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Olympians’ concerns for 2019

The Philippine Olympians Association (POA) is concerned about the amount of work that has to be done for the country to successfully stage the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. The POA counts roughly 150 living members among present and retired athletes. The organization of some of the country’s greatest athletes of all time agrees that many fundamental questions still have to be answered.

In their regular meeting to discuss POA charity projects, chairman Paing Hechanova and board members Freddie Webb, Jethro Dionisio, Akiko Thomson Guevara, Roel Velasco, Stephen Fernandez and this writer talked about how the SEA Games are important to the international image of the Philippines.

“These are important questions that need to be asked, and it is important to analyze these matters,” declared Hechanova, a 1952 Helsinki Olympian, referring to this writer’s Sept. 9 column “Getting organized”. “There are many basic decisions to be made. All these details must be answered.”

The group talked about the need to review the quality of available facilities, which in turn would influence the number and types of events to be included. Spreading out the venues all over the country would help alleviate the accompanying traffic congestion during the games. Just computing the number of athletes, officials, media and potential spectators raised concerns within the group. Guevara, a three-time Olympian swimmer, said volunteering for the Olympics when she was no longer competing exposed her to the intricacies of staging large, multi-sport events.

“I was basically doing traffic and directing people – athletes, coaches and non-athletes – where to go,” says Guevara, a former PSC commissioner. “Seeing the inner workings and how everything was organized was a learning experience.”

The Olympians also expressed their concern over the local and international politics in sports.

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“Some international sports associations insist that they are autonomous,” Hechanova adds. “They do not want to be governed by a national body. How can that be?”

The group also suggested that it may be time to change the peculiar system in Philippine sports, wherein there is a dichotomy between government and the private sector. They are leaning toward sports being handled purely by the government, citing the example of successful sports programs in Europe. Hechanova suggested reviewing the laws governing both the PSC and the POC, citing the difference between a law enacted by Congress (which is stronger), and an Executive Order which any succeeding Chief Executive may change.

Also in the meeting, former senator Webb suggested the creation of a fund-raising project to help past Olympians who need financial and medical aid. The television actor and radio commentator cited the example of 1956 Olympian Turo Valenzona, who recently needed help in addressing medical expenses brought about by complications of diabetes.

“There aren’t that many of us,” 1972 Olympian Webb stated. “We have been blessed, but some of us haven’t. After sacrificing so much and making it to the Olympics, many of us have not been well off.”

The group agreed to study doing more events to honor struggling Olympians. In the past, the POA has held free clinics in boxing and martial arts, given scholarships and created the Aretê award for outstanding persons and entities who support sports. The POA will also submit its recommendations regarding the 2019 SEA Games to the Philippine Sports Commission.

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