Account for SEA Games first | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

Account for SEA Games first

/ 05:07 AM December 12, 2020

Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino has been sworn in as president of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) after winning a full four-year term in recent elections.

Tolentino comes fully armed—at least money-wise—for the job, having successfully pushed for the inclusion of a P900-million insertion in Bayanihan 2, specifically for the country’s participation in the postponed Tokyo Olympics and other major international events.

But he has a lot of work to do right off the bat.

Tolentino has declared the Tokyo Games as the best real chance the Philippines has to finally nail that elusive Olympic gold—a claim he used to back his call for a bigger sports war chest. In the days leading to the elections, he also brought up the possibility of bringing the Southeast Asian Games back to the country’s shores earlier than its usual spot in the 11-nation rotation.

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He is not alone in his Tokyo prediction. Several officials have expressed optimism that the country can finally nail an Olympic gold next year, if only for the elite cast of world-beaters it is sending to Japan: 2016 (Rio de Janeiro) Olympic silver medal-winning weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, reigning gymnastics world champion Carlos Yulo, world-class pole vaulter EJ Obiena, and boxing champion Eumir Marcial have all either qualified for, or are a cinch to make, the Olympics.

Tolentino’s goal to bring the SEA Games back here earlier than the country’s next scheduled hosting duties, however, could divide the house. While the 2019 hosting of the Southeast Asian Games was indeed marked by success—the country ran away with the overall title—it was also shadowed by controversy.

The government shelled out almost P7 billion for the hosting of the meet, and critics immediately noticed some overenthusiastic spending on the part of organizers, eventually to be symbolized by the P50-million cauldron erected at New Clark City. Sports officials and their political allies have justified the spending for the SEA Games, saying it helped the country put its best foot forward for its guests to see.

Granting that—and even if we overlook the fact that there are other ways to impress our Asean neighbors, like taking a more proactive stance, for example, against the aggressions of a continental heavyweight in our territorial waters—there is something off with a bid to bring the SEA Games hosting back to the country without first accounting for how the budget for the last hosting was spent.

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Archery chief Clint Aranas, who challenged Tolentino for the presidency, and his group raised the issue of the liquidation of SEA Games expenses during the campaign period. Tolentino declared that accounting of the budget will be made once all transactions related to the biennial meet have been settled. The Games closed in December 2019, nearly 12 months ago.

Until a full and transparent accounting is made, Tolentino would do well to rethink his plan to bring the sporting contest back to the Philippines ahead of schedule. The POC may be just one cog in the organizing committee, but it has been the one in the limelight lately when it comes to clearing the SEA Games books. More to the point, the Philippines is in the throes of its worst public health crisis in memory and an economic reversal not seen since the war. Talking of once again playing host to a splashy international sportsfest that would involve billions of scarce public funds, while much of the populace is jobless and hungry, comes off as tone-deaf and unseemly at this point.

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Tolentino also has a lot of repairing to do within the POC, the least of which is to patch the fissures normally created by the quadrennial elections of the national Olympic body. These cracks drag energy and focus away from national and grassroots programs.

There are disputes among the ranks of national sports associations that need to be sorted out. Tolentino already got off to a positive start, ironing out the grappling issues between the wrestling and jiujitsu federations.

But there are bigger problems to solve. The country’s tennis association, for instance, has been suspended by its international federation over issues that echo complaints of a breakaway group of officials of the sport. The two-year suspension is causing anxiety among the country’s top stars, who are left to wonder if they can still see action in international meets like the Davis Cup and the 2021 SEA Games.

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This paper has always kept a close watch on the POC leadership, scrutinizing the political maneuverings that often disregard the welfare of the country’s heroic athletes. It is perhaps to Philippine sports’ advantage that Tolentino seems to have a strong pull in the government, and is able to direct attention to the country’s athletic programs. In the end, though, he will be eventually judged by how he wields that edge to the benefit of the country’s sporting community.

TAGS: accounting, corruption, POC, sea games, sports, Tokyo Olympics

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