We would be cockeyed and presumptuous to say that Ricky Vargas’ election as president of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) is akin to the scenario of a white knight riding a prancing steed to save the day.
Dismantling the 13-year reign of Jose “Peping” Cojuangco as chief architect of the national sports program will not resurrect the ashes of the Philippines’ past sporting failures.
Sure, it is fair to grant Vargas the chance to warm his seat first after winning the court-ordered election. But it is wrong to automatically assume that finally freeing the POC from Cojuangco’s stranglehold marks the end of the country’s sporting worries—and mediocre record.
The road is steep and perilously winding. The challenge is as profound as it is unyielding. Vargas is at a disadvantage in that he cannot even start from zero. He is tasked to rebuild the Philippine sporting infrastructure and he will have to start from the rubble left by his predecessor.
The mission is clear: Restore the country’s proud sporting legacy, rationalize the meager resources so these are maximized, bring about an environment that will excite the business community to invest money in sports, find the young people with the potential to be great athletes, streamline the leadership processes of the national sports associations, and hunt down that elusive gold medal.
Vargas has to establish clear goals that will allow the Filipino public to measure the work he puts in instead of merely mouthing bold but vague pronouncements—the sort that veiled the past POC administration’s failures.
He has to make clear the Philippines’ targets in international meets. What is the Southeast Asian Games? Do we continue using that meet to massage the collective sporting ego and persist in shooting for an absurdly big gold-medal haul? Or do we use it as a seeding ground for promising young talents to test themselves against foreign competition? Where does the Asian Games fit in the Philippines’ ambition to end its Olympic drought?
The new POC president, who is the former head of the Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines, has to be transparent about his sporting goals for the country and the methods he will apply to meet them.
Thankfully, he has gained some ground: Tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan has pledged P20 million as seed money for Vargas’ mission. The relationship between the POC and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) has warmed considerably from the frosty, often-adversarial state of the two sporting bodies during the Cojuangco era.
Nevertheless, cold realities have been exposing themselves. Vargas has to determine how cooperative the executive board, formed by Cojuangco, will be vis-à-vis his programs. He has to sort out the concerns of the national sports associations over a new allowance scheme that the PSC is preparing.
He has the Philippines’ participation in the Asiad this year and its hosting of the SEA Games next year to be planned. And Tokyo 2020 is only two years away—a mere heartbeat in terms of preparation.
And on top of everything else, the new POC president has to keep one thing top of mind: that even as he will be lauded for ushering change in Philippine sports, and even as he will be cut some slack at the start, he will still be judged the way Cojuangco was judged. He will be held accountable by the same standards by which Cojuangco was held.
Saving Philippine sports requires more than a change in leadership. It requires action, which was sought in the previous POC administration that was found horribly wanting.