Friday marked the start of the one-year countdown to the 30th Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines. The date was celebrated with a meaningful ceremony in Clark, with many of the country’s top sports officials. Philippine Olympic Committee president Ricky Vargas and his secretary-general Pato Gregorio hurriedly flew back from the Association of National Olympic Committee (ANOC) conference in Tokyo just for the occasion. It was another necessary job for the overworked PhilSGOC group, made up of many already-overworked POC officers and staff. Still, they don’t complain, but soldier on. 

 

There is much to do, and already much to celebrate. The new sports complex, propelled by a Malaysian group and implemented by a Filipino contractor, will be finished between August and October of next year, giving Philippine athletes some time to practice in the venues and move into their new residences. According to Philippine Sports Commission chairman Butch Ramirez who inspected the venue the week before, the edifices and facilities can proudly be placed side by side with sporting venues around the world. It will be a living, active community, in partnership with major educational and government institutions.

 

It is behind the scenes where much of the labor is being spent. The SEA Games are a massive coordination effort on so many levels. Firstly, the members of the SEA Games Federation must be satisfied that everything is up to Olympic standards. Malaysia and Singapore are sticklers for detail. “Good enough” never is. This goes for the venues, schedule, athletes’ quarters, food, security and officiating, for starters. Most of the volunteers will be first-timers. The team that will handle them has already been formed.

 

 

 

Now that the final roster of medal and non-medal sports has been set by the SEA Games Federation, the Games will likely be the biggest in history. This is a huge irony, considering that the Philippines was originally slated to host in 2025. However, the previous dispensation was insistent on hosting, despite government pronouncements that funding could not be assured. But since POC is an institution, it doesn’t matter who put us in this situation. It is the institution, the nation that has been committed. Some argue that the smart thing would have been to back out, as well. But that would simply have made it someone else’s problem. And professional managers don’t work that way.

 

There are also other matters that need to be resolved, such as which group will handle arnis, since the sport has been listed though Arnis Philippines has been expelled from the POC. This is likely where Sen. Miguel Zubiri’s new group comes in. If you will recall, there was no basketball competition in the 2005 Philippine SEA Games. The Philippines had been suspended by FIBA for having two national sports associations: the unrepentant BAP and the fledgling SBP. Luckily, arnis has no international federation to intervene, so this is a purely internal matter and more easily resolved.

 

 

 

However, this raises a critical issue. The new POC administration is not lacking in enemies, open and secret. There are those who allied with Vargas and company hoping to be on top of the food chain and get perks and privileges that they have long dreamed of having. When denied, some started openly plotting to unseat Vargas prematurely. Others simply don’t like having to work for the welfare of the athletes. One official associated with the missing Olympic Solidarity funds had the gall to go on the radio and insist that the IOC “cleared” him and his cohorts, and thus this writer and fellow STAR columnist Quinito Henson owed him an apology. First of all, no one was cleared. Vargas and company liquidated what they could, then simply paid back the rest to restore the allowances of our athletes and Olympic Solidarity scholars. That’s why these recalcitrant so-called leaders are not in jail. Secondly, this writer never mentioned that official by name. So I guess the shoe fits. I would say something more derogatory, but I was taught to respect my elders. I can’t imagine working with people like this. I would vomit.

 

This is a clear sign of the cross purposes you sometimes have to work with to get some good done. The gatekeepers will hold projects hostage to get something they want. It’s ironic that horse trader can be jackasses. This puts the real workers in an awkward position, and compromises the athletes. They clearly aren’t there to do what they’re supposed to.

 

So imagine the challenge of mounting a SEA Games with all these intramurals in the background. You normally have two and a half years to stage the games, not just one and a half. You normally don’t have to do house cleaning. And you don’t always have to simultaneously work towards an Olympic Games coming mere months after your own SEA Games. And you certainly never have to put up with selfish, entitled feudal lords who believe that the athletes are their personal property. Mr. Vargas has wondered what he’s gotten himself into on more than one occasion. Then again, they soldier on. 

 

Here’s the problem. Should this infighting upset the balance of the POC power structure and somehow damage the SEA Games, it will not be hurting just the POC. It will harm the country’s reputation internationally, and waste all the athletes’ preparation. There will be many angry people in government and the private sector to deal with also. 

 

Do they really want to take over at that price, and now, of all times?

 

 

Date: December 1, 2018 | By: Bill Velasco | Newspaper: Philippine Star | Source: https://www.philstar.com/sports/2018/12/01/1873215/364-days-fighting-set-up