Urgent change needed at POC
Almost lost in the Thursday protest actions that marked the national remembering of Ferdinand Marcos’ imposition of martial law in September 1972 were the twin rallies held by young athletes and sports aficionados and officials in two cities declaring an urgent need for change in the Philippine sports hierarchy.
But like those who raised their fists against extrajudicial killings and who vowed that “never again” would tyranny rule, the sports groups delivered a clear message: Change must come, and it must come now.
The indications were that the target of the twin rallies, Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr., would ignore the clamor and hold on to his post with the help of a general assembly that rolls over and plays dead at his command. There were also snickers at the number of warm bodies that showed up at the rallies held at Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila and Fuente Osmeña circle in Cebu.
But the enthusiasm of those calling for change could not be doused. And neither did the unimpressive numbers diminish the urgency of their demand: The POC chief must step down and give way to a healing, credible and inclusive leadership that will institute a sustainable sporting program geared toward excellence in international arenas like the Olympics.
The protesters are resolute in their hope that Cojuangco would read the writing on the wall: that this is not so much a personal attack on him as an indictment of his leadership.
Warm bodies? This is about, not numbers, but an idea whose time has come. Besides, as sports great Lydia de Vega Mercado pointed out, some athletes may be burning with discontent but refuse to make their voices heard for fear of losing their “national” status under a leadership that has shown flashes of vindictiveness.
And the few who are unafraid to publicly call out Cojuangco, plus the many more in the shadows, are said to be gearing to take the fight forward: to force the POC leadership to confront the voices of discontent.
There is a valid reason behind these groups’ urgent pitch for new leadership in the POC. It is the same reason Cojuangco patiently negotiated backroom deals to reverse the government’s decision to not host the Southeast Asian Games in 2019.
The Philippines is expected to dominate the 2019 Games—historical data affirm the trend of host countries winning the overall SEA Games championship. At worst the Philippines could finish in third place, yet would have a windfall of golds to show. But not only would it be a hollow victory for the national sporting program, it would also provide Cojuangco with the subterfuge to deflect attention from his failing leadership and buy him time to stay on until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
And the chance posed by the 2020 Olympics is exactly what critics of the POC administration want to save. They hope to ride the momentum of Hidilyn Diaz’s silver medal in Rio de Janeiro and finally strike gold in the Summer Games. The Philippines has yet to win an Olympic gold (going into the Rio Games, it was No. 2 in the list of most populous nations without the medal), but with the push provided by Diaz’s feat, the drought could end within the next two editions of the quadrennial games.
Still, momentum needs inspiring and viable leadership to drive it to its destination—and Cojuangco’s administration lacks both. In fact, Diaz’s medal would have gone up in smoke because at one critical point negligent leadership left the weightlifter so uninspired that she wanted to quit the sport altogether. It took the coaxing of her coach to keep Diaz motivated.
Cojuangco’s callous dismissal of the Philippines’ dismal performance at the recent SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur showed how little he cares for the problems besetting Philippine sports. He showed little indication of the need to shake off the dust of failure and figure out what needs to be corrected. He didn’t care to note that more than a third of the Philippines’ paltry haul of gold medals were earned by athletes who trained overseas.
Why continue to entrust the Philippine sports program to such an indifferent leadership?
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