New leaf, clean slate for POC?
The last thing one would wish for is a worry-filled transition into a new year. But that’s what Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Jose “Peping” Cojuangco got when a court nullified his election victory last year that granted him another four years as the chief architect of the country’s national sporting program.
The court, in the decision issued last month, also ordered a new election without Cojuangco’s benefit of running unopposed. It ordered him to face boxing association head Ricky Vargas for the POC presidency.
If he plays his cards right, Cojuangco can turn this setback into a victory, without conceding defeat to those long calling for his resignation. Instead of seeking legal remedies to stave off the court-imposed polls in February, he could show magnanimity and sportsmanship by calling for such an election.
Apart from the Asian Games that Team Philippines is looking forward to, 2018 will be quite crucial for the country with three major sporting events looming. In 2019 the Philippines will host the Southeast Asian Games. In 2020 it will get a chance to end a gold-medal drought in the Olympics via the Tokyo Games. And in 2023, it will host basketball’s biggest showcase, the Fiba World Cup.
In all three events, leadership will play a crucial factor because 2018 will all be about preparation and laying the foundations. And while athletes do train with an eye toward those events, the government and the infrastructure that they move around in will require an atmosphere conducive to the chase for greatness.
A divided POC, even one with a silent opposition, would certainly be counterproductive for the athletes’ quest for gold. Worse, a POC that crosses swords regularly with the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) will only slow the development of a unified national program. Already, the PSC has begun the identification and training of elite athletes who would shoot for the gold in 2020, an undertaking long thought to be under POC jurisdiction.
The Southeast Asian Games may not be the perfect prelude to the Olympics for the national athletes, but they would have to put their best foot forward playing in front of their home crowd. Again, peace between the two leading sports agencies will play a crucial role in ensuring not only seamless hosting but also a credible performance from Team Philippines.
Cooperation between the POC and PSC is a given, but their working relationship would be far better—and better results can be expected—if one doesn’t have to constantly look over its shoulder to see what the other is doing. This is something that will happen a lot under Cojuangco’s leadership. Even assuming that Cojuangco wins the court-ordered election, he will at least reestablish his turf and force the PSC to deal with him, however grudgingly, because of the mandate provided by the national sports associations.
But the important thing is to call for a new election. For one, it lessens the possibility of the Philippines being sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) because of the court’s intervention in POC matters. If Cojuangco chooses to find a legal remedy to the court ruling, whether or not he gets it will not matter. The IOC will get wind of government intervention and move to act on the POC’s leadership crisis. And history has shown that the IOC’s favored method of dealing with issues like this is suspension from all activities under its aegis. That would mean no more Tokyo 2020 for Team Philippines.
Cojuangco should view his critics’ preference for an IOC suspension—which will allow them to clean house before reapplying for active IOC status—over one more Olympic cycle under his leadership as the final indictment of his administration. That alone should convince him to heed the court and call for a more credible and inclusive election. In doing so, he will also apply a real test to his mandate.
If Cojuangco refuses to call for a new election because he fears losing his post (he has admitted that chief rival Vargas would be the favorite if they went head to head in February), then he might find refuge in the fact that a new year has dawned.
And in the tradition of turning over a new leaf and starting with a clean slate, there is also that fine art of letting go.
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