Cojuangco has to step down
The fireworks that lit up the night sky of Kuala Lumpur as Malaysians marked the close of the Southeast Asian Games will not hold a candle to the verbal pyrotechnics following another failed Philippine campaign in the biennial meet.
Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr., president of the Philippine Olympic Committee, is as usual at the receiving end of calls for POC officials to resign. And like he always does, he shrugs them off. He has never held himself accountable for the country’s dismal athletic performances overseas. It looks like he never will.
As though from on high, he scoffs at the sassiness of serfs shouting for his surrender. He has in fact issued a nonchalant dismissal of this latest sporting debacle: Move on, he said. Look forward to the country’s hosting of the SEA Games in 2019.
He holds himself in such royal self-reverence as to make calls for him to step down appear useless.
Never mind if the country plumbs ever lower depths with every passing SEA Games. Just when you think we had hit rock-bottom in the international multisport competition, Cojuangco and his cohorts seem to find a way to conjure a new form of mediocrity.
In Kuala Lumpur, Team Philippines collected 24 gold medals — from a projection of 50 by sports officials. Measured against the gold medals at stake, it was the country’s worst performance in the SEA Games.
It was a result so sad that, on the day Singapore-based Lydia de Vega Mercado had her hands full fielding calls in between her coaching duties to dispel rumors that she had died, the sprint legend who used to be Asia’s fastest woman was lamenting the Philippines’ finish in the SEA Games.
Never mind if bad politics continues to weigh Philippine sports down, with the athletes bearing the brunt of the burden. In every international competition, Filipino athletes push the limits in the quest for triumph and glory for flag and country. More often than not, they wind up spent, beaten and burned out—for the purpose of perpetuating politicians in power.
There’s the notion that “sports politics” is just a buzz phrase that journalists invented to unreasonably torment sports officials. But in fact it’s real, and its effects are real.
Consider the sports that failed to produce gold medals for the Philippines: swimming (for the last two SEA Games), karate, volleyball, tennis. The national associations of these sports have been wracked by leadership crises. And in at least three of those associations, the official who wound up with the mantle of leadership is a Cojuangco ally.
Never mind if our national athletes continue to go to battle handicapped by poor leadership. Case in point: Marella Salamat was sent to compete in cycling’s road race alone. She was denied a teammate, apparently because the SEA Games task force could not justify sending a team for a discipline that awards individual gold medal.
But cycling road races are never won by a single athlete. Even Lance Armstrong needed a lot of help — and not just from illegal performance enhancers — to rule the Tour de France. Left to fend for herself, Salamat, a gold medalist in 2015, had no chance against her rivals, whose teammates helped pick off the competition.
It’s not that Filipino athletes do not try hard enough. Or that the Philippines is athletically overmatched in the region. It’s that sports officials have failed to put our best athletes in the best possible position to emerge victorious.
Cojuangco won’t admit that. Or that the only legacy he is creating is a constantly redefined mediocrity and a continuing public debate on what exactly is the worst performance by a Philippine delegation in the SEA Games.
This man needs to step down now. He needs to yield to a fresh, vibrant, inclusive and unifying leadership that will produce a credible national sporting program to spare the Philippines from future crushing debacles.
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