on top of Singapore and Malaysia, as well as the rest of the pack including Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei and Timor Leste.
The results of the medal tally – while below our targeted position at 3rd – was a respectable enough output which shows a marked improvement from the dark days from the 2007 Thailand SEA Games to the 2017 Malaysia SEA Games. It was during those painful days in Philippine Sports when our athletes would go home with measly 5th or 6th place finish. At one embarrassing point, our athletes even landed 7th behind lowly Myanmar. Our results this year then are quite encouraging. And for this, I can safely say that for now, we have recovered and are no longer the ‘sick man of South East Asia.’
It was during those dark days when Peping Cojuangco ruled the Philippine Olympic Commission (POC), when our athletes would come home ridiculed and in shame. During the 2005 SEA Games hosted by the Philippines, the country’s athletes had basked in pride as we ruled the bi-annual extravaganza. Cojuangco was the newly-installed POC chief then; and everyone hailed him for having stirred the country to a grandiose finish. Strangely, in just 2 years, we would tumble from 1st to 6th in Thailand. At first, we thought that this was just a fluke, a temporary hiccup. But then, this would be followed by more embarrassment in 2009 (in Cambodia – 5th), 2011 (in Indonesia-6th), 2013 (in Myanmar-7th !!?!), 2015 (in Singapore-6th) and finally in 2017 (in Malaysia-6th). Despite the bigger population base, despite a more robust national economy, despite relatively better access to modern sports facilities and training, our athletes were failing miserably. Why?
A look at those dark ages will reveal that there were problems that were not being addressed properly by the sports leadership. Cojuangco will claim that there was no support from the national government. This despite the fact that it was a nephew who was occupying the highest position of the land during most of those times. And more than the fund support for the sports bodies and the athletes, there was the perception that the sports leadership was not doing enough for their respective sports, as well as their athletes. There was the perception of favoritism among sports heads close to Cojuangco, and of officials spending more funds for their own travel as opposed to athletes’ training. Records will show that outstanding athletes’ performances were dwindling. Records will also show that sports associations considered disloyal to Cojuangco were being persecuted. Sadly, most of the National Sports Associations (NSAs) perceived loyal to Cojuangco were the non-achievers.
Thus, it came as no surprise when an uprising among NSAs would eventually kick out the decadent Cojuangco mafia. Enter: Rep Abraham Tolentino. The election of Tolentino as POC President ushered in more dynamism, more new ideas, and a new impetus to be more competitive in the international sports arena. The appointment of William Ramirez as Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Chairman by President Rodrigo Duterte also paved the way to a better environment insofar as athletes’ support from government and the private sector was concerned. From a mere trickle, athletes now would be receiving more generous allowances, further resulting in better performances. Clearly, there was a stark contrast between the athletes’ support during the Aquino time to that of the Duterte administration. A clear performance indicator would be the results of our participation in the Olympics as well as the regional SEA Games. For the longest time, the Philippines had been shut out in the Olympic medal tally. After the Cojuangco stranglehold on Philippine Sports was slowly dismantled, we immediately garnered a silver medal in the 2016 Brazil Olympics, followed by a gold, 2 silvers and a bronze in the recent 2021 Tokyo Olympics. In between, the country would once again rule the SEA Games in 2019.
Clearly, with better support comes better morale; and with more responsive officials in the PSC, the POC and the NSAs, it looks like Philippine Sports is now on the right track. With a new administration under newly-elected President Bongbong Marcos, we hope and pray that Philippine Sports will continue to soar even higher.
For a closer look, just click on the pics. Cover pic courtesy of The Tiebreaker Times. Other pics courtesy of: YouTube, OCA, Filipino News, The Manila Times, PTV News, PhilStar, Philippine News Agency, Cebu Daily News, Gymnastics Assn of the Philippines, Remate Online, The Monitor, The Star, One Esports and The Tiebreaker Times.