There is a snowballing clamor for change from among those still governed by reason and understanding. Change, they feel, must descend on the national sports hierarchy starting with the Philippine Olympic Committee, where there has been a vacuum of vibrant, inclusive and selfless leadership in the past three Olympic cycles.
And yet not only is Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, spurred by the idea of being at its helm with the Philippines potentially just a nudge away from its first Olympic gold, seeking a fourth term as POC president, he is also pulling out all the stops—as well as the opposition—to ensure an unchallenged run.
Ricky Vargas, president of the Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines, presented himself as a contender on a platform of change, aiming to put the needs of Filipino athletes ahead of the officials’ and to make the POC’s paramount interest a sporting one. But he was disqualified by the POC’s commission on elections on the basis of an iffy interpretation of the rule that requires “active participation” of sports association heads gunning for the presidency.
There is no way to judge Cojuangco’s motives in seeking a fourth term as POC president. It could well be that the former representative of Tarlac has noble intentions in his heart. But the result of these intentions does not justify an extended stay as POC president. For three terms, after all, he has failed to improve the Philippines’ international standing in the sporting arena.
Since Cojuangco assumed the POC presidency in 2004, the two biggest victories of Team Philippines in international competition were the Southeast Asian Games overall championship in 2005 and the silver medal of weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz in this year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
However, the SEAG success in 2005 was also a credit to the previous POC leadership, which had laid down the foundation of the Philippines’ successful hosting job. And Diaz’s silver? Suffice it to say that the neglect of sports officials almost drove the Zamboanga athlete to abandon weightlifting altogether. If not for her coach’s intervention, the Philippines would have no Olympic silver to celebrate.
But Diaz clinched that silver, and we can ride the momentum all the way to Tokyo 2020, where the possible inclusion of dragon boat in the Olympic roster is beefing up the Philippines’ hope to bag its first gold. And Cojuangco wants to be there when that happens, to raise the winner’s hand amid tumultuous applause.
Indeed, who is the sports official who wouldn’t want that? But the problem is Cojuangco lost the right to be in that proud moment because of the sporting debacles and divisiveness that his leadership has wrought on Philippine sports.
That right should belong to a leader with the political will, independence, imagination and logistical capability to initiate change. And Vargas—and the other contender, Philcycling president Abraham Tolentino—should be able to take a shot at the POC’s top post. After all, when three Olympic cycles of futility have passed, there should be a chance at change.
But it’s apparently impossible to seek relief from a POC controlled by Cojuangco. Insiders say it’s highly unlikely that the Vargas motion for reconsideration would merit a second look at his eligibility. They say that if he does get his disqualification overturned, there is no guarantee he will be elected POC president because some officials in the current electorate have become a fawning lot bent on protecting a status quo that benefits them.
Still the public has to make a stand. Most of all, the athletes need to make a stand.
It must be made crystal-clear that if Cojuangco has nothing but virtuous goals for Philippine sports in his heart, the best and perhaps only way to express this is for him to lead the way for fresh leadership in the POC.
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